Arrowtown, a South Island gem

Arrowtown is a small settlement and former gold mining town in Otago, New Zealand. Just a short drive away from Queenstown you couldn’t be any further from the hustle and bustle and adrenaline-fuelled adventure activities.

Arrowtown, Otago, New Zealand

Arrowtown, Otago, New Zealand. Photo by Melanie Moran

The historic gold mining town counts around 2500 souls and is as tranquil as it is enchanting. Arrowtown’s picturesque centre is lined with old wooden buildings that remind of wild west movies.

Arrowtown, Otago, New Zealand

Arrowtown, Otago, New Zealand

The history of Arrowtown

Jack Tewa, a worker on one of the first settlers’ farms in the area discovered gold in the Arrow River in 1861. William Fox and others followed and the town grew to over 1500 miners in 1862. As the word spread, more and more miners flocked to Arrowtown in pursuit of riches and the town’s population rose to 7000. However, when the initial phase of easily extractable gold passed, the miners headed to the West Coast goldfields by the mid 1860s.

Chinese workers were invited to mine for gold in Otago to lessen the impact of the leaving miners on the Otago economy. The remnants of the Chinese settlements, which were finally abandoned in 1928, can still be seen above Arrowtown on the banks of Bush Creek.

Chinese Settlement Arrowtown

Chinese Settlement Arrowtown. Photo by Samuel Mann, on Flickr

After the big gold rush era, the transient settlement of Arrowtown transformed into a more permanent town with tree-lined avenues, servicing the outlying farms. Subsequently the population declined, but since the 1950s the town has seen a steady increase in permanent residents, visitors and holidaymakers.

Things to do in Arrowtown

Today, Arrowtown is a very popular holiday destination for local and international visitors alike. It’s a peaceful little place with tree-lined streets, complete with small 19th century-style shops and some fantastic eateries. Visitors can pan for gold in the Arrow River, take tours around the historic buildings, play golf, visit art galleries and embark on walks and hikes on the many trails around the Lakes District.


Trails around Arrowtown. Photo by nim, on Flickr

Ghost towns

If you have a day to spare, why not head out to the backcountry to explore the remnants of the gold era yourself? Macetown is one of the three settlements near Arrowtown that were founded during the big gold rush but quickly fell into decline as miners headed elsewhere. By the early 1930s all of them had become ghost towns. Macetown is accessible via a 4WD track that crosses a river 22 times (!) and is a historic site restored and managed by the Department of Conservation.

When to go

Anytime is a great time to visit Arrowtown. But perhaps the most enchanting scenery presents itself in autumn. Arrowtown annually hosts an Autumn Festival, when the red and golden leaves of the many trees make the quaint little town all the more appealing. This year’s festival takes place from 29 April – 8 May.

Arrowtown, Otago, New Zealand

Arrowtown, Otago, New Zealand. Photo by Melanie Moran

Have you ever been to Arrowtown’s Autumn Festival?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  12 comments for “Arrowtown, a South Island gem

  1. 28 April, 2011 at 03:06

    Arrowtown looks charming! It reminds me of some of the “Old West” looking towns we have in California.

    • Christina
      28 April, 2011 at 03:12

      It is so charming! Well, its charme definitely worked on me 😉

  2. 28 April, 2011 at 04:08

    I’d love to visit this gold rush era town- I’m always fascinated with this time period being from California. Looks like a lovely place to spend the weekend and hike around.

    • Christina
      28 April, 2011 at 08:05

      Jade, my pictures don’t do it justice. It’s the atmosphere that sucks you in. That one fantastic chocolate store called Patagonia Chocolates might have had something to do with it, too… 🙂

  3. 28 April, 2011 at 09:07

    Like the others I’m reminded a little of certain towns in California 🙂

    • Christina
      28 April, 2011 at 19:42

      Interesting – makes me think I should perhaps visit California sometime

  4. 28 April, 2011 at 11:20

    I love little towns like this in New Zealand.

    Wish we’d known more about it at the time as we just drove past on our way into Queenstown as we didn’t have much time.

    • Christina
      28 April, 2011 at 19:47

      To be honest, I can’t remember what brought me to Arrowtown the first time around; must have read about it in my guide book back then. I just visited for a few hours after my bungy jump and it was the perfect place to calm down!

  5. 29 April, 2011 at 22:39

    We loved Arrowtown – the brewery there has some really nice beers.

    • Christina
      30 April, 2011 at 05:21

      I didn’t know about the brewery – thanks for the tip! I’ll make sure to check it out next time I’m there, hopefully in the near future!

  6. 4 May, 2011 at 17:37

    Arrowtown reminds me of the Old West towns you can see! Looks very interesting.

    • Christina
      13 May, 2011 at 19:03

      It’s the best – you get history, picturesque setting, stunning nature, lovely people, and a fab autumn festival!

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