Why Arrowtown is a ‘Queenstown Must-Do’
A Day Trip to Historic Arrowtown
Arrowtown is the charming, quaint and lovingly preserved historic gold town nestled alongside the Arrow River just 20 minutes from central Queenstown. Arrowtown is rich in history and rich in beauty. When we say that Arrowtown is a ‘must-do’ on your Queenstown sightseeing list, we’re not kidding.
A HARD PAST
Take a stroll down Arrowtown’s main street today and the range of high-end shops, cafes and restaurants housed in historic buildings makes for a truly enjoyable day out. But in days gone by, Arrowtown was not quite the luxurious experience it is today.
Thanks to the preservation of Arrowtown’s old buildings and its impressive museum, we still have an insight into what life would have been like when the river was glistening with gold.
Once a pastoral region, the landscape of the Wakatipu was irrevocably changed one day in 1861 when Jack Tewa, a Maori shearer for William Rees, spotted a glinting nugget in the Arrow River. Soon after that first discovery, another local, William Fox, also found gold and made such a commotion about it the town was established in his name. It was 1862, and the town of Fox was born on the promise of golden riches. Soon after, there were around 1500 miners camped along the Arrow River. Miners from around the world came by boat to Port Chalmers in Dunedin and then made the overland trek to Central Otago.
In less than 12 months the hardy miners had extracted 12,000 ounces of gold. A haul that would be worth around $18 million by today’s prices.
The frenzy of activity continued for many years until it slowly began to dwindle in the early 1900s as the gold miners departed for the next gold rush. Concerned about the lack of activity, local government encouraged Chinese miners to move to the Wakatipu. Despite the fact that the lion’s share of the gold had already been removed (and a generally hostile reception), the Chinese established a settlement in Arrowtown and began to prosper. Ostracised from the main town, the Chinese set up camp close to the river bank and soon established market gardens, stores and a bank. By the 1930s, the industrious Chinese miners had established a bustling settlement.
Eventually, the gold dwindled completely and so did interest in Arrowtown. It became a service town for local farmers but the population was small. It wasn’t until the 1950s when Queenstown started to grow in popularity as a holiday town that the charming allure of Arrowtown became evident. Thankfully, Arrowtown’s historical importance was recognised and the town’s historic buildings were protected as new holiday homes were built. Once again, Arrowtown was bustling with activity.
Today, Arrowtown is home to around 70 buildings and historic features from the gold rush era.
HISTORIC SITES OF ARROWTOWN
The heart of Arrowtown is Buckingham Street, which delivers the heritage streetscape you would expect from a town “born of gold”. You will find a procession of heritage building along the street before it turns into a stunning tree-lined avenue of tiny miners’ cottages.
Despite the old architecture, the businesses along Buckingham Street offer some of the best shopping, dining and art galleries in the district. It’s this wonderful juxtaposition of new and old that makes Arrowtown a delight.
Along Buckingham Street:
- The old butcher’s shop – now a Real Estate Office
- The old general store – now a pharmacy
- The stables – now a restaurant called ‘The Stables’
- New Orleans Hotel (1866) is still a pub
- The old BNZ bank (1875) where gold was collected, is now the museum
- The post office (1915) is still the post office
LAKES DISTRICT MUSEUM ARROWTOWN
It’s been lovingly called the “best small museum in New Zealand”. But don’t let its small size deceive you, you will find an absolute treasure trove of history housed within the museum. As well as plenty of artefacts and information on the gold mining days, there is an exhibition of life in the gold rush days that gives young and old a chance to experience what life would have been like. The museum is also Arrowtown’s information centre.
Unwelcomed by many of the other gold miners, the Chinese miners who arrived in the 19th century were forced to establish a village separate to the rest of the settlement. But the industrious Chinese turned the settlement into a hive of activity, establishing their own stores and becoming integral to the workings of the township. The Chinese settlement has been preserved with many dwellings left untouched, giving a fascinating insight into life by the river in the gold rush days.
GETTING TO ARROWTOWN
There are two routes of similar distance (about 20 minutes). The Scenic Route: Exit Queenstown from Shotover Street along Gorge Road. Pass through picturesque valleys and farmland under Coronet Peak, and the Millbrook Resort along Malaghans Road. Frankton Route: Follow Frankton Road towards the airport but at the Frankton Junction roundabout go straight ahead towards Cromwell along SH 6. At Lake Hayes, take a left-hand turn onto Arrowtown-Lake Hayes Road. It’s well signposted.