Words Cara Sputore
Older than Moomba and steeped in history, it’s not hard to see why the Ballarat Begonia Festival is one of Victoria’s most loved events. What started as an ode to the flowers that grow so well in the region is now a three-day celebration of flowers, food, live events and community, in a knock-out setting among the botanical gardens.
To help you make the most of the three action-packed, floral-scented days, we’ve planned the perfect long-weekend in Ballarat.
10am Start your day at the centrepiece of the festival: the spectacular Begonia Display, a colourful symbol of summer planned 12 months in advance. More than 600 begonias from the City of Ballarat’s famous collection are on show this year, so take your sweet time strolling around. If you want to know how to grow and care for these beauties, talks by local Begonia experts happen twice daily. A little bit of calm is 100 percent guaranteed.
1.30pm All this festival-ing is busy work, so you’re going to need some sustenance. Grab a wood-fired pizza from the local legends at The Forge Pizzeria in the Begonia Courtyard, then relax under the trees with beers from Red Duck Brewery and Cubby Haus Brewing, wines from Wightwick or gin from Kilderkin Distillery. Look around and remind yourself that life can be quite nice indeed.
3pm Time for some tunes. Move between the festival’s four music stages and be entertained by artists and performers from across the state. Highlights include Motown soul band Motor City Sounds, local singer songwriter Anna Oliphant Wright and 2018 Music in the Vines Emerging Talent winner Flynn Gurry.
8pm A great day out deserves a great evening meal, so head to Moon and Mountain for modern Hawkers-style cuisine in a super cool setting. They’re open late so throw the anchor down, order some plates to share and work your way through the list of cocktails and craft beers.
Need a bed for the weekend? Ballarat Premier Apartments, Craig’s Royal Hotel, Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments, or The Provincial Ballarat are all excellent bets for a good night’s sleep.
11.15am Former host of TV series A River Cottage Australia and sustainable farming advocate Paul West is a special guest this year and a very likeable guy. He teams up with Dirtgirl for a chat about compost and how to keep the good stuff in our soil; they return later this afternoon to discuss the secret life of bees.
12.30pm Need a gift for someone, or some plants for your garden? The festival’s got you. Head to the Creative Designers and Gardeners markets and chat to the stallholders, who’ll give you good advice and sell you good stuff. For a small donation you can leave your newly-acquired plant babies at a creche while you explore the festival. Handy!
3.30pm Catch a ride on Ballarat Tramway Museum’s floral tram, which returns to the festival after an 80-year hiatus. The heritage tram is decorated with thousands of flowers made from recycled plastic in an instagram-worthy homage to the trams of 1938 and 1939, which were decorated with crepe flowers.
7pm You’re really embedded now, so it makes sense to eat somewhere with a long history in the region. Mitchell Harris Wine Bar is that place. All the wines are made at the company’s winery, and the food is bloody good too.
11am Did you know there’s a board game called Everyone Loves A Parade? This speaks volumes about how much people love parades. Ballarat’s version is major, with around 10,000 people taking to Wendouree Parade to watch local businesses, schools and community groups celebrate the town and the rainbow of people who call it home. The Begonia Parade is loud, colourful and joyful. It’s community spirit in action. Get there early to score a good spot.
12.35pm Gloriously hirsute garden guru Costa Georgiadis returns to the festival for one day only to share his passion for plants and people, teaming up with Dirtgirl and the Grubby TV gang for a workshop on sustainable living.
3pm If your kids have a bit of daredevil in them, head to the Circus Drop Zone and Comedy Cafe to try your hand at juggling, unicycling and hula-hooping. The not-so-daring can play it safe and watch amazing performers show a six-metre high trapeze rig who’s boss.
4pm Finish up with the perfect floral keepsake – a photo on the ‘green carpet’ at the gorgeous Stems Greenery Wall. Then head home and congratulate yourself on a long weekend very well done.
What: Ballarat Begonia Festival
Where: Ballarat Botanical Gardens
When: 9 – 11 March 2019, 10am – 5pm
More information here: www.ballaratbegoniafestival.com