Gold brought the first rush of people to Arrowtown in 1862 - and that history is preserved in the pretty streets lined with little cottages and shopfronts.
The earliest people in this area were Maori of the Waitaha iwi, then Kati Mamoe and Kai Tahu. The first Europeans here were William Rees and Nicholas von Tunzlemann. Two years after Rees established his sheep run, alluvial gold was found in the Arrow River by Jack Tewa, one of his shepherds. Miners flooded into the area.
They came from as far as the goldfields of Australia and California, setting up shantytowns and prospecting for gold. By 1865, the easy gold was running out. As many European miners moved on, Chinese miners were encouraged to come to the area by the Otago Provincial Government. Remains of the Chinese settlement of the 1870s can be seen today. Visitors can explore Arrowtown’s history at the Lakes District Museum.
These days the main streets of this historic town are lined with little miners’ cottages, boutique shops and eateries. The deciduous trees, planted by settlers in 1867, turn brilliantly gold and orange, providing a lovely backdrop for the annual Arrowtown Autumn Festival held in April.
Take a hike
Arrowtown is a great place for walkers. There are dozens of walks, ranging from under an hour to full day hikes. From strolls around the historic township, to long walks in the surrounding hills and forests, you can be guaranteed to find lovely scenery and seasonal colours.
Great food and wine round Arrowtown
There are loads of options for eating out in Arrowtown. Take your pick from cafes and restaurants, such as current hot spots The Chop Shop, or La Rumbla. The Fork and Tap is a historic pub, with a great range of craft beers and good food, along with a lovely garden bar, children’s play area, and live music on Wednesday nights, and summer Sundays.
If you fancy a good glass of wine and a cheeseboard while watching a film, head to Dorothy Browns, a boutique cinema, bar and bookshop in central Arrowtown. You’ll find arthouse and popular films, a roaring fire, sofas, chandeliers and there’s an intermission.
Central Otago is famous as a wine region, particularly renowned for its pinot noir. You can take a trip out to the Gibbston Valley and try a tour of the wine cave at Gibbston Valley vineyard, sample hand-crafted wines and cheeses, and dine at the cellar door or restaurant there.
If you don’t feel like driving, you can enjoy the tastes of Gibbston Valley at their wine bar and cafe in Arrowtown. There are other fine wineries in the vicinity, such as Mt Rosa, Waitiri Creek, a quaint winery in an old church, and Amisfield, with an upscale bistro, near Lake Hayes.
Kawarau Bridge on Arrow River Bridge Ride, Queenstown Trail, photo credit: Julian Apse
Mountain bikers are spoilt for choice around Arrowtown, with the Queenstown Trail right on the doorstep. Cyclists can ride the Arrow River Bridges Ride, a 16 km ride crossing five bridges and ending in Gibbston - handy for sampling that Central Otago wine and food. Or you could choose another part of the 120+km trail network, through stunning scenery, over rivers, past lakes, through landscapes used in the Lord of the Rings films. The Queenstown Trail is one of the 22 Nga Haerenga Great Rides that make up the New Zealand Cycle Trail.
Great golf, grand views
There are three renowned golf courses within five minutes of Arrowtown. Golfers can choose from the five star golf experience on a course originally designed by Sir Bob Charles at Millbrook Resort, or head to The Hills, Sir Michael Hill’s private golf course which has hosted The New Zealand Open and spreads across 500 acres of land with sculptures by NZ artists enhancing the surrounding waterways and tussock setting. Arrowtown Golf Club offers an 18 hole course with lovely views.
Winter: ski season in Arrowtown
In winter, Arrowtown attracts skiers and snowboarders. It’s a picturesque base for snow-lovers, with 3 skifields nearby. It’s a 25 minute drive to Coronet Peak, with its world class facilities and night skiing. Cardrona Alpine Resort is a fun, family-friendly ski area, with terrain park, about 45 minutes’ drive from Arrowtown towards Wanaka, with Snow Farm nearby for Nordic skiing. The Remarkables ski area is a 45 minute drive away, and has 3 terrain parks, an ice bar, high altitude and consistent conditions.
What to do
Hike one of the many scenic trails around Arrowtown
Try panning for gold
Explore Arrowtown’s history at the Lakes District Museum
Mountain bike the Arrow River 5 Bridges Trail
Walk round the Chinese historic village
Play a round of golf, or try the spa at Millbrook
Spend a day on the snow at one of the three skifields nearby
Enjoy fine wines in the Gibbston Valley
Drive to Queenstown for a huge range of restaurants, shops and adventure activities