Widely acknowledged as one of the prettiest small towns in New Zealand, Arrowtown is a quaint village only 20-minutes’ drive from Queenstown.
The town grew out of the 1860s gold rush, and its main street still maintains much of the character of the time.
The heritage buildings are home to small, quirky shops, making way for a tree-lined street lined with 19th Century miners' cottages. You can also visit some of the tiny, old houses of Chinese miners down by the river, and there are some beautiful walks down there.
Gold was first found in the Arrow River by "Māori Jack" Tewa, a shearer, in 1862, but it was William Fox who made it famous. He shared the discovery of gold widely and made the settlement at Arrowtown famous, to the point where it was originally called "Fox's".
At the height of the Gold Rush, Arrowtown was bustling. Over 1,500 workers panned the river below the town for gold and lived in the small town. There were also many Chinese miners, who built a separate village down by the river. You can still see the remnants (and reconstruction) of the historic settlement today.
Gradually, the gold ran out, and Arrowtown lost its significance. Without much industry nearby, the town shrunk, and there was little development for the next 80 years. As a result, few new buildings were constructed and there are more than 70 historic sites in the town today. Arrowtown eventually became a popular holiday destination in the 1950s, and the old buildings were preserved and restored.
Arrowtown is only 20 minutes' drive from central Queenstown and around 15 minutes from Queenstown Airport and Frankton. It is conveniently located near Coronet Peak, Lake Hayes and Gibbston Valley.
Due to its location, Arrowtown makes a great day trip from Queenstown. There are buses connecting Arrowtown with Queenstown and Frankton, however, it's easiest to visit by car. There is also a cycle trail connecting Arrowtown and Queenstown.
Arrowtown is surrounded by mountains and is at the centre of a network of cycling and walking trails. This means there are many great outdoor activities and experiences around the town.
Along with its lovely main street, Arrowtown has excellent restaurants, quirky shops, gorgeous scenic lookout points and a couple of golf courses near the town. Here are a few of our favourite activities in Arrowtown:
Spend an afternoon strolling along Buckingham Street (the main street of town) and looping around the block to Ramshaw Lane. Here you will find Arrowtown's eateries and charming shops.
The buildings all date from the 1860s, and you can see the old butcher's shop, the general store (now a pharmacy), the stables (now a restaurant), the weatherboard Postmaster's Cottage and the Post Office, and a row of old miners' cottages built along the tree-lined avenue.
Your walk will take you past Arrowtown's shops and cafes, so be sure to have a break and stop for a coffee.
As you wander through the town, take a peek at the local shops. This is an excellent place to come if you're after knitwear or jewellery, and other are several small and interesting shops to discover.
You can see large nuggets of gold in the jewellery shop, and beautiful greenstone (jade) at the factory shop. There are also some good options for gifts and souvenirs, and children will love the speciality sweet shop.
This small museum has a surprising amount of information and several interactive exhibits for younger visitors. Along with mining, the lower floor exhibits life in a goldrush town, allowing you to get a glimpse of a 19th Century bakery, print press, stables and schoolroom.
The Lakes District Museum is Arrowtown's information centre, and you can hire pans from there if you want to have a go at panning for gold during your visit. There is also a small bookshop and gallery at the museum.
Escape into nature for an hour and do the Arrowtown Anniversary Walk. The tranquil 4.2km loop along the river is shaded by beautiful willow, sycamore, and larch trees. The route crosses the river and passes old gold-digging sites and the Ford of Bruinen filming location from the Lord of Rings films.
If you can't dedicate an hour to the walk, follow the track for 10 minutes, then turn around and head back the way you came. The starting point is behind the skatepark on Ramshaw Lane (behind the museum).
Follow in the footsteps of the 19th Century miners and try your luck finding gold in the Arrow River. While most of the gold has been depleted, you can find the odd tiny shard. Several places in the town offer gold panning, or you can rent a pan from the museum. This is a fun activity for the family, but just a word of warning – finding gold often isn't easy, so don't be disappointed if you leave empty-handed.
As mentioned above, many miners were Chinese expats hoping to return home with wealth. However, they weren't always welcomed by the Europeans and built a separate settlement down by the river, complete with houses and shops.
Wander through the old settlement by river, where some of the buildings have been restored and recreated. It's an interesting and lovely walk – and the cramped conditions of the houses are a bit shocking to modern visitors.
The Queenstown Trail goes through Arrowtown, with several beautiful trails to choose from. You can pick an easy trail from the town itself or, for a more extended excursion, cycle from Arrowtown to Gibbston Valley, stopping at wineries along the way. You can also hire e-bikes if you want an easier option.
If you enjoy mountain biking, there are some great trails near Arrowtown, including following the 4WD track to the old gold mining settlement at Macetown. Just be aware that the path involves crossing the river multiple times.
Arrowtown is lovely at night. The historic buildings are lit up, the restaurants and bars are full, and the town has a lively atmosphere.
Choose one of Arrowtown's excellent restaurants for dinner, then head to Dorothy Browns Cinema for a movie. It's a lovely boutique cinema, and you enjoy wine and cheese with the film. Then stay for a nightcap at the Balcony Gin Bar - follow the signs in the cinema.
If you're after somewhere quieter than central Queenstown, with good food and accommodation options, consider basing yourself in Arrowtown during your stay.
Arrowtown is incredibly convenient in the winter as it's close to both the Queenstown and Wanaka ski fields. In fact, several European and American ski teams choose Arrowtown as a base when they come to New Zealand to train.
Some of our favourite hotels in Arrowtown:
The Arrowfield Apartments are great for self-catering and have great views. There are 1, 2 and 3-bedroom options, which are perfect for groups and families.
Arrowtown House, a gorgeous boutique hotel just a short walk from town.
Arrowtown Holiday Park with camping and campervan sites and cabins. Walking distance from town and great for those on a budget.
For a small town, Arrowtown has an extraordinary number of good places to eat. As well as the pubs and cafes, there are several restaurants which are well worth visiting if you can.
All have impressive wine lists, and you'll usually need to book in advance. Here are some of the most popular:
La Rumbla: inspired by food from the streets and culture of Catalonia in Spain
Slow Cuts: think slow-cooked lamb, pork and beef, handcrafted burgers and smoky ribs accompanied by seasonal salads and desserts.
Millbrook: one of New Zealand's best fine-dining restaurants. Expect a seasonal degustation menu with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.
From Arrowtown, it's just a short drive to Lake Hayes, a beautiful lake with mirror-like views on still days. Spend a morning or afternoon walking the 8km around the lake. The views are stunning.
Alternatively, you'll pass the Shotover River on the road to Queenstown. Stop to experience the exhilaration of jet boating through the canyon, or relax in a hot pool with a view at Onsen in Arthur's Point.
Just 10 minutes' drive away, you can sample a range of central Otago wines in Gibbston Valley, stopping at the iconic Kawarau Bridge bungy jumping site on the way. Continue on this route, and you'll end up at the lovely town of Cromwell on the shore of Lake Dunstan and eventually in Wanaka.
You can also take the Crown Range route between the mountains to Wanaka most of the year.