This regional gold-rush-era town is now a hub of produce makers, artists, markets, fine food and drink. Here's our guide to Castlemaine.
In mid-1851 one of the largest alluvial gold deposits in the world was discovered beneath the fertile soils of Dja Dja Wurrung country in Central Victoria. Soon 25,000 diggers were living in the area, and the town of Castlemaine swiftly transitioned from a valley of native bushland to a gold-rush tent city, and then Euro-grid town. Many of these 19th-century buildings are still standing today.
The surrounding fields, orchards and vineyards now brim with high quality produce, so many of the town’s cafes and restaurants champion local produce. Similarly, in the past six years the town has grown from harbouring just a handful of espresso machines to dozens.
Colloquially known as “Northcote North”, Castlemaine has lured and nurtured a slew of creatives over the years. They are drawn by the town’s supportive community of artists, musicians, designers and makers, and its leafy landscape. Vintage items and antiques have a stronghold too, and there are pastries and pastas to soak up the many locally made drinks.
Castlemaine is a 90-minute drive north-west of Melbourne up the Calder Freeway, and about the same if you take the V/Line from Southern Cross Station.
Welcome to Castlemaine
From plentiful pastries, to seasonal lunch fare and hearty dinners by a fireplace, Castlemaine oversupplies on the delicious food front.
Round out local wine and cider tastings with a cleansing ale at one of the town’s many drinking establishments.
Boomtown Winery Co-op
At this co-op winery near the centre of Castlemaine, two local winemakers have joined forces to make vino under their own label. Over the years they’ve attracted other young winemakers, so Boomtown’s become something of an incubator for talented makers. Come here to try the adventurous drops, have a toastie and listen to a record.
Musicians, artists, makers and producers all gather under reinvigorated historic roofs in this creative community.
There’s always something going on at Theatre Royal. The 1854-built theatre was quietly slipping into retirement when five music- and film-loving friends took it over in late 2016 and injected new life into this ageing beauty. The space has been operating as a cinema since the 1930s (the longest continuously running cinema on the mainland) and still screens films ranging from critically acclaimed art house to children’s movies during school holidays. The old theatre stage has been repurposed into an excellent live-music venue, hosting names such as Sarah Blasko on the main stage. Newcomers such as Karl S. Williams play intimate Friday night gigs in the foyer or beer garden. The front cafe here peddles choc tops made by local milk wizards Icecream Social, and acts as a stand-alone cafe, restaurant and bar. The concise breakfast and lunch menu features croissants, baguettes and salads, and house-made chunky apple pies and cakes from the counter. Temple Brewing, Boomtown and Maidenii feature among the beer, wine and cocktail selection.
The Old Castlemaine Gaol
Along with the gold rush of the 1850s came a wave of crime to the region, and soon the local police station was bursting. This gaol was built in 1861 and housed men, women and children. In the early 1900s it was remodelled as a reformatory school for boys, before reopening as a male prison in the 1950s. These days you can take a guided tour on Fridays through Sundays to learn about the prison’s history, or come of an evening for live music. In summer, these performances are joined by a pop-up bar in the outdoor courtyard. In winter the post-gig festivities move into the indoor Mess Hall.
Platform No. 5
Platform No. 5 is a curated makers’ space in The Mill Precinct, shaped by furniture maker and vintage collector Antun Davcik. Here you’ll find handmade works by local artists and designers alongside a collection of vintage and antique furniture and homewares. The space is the antithesis of our throwaway culture, showcasing individually handcrafted pieces that have stood the test of time. Tables made from recycled Australian hardwood sit alongside Hungarian handcrafted dough bowls, a German beer hall table setting, vintage industrial lampshades, Czech botanical posters, French bread boards, hand-blown glass demijohns, vintage copies of National Geographic, and even surveyors maps of Castlemaine and the surrounding region from the 1930s to the 60s. There are also paintings by local artist Sarah Boulton, art frames made from recycled flour-mill trays by Aya Furniture, and tables by Makin Workshop (which runs a workshop on-site).
From a quiet bush retreat, to a vintage bed and breakfast above a recording studio, there’s plenty of intriguing sleeping quarters around town. Check out even more places to stay in Castlemaine.
Winter Getaway in Castlemaine
Comforts abound in this hub of agricultural and creative talent. A winter-ready town, Castlemaine provides numerous opportunities to huddle up by a fireplace – with cake at a cafe, whisky at a bar or at your lodgings.
Boomtown Winery Co-op
0417 237 155
Drinks at The Mill
Mosey from Boomtown Winemaking Co-op, where these larrikin lads produce a top Central Victorian drop, to Das Kaffehaus for a warming mulled wine. See the offerings at Castlemaine Vintage Bazaar and Platform No. 5, then stop at The Taproom for a cleansing ale.