On the Yarrawee River in the southwestern portion of Australia's Great Dividing Range, Ballarat is a small city of 85,000 persons approximately 65 miles northwest of Melbourne. The third-largest city in the state of Victoria, Ballarat owes its origins to one of Australia's most manic gold rushes (in 1851, in which more than 20,000 hopefuls moved to the then town in a matter of months). Gold was found for several decades by the lucky, after which Ballarat did not become a ghost town but continued to thrive as a regional business hub. Known for its Victorian architecture, today it still attracts newcomers, many working in its growing renewable energy businesses, which supplement Ballarat MICE venues with local custom.
There is no commercial airport in Ballarat, so groups would fly to Melbourne Airport (MEL), which is also known as Tullamarine. Approximately 70 miles southeast of Ballarat, the airport has both flights all around Australia and also to Europe Asia, Middle East and to Los Angeles on two carriers, United and Qantas.
MICE venues include the Ballarat Lodge & Convention Centre, which does an admirable job at looking after larger meeting groups, with space for up to 950 persons and also 71 guest rooms. Other MICE hotels in Ballarat include the 144-room Novotel Forest Resort Creswick, which has nine meeting rooms and function space for up to 600 persons; the 71-room Ballarat Mid City, which has room for up to 200 persons; the 67-room Comfort Inn Bell Tower, which can also cater to groups of up to 200 persons; the grand, Victorian, 41-room Craig's Royal Hotel, which has meeting space for up to 150 persons and is the oldest hotel in town, built in 1853; and the equally grand, 115-room Quality Inn George Hotel, which has room for groups of up to 400 persons and is the second-oldest hotel in town, built in 1854.
Wonderful, unique MICE venues in Ballarat includes the city's most famous attraction, Sovereign Park, which has space for events of up to 200 persons, is a re-creation of a gold rush town and commemorates the bloody showdown between miners and government troops known as the Eureka Rebellion; Alexandria on Lydiard, an ornate Victorian building on Lydiard Street (Ballarat's main thoroughfare), which can host banquets of 120 persons and receptions of 200; Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts, which was opened in 2006 and has 857 seats and a stage with side areas for events; another beautiful Victoria space, the Ballarat Mechanics' Institute, which has wonderful pressed-metal ceilings and, among other spaces, the Minerva Hall for 290 persons, Humffray Room for 120 and Hooper Room for 40; and the Mount Helen Campus of the University of Ballarat, which sits in bush land six miles from the centre of the city and has a 670-seat theatre as well as other areas for groups.
Restaurants in Ballarat able to feed groups include Catfish Thai, inside the Lydiard Wine Bar, which also has meeting and banquet space for 200 persons; Ballarat Steakhouse, which has room for groups of up to 50 persons; the Bunch of Grapes Hotel, which dates from 1906 and has room for banquets for up to 60 persons and receptions of up to 100 but no accommodation anymore; Sails on the Lake, which is in the Ballarat Yacht Club, sits on the city's main water feature, Lake Wendouree, and has banquet space for 140 persons; and Kambei for innovative Japanese cuisine.