June 18, 2024

Pints to Past – Exploring Bathurst’s Goldrush Legacy

When you think of Bathurst, images of the gold rush era often come to mind. The 1850s and particularly the 1870s saw thousands of hopeful miners flocking to this region, dreaming of striking it rich. Though Bathurst itself didn’t yield the precious metal, the nearby villages of Sofala and Hill End became bustling centres of gold mining activity. Today, these villages offer a glimpse into Australia’s storied past, and a road trip through them is like stepping back in time. Follow along on this Pints to Past itinerary focusing on two of the most iconic establishments of that era: the Royal Hotels in Sofala and Hill End.

A Step Back in Time in Sofala

Our journey begins as we head north from Bathurst towards Sofala, a village that stands as a testament to the gold rush days. As you make your way north through rolling countryside and climbing hills you will pass through the village of Wattle Flat. If your looking to start your day with a bushwalk or a spot of bird watching the Wattle Flat Heritage Lands are a good place to stop.

As you arrive in Sofala park by the Joyce Pearce Memorial Park before walking into the village. This is the starting place of the Sofala Historic Walking Tour which details the history of Australia’s oldest surviving gold rush town. Make sure to pick up a copy of the Sofala Historic Walking Guide from the Bathurst Visitor Information Centre or download a copy before you go.

As you proceed though the village stop into the Sofala Royal Hotel established in 1851. This historic pub is not just a place to grab a drink; it’s a portal into the village’s rich history. With photographs of the village, events, local clubs, and memorabilia on the walls its easy to be absorbed with the history of the hotel.

After a stop in at the pub, continue on to finish the historic walk. Or track across the bridge to access the Turon River from the Sofala Free Campsite, a great spot to enjoy the serenity of nature, throw out a line or camp for a night.

Onwards to Hill End

Leaving Sofala, we continue our journey west along the picturesque Hill End Road. The road climbs 320 meters in elevation, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

Arriving in Hill End, you’ll find a quiet historical village that was once the centre of gold mining in NSW. Now the village is known for its artisan residence program and heritage value. At the heart of the village stands the Royal Hotel Hill End, established in 1872. This pub exudes historic charm, with a fireplace in the billiards room for chilly days and a sunny courtyard for warmer weather. It’s the perfect spot to relax before diving into more explorations.

Discovering Hill End’s Treasures

While in Hill End take a wander through the historic village. Around many of the buildings and in some of the empty plots you will find plaques and glass slides depicting the buildings of the past and the inhabitants of the past. These slides are a part of the Holtermann collection, a set of images that were commissioned by the Bernhardt Otto Holtermann after the largest single mass of gold ever found was uncovered at his mine the Star of Hope Mine. The pillar of quartz and gold is known as the Holtermann’s Nugget and funded the Holtermann’s partnership with photographer Beaufoy Merlin. If you need to walk off a hearty meal from the Royal Hotel take look at the Bald Hill Walking Track to get some great views.

After exploring the town you can try your hand at gold panning with Jhob’s Gold Panning Tours, where you might just find a nugget of your own (make sure to book ahead of time to secure a spot). For a deeper dive into life during the gold rush, visit History Hill Museum and Mine. Regularly open on weekends and public holidays the museum’s extensive collection includes over 10,000 gold rush relics, artefacts and fascinating exhibits that bring the gold rush era to life. Explore the 175 meter underground mineshaft to experience what it was like to be in a 1870’s reef mine.

Return to Bathurst via Turondale Road

As our journey winds down, we head back towards Bathurst via the Turondale Road. Along the way, a detour to Abercrombie House is a must. This grand mansion, built in the 1870s, is one of Bathurst’s most well-known historic homes. With its impressive architecture and beautifully preserved interiors, Abercrombie House provides a fitting end to our historical journey.

This northern itinerary from Bathurst to Sofala and Hill End is more than just a road trip; it’s a journey through time, with the Royal Hotels serving as landmarks of the gold rush era. From the excitement of the gold rush to the serene beauty of the present day, this route offers a unique opportunity to connect with Australia’s rich heritage. So, pack your bags, set your compass north, and get ready to uncover the past one pub at a time.

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