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Ahhhh, lovey Arrowtown – a short drive away from the hubris and hustle of neighbouring Queenstown, Arrowtown has to be one of Otago’s cutest towns. Small, quaint and with an incredibly well preserved and historic looking main street, it could almost have come straight out of a old Western movie. Indeed, Arrowtown was used as a ‘Lord of the Rings’ filming location (mainly around the Arrow River basin area).
We have visited Arrowtown several times over the years, across all seasons – the summer greenery in the valley gives way to one of the most spectacular displays of Autumnal colours you’ll ever see in New Zealand’s south island. We’ve also been during the winter / ski season and had snowball fights in the streets here – so it perfect to visit and step back in time at any time of the year.
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Getting to Arrowtown
Given its distance from Queenstown (20km), there are several ways you can get here (accommodation in Arrowtown is pretty scant). Firstly, use a hire car and combine it as part of a much longer trip. Secondly, bike it or (hitch) hike it. Your other option is to jump on the hourly blue Orbus bus service from Queenstown for $5 (cash accepted) or buy a $5 GoCard for a cheaper fare of just $2 – great if you are doing multiple trips.
History of Arrowtown
Arrowtown is best known as a historic gold (rush) mining town. Gold was first found in the Arrow River in 1862 and a township soon sprang up to cope with the demands of the newly arrived inhabits. During its peak, Arrowtown had around 7,000 residents (today it has around 3,000 permanent residents but with a lot more tourists visiting than ever before).
Arrowtown Chinese Settlement
Part of the town’s gold mining history is brought to life by the Arrowtown Chinese settlement, a heritage listed restored village near the river that is free to visit. It shows what the conditions used to be used and the types of dwelling miners would inhabit.
We’ve also seen a number of gold-panning activities spring up over the years including one that has appeared near to the Arrow River since our last visit in 2017. Although we are no experts, these look a bit naff (big plastic tanks of water filled full of stones and the occasional gold fleck) and are probably best avoided.
Lakes District Museum
This is a museum situated on the main high street (Buckingham Street) set across three historical buildings, including the town’s bank. It goes into detail about the pioneering days for the early Chinese and European gold miner settlers, as well as early Maori. You can also explore an old Victorian schoolhouse, an old liquor den (‘grog shanty’) and a blacksmiths (a fee applies). There is also a free to visit section, which includes interpretation panels, plus an i-SITE with lots of tourist information booklets.
FURTHER READING – The ultimate New Zealand bucket list – top 50 things to do
Historic Buckingham Street
For us, this is the main draw of Arrowtown – a bit like Cromwell’s Heritage Precinct, Buckingham Street feels so old and historic, and has still has oodles of character. If it wasn’t for the cars dotted along the street (and this is where Cromwell’s precinct feels more authentic), you really could be forgiven for feeling like you’ve stepped back in time (well, if you screw your eyes a little).
Many of the old buildings have been preserved and repurposed into shops and restaurants, and there are plenty of places to buy Kiwiana gifts, especially New Zealand wool and outdoor wear. On our most recent visit, there were also a few local fruit stalls on the street, selling local produce very cheaply (and they tasted so good).
One of the aesthetical highlights of Buckingham Street is the Arrowtown Post Office, built in 1915 and one of the few remaining NZ post offices still called a ‘Post and Telegraph Office’.
Walking in Arrowtown
Arrowtown is a hiker’s heaven (how busy the car parks can get by the Arrow River kind of proves this). There are fifteen listed walks in the area that vary from one hour strolls through to epic journeys that last several days (kind of like how it feels to watch the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies to us!). Trail maps are available from the Arrowtown Museum.
Eating in Arrowtown
There are lots of nice looking restaurants in Arrowtown (La Rumbla both come highly recommended) but we have a confession to make – literally every time we visit (be it summer or winter), we always head to Arrowtown Bakery, situated at the start of Buckingham Street.
It is easy to find – just look for the big queues (summer) or follow the delicious smells of baking pies (winter). In fact, if you Google ‘Arrowtown Bakery’, the first articles that appear are Trip Advisor exclamations about how Arrowtown Bakery produces the best pies in New Zealand.
Our opinion is that on a good day, it is one of the best in New Zealand (our two Queenstown / Otago favourites are Arrowtown Bakery and Mrs Ferg Bakery). Their range of pies is huge (vegetarian options too) and frankly you’d be a fool if you at least didn’t pop in to see what they are cooking up!
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