Ballarat has thrown off the cold bleak temperatures of the season and embraced the winter chill.
Thousands of visitors have travelled to the city and joined locals for the Winter Festival, with many out-of-towners opting to stay longer and enjoy the icy attractions.
The pop up ice skating rink saw 16,704 skaters take to the ice in eight daily sessions over 16 days.
Mayor Samantha McIntosh said due to extra demand last year, an extra two sessions a day were added to this winter’s schedule to allow up to an extra 300 skaters to glide across the ice each day.
“An early breakdown of figures shows that around 30 per cent of skaters were visitors to Ballarat, many of them families enjoying a trip to our city during the winter school holidays,” Cr McIntosh said.
Visit Ballarat chief executive Noel Dempsey said favourable weather and strong attractions had combined to draw big crowds to the city, and he hoped figures would remain strong as the Winter Festival continues to the end of the month.
“Ironically while it’s been cold we’ve had the benefit of good weather – it hasn’t rained as much as last year, and the breadth of activity across the city has been stellar.”
And the attractions continue with the Ballarat Brew Festival this weekend and The Red Series on the next two Saturdays among the Winter Festival program for the second half of July.
“All in all it continues to spark imagination in a period that’s normally quiet. It has been cold, and that’s the point to have fun and get over it,” Mr Dempsey said.
“Accommodation providers say their occupancy rates are a lot higher than the same time last year, and hospitality people say the city has never been busier in winter.
Sovereign Hill chief executive Jeremy Johnson said more than 70,000 visitors had passed through the gates since the launch of Winter Wonderlights on June 30, with a significant percentage travelling from Melbourne or regional Victoria and staying overnight in Ballarat.
On Saturday there were 8000 people at Sovereign Hill, about 1000 more than the same day last year.
“The Winter Festival has put Ballarat on the map,” Mr Johnson said.
Mulled wine, warming cider and ales, indulgent hot chocolates and soothing tea blends will be served in the Ballarat Mining Exchange on Saturday as part of the Ballarat Brew Festival.
Hop Temple will launch two new craft beers, developed with Federation University specifically for winter consumption.
“There’s an Australian-style pale ale made using Eureka hops, and an amber ale specific for this type of weather and this time of year,” said Hop Temple venue manager Zac Hill.
“The festival is a bit of a development showcase of what is already happening around Ballarat. We’ve got a great scene in beers and craft beers with lots of local high-quality producers,” he said.