Castlemaine and Maldon have almost become outer-outer suburbs of Melbourne, what with all the tree-changers moving to these pretty Central Victorian towns. This part of the historic Goldfields region is a great place for a mini-break as it’s less than 90 minutes north west of Melbourne and conveniently accessed by road and rail.
Here are our family-friendly tips on Castlemaine and Maldon.
Berkeley St Townhouse (1/12 Berkeley St, Castlemaine). We decided to base ourselves in Castlemaine as it’s a large town in the region and we found this 3 bedroom house through Stayz for a very reasonable $195 per night.
The townhouse was a spacious split level space, with the lower level accessed from the carport/small back courtyard into a fully equipped kitchen, dining/sitting area, laundry, toilet and shower in the lower level. The second level was accessible from the front door with a formal lounge with TV, DVDs, games and a fireplace leading to the master bedroom with ensuite. This layout meant that after the kids went to sleep we could still relax in the lounge room or get into the kitchen without having to tiptoe around.
We put the kids to sleep in the top level, which had a bedroom at each end with a bathroom and toilet in between. It was a perfect kids space – the bedrooms were both big enough to put in cots (they provided a portacot and high chair for us) and the bathroom had a low bath big enough for two little kids. They even provided a screw-in childproof gate so we could cordon off the stairs and just let the kids roam freely up and down the corridor.
We visited Castlemaine during a heatwave and the whole house had evaporative cooling, making it a pleasant retreat from the baking sun.
The house is located just on the outskirts of the town’s commercial centre but is within very easy walking distance of all the shops and the railway station.
Public Inn (165 Barker St, Castlemaine (03) 5472 3568) – A family-friendly restaurant, bar and bistro featuring delicious local produce and an all-day menu. Separate review here.
Cafe Re-public and Eating Depot (26 Templeton St, Castlemaine (03) 5472 1582) – The little sister of the Public Inn has converted Castlemaine’s old fire station into an industrial chic breakfast and lunch spot. The menu takes a pretty straightforward approach (eggs feature heavily) and I chose some fluffy corn and zucchini fritters topped with a hemisphere of sliced avocado, a handful of rocket and spiked with some salty feta – I didn’t need the overly-sweet tomato relish with it ($15.90).
While the food was great it’s the setting that really makes this place. A random assortment of vintage seating and low tables dotted the high-ceilinged whitewashed fire station (including some beyond cute miniature Chesterfield couches for little people) while the adjoining building contained soothing blonde wood furniture.
Mulberry’s Delicatessen (60 Lyttleton St, Castlemaine (03) 5472 1651) – When we go on holidays we’ve figured out that the kids can really only manage one dining-out event a day with good grace. So to make our lives easier we normally eat out at lunch and eat in at dinner time. At Mulberry’s Delicatessen you can buy cheese and charcuterie, gourmet frozen pasta and sauce and even Jock’s icecream.
Our favourite find was Bella’s read-to-bake frozen croissants. For a bargain $7.95 you defrost the croissants overnight, letting them expand, and then you have 6 giant croissants after 15 minutes in the oven (or $6 for 6 small croissants). We had our flaky, buttery croissants with some plum and blueberry jam kindly provided by Berkeley St Townhouse.
Apple Annie’s (31 Templeton St, Castlemaine (03) 5472 5311) – This Austrian bakery (and child-friendly cafe) provided our dinner on the second night with their Spinach and Ricotta Rolls and Beef and Burgundy pie. We found the puff pastry, as with their pastries and croissants, to be more stodgy than light and fluttery. It’s what I’d consider a more ‘Germanic’ style of patisserie than my preferred ‘French’ style. Stick with their cheesecake and very rich Belgian chocolate torte ($6 each) instead.
We didn’t have a chance to try The Good Table but they are one of Castlemaine’s foodie destinations and we know they can provide high chairs for kids.
The Kangaroo Hotel (89 High St, Maldon (03) 5475 2214) – We only spent a brief time in Maldon to have lunch at the historic Kangaroo Hotel. If you’re riding the Victorian Goldfields Railway (see below) you can even order your meal in advance so it’s waiting for you when you reach the pub.
They have a high chair and kids menu plus a huge back beer garden for running around. As for the food, our whitebait ($12) and fish and chips ($20) were pretty good but not best we’ve ever had. Next time we visit Maldon we’d probably try somewhere else for a change.
Victorian Goldfields Railway – Lady AB is a Thomas the Tank Engine fan and was most excited to go on this chugg-chugg locomotive. Normally the first and excursion class wooden carriages are pulled by a steam engine but there was a high fire danger alert on our visit so a diesel engine was used instead.
The trip from Castlemaine to Maldon takes 45 minutes and rattles through Ironbark forest – a dry crackling and frankly not very interesting landscape in the height of summer. At $25 for adults (under 4s free) it’s not a cheap ride but if you can get someone to meet you in a car at Maldon it’s a fun one-way trip back in time, down to the old-fashioned tickets!
Maldon is worth visiting as it’s Australia’s first and only National Trust classified town.
Maldon Market – Every second Saturday of the month the Maldon Market is held next to The Kangaroo Hotel. It features local produce, home made food and handcrafts. We visited on a super hot day and bought woolly hats!
Soldier and Scholar (215 Barker St, Castlemaine (03) 5470 6298) – This rabbit warren of a secondhand bookstore has a good collection of kids books in the narrow entrance corridor and front room. It’s a very tight squeeze though so you won’t be able to get inside with a pram or swing a big bag around. It’s a very idiosyncratic little shop – on our visit there wasn’t much in the way of customer service and the books are piled higgledy-piggledy on shelves and the floor so it can feel suffocating. We were only in there for 5 minutes but bought 3 books for a bargain $10.50 – The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and Peter Rabbit’s ABC.
Mount of Alex (273 Barker St, Castlemaine 0410 650 923) – A more orderly book-buying experience can be found at Mount of Alex which specialises in rare books. However, they still stock interesting secondhand books and I purchased JRR Tolkein’s ‘Father Christmas Letters’ for $10.