No trip to Queenstown is complete without a short drive to Arrowtown, a historic gold mining town. At just a 20-minute drive away, you have no excuse!
This is my favourite small town in the world. I recently returned for the first time in eight years and I was not disappointed.
Two words that describe Arrowtown perfectly are charming and delightful. This tiny, quaint town has kept its rich heritage, with boutique shops and cafes around every turn.
Allow at least a couple of hours to visit, but half a day will be more appropriate. You’d be surprised how much there is to do in such a little town. Follow this guide and choose a few things that tickle your fancy while you’re visiting, or do them all if you’ve got the whole day!
1. Stroll through Arrowtown Village
Never before have I seen more character packed into one street. There is plenty to do here. Boutique shops filled with handcrafted goods line the streets. Whether you’re after a hand-stitched raincoat, souvenir or knitted beanie, they’ll have you covered.
We recommend checking out the Remarkables Sweet Shop. There is also one in Queenstown if you miss out in Arrowtown. Try out some of their many flavours of fudge – they are to die for. They also make great gifts!
For a great Kiwiana-inspired souvenir, visit The Jade and Opal Factory. This gem (pun intended) in the middle of the town has been here for over 25 years!
This activity won’t take you long as the town is small, but it is definitely a must-do. If you’re lucky enough to catch the streets empty, it makes for a great photo opportunity. Unfortunately, if you aren’t there early in the morning, the streets are often teeming with tourists.
2. Visit the Chinese Settlement
Head down to Bush Creek to see the Chinese settlement in Arrowtown. The settlement has been partially-restored following its popularity with visitors.
See how the Chinese immigrants lived a modest way of life during the gold rush of the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, the Chinese community was shunned so they self-built their own little community of huts on the fringe of the town.
Ah Lum’s Store is one of the more famous buildings. During the gold rush, this store supplied the region with produce and provisions.
3. Walk to Arrowtown Police Camp and Arrow River
In the Buckingham Street Car Park in front of the Arrow River stands a small wooden cottage with a chimney. This cottage was a police camp building built in 1863. It has since been restored and is a great place to stop off in Arrowtown.
The building makes for a great photo opportunity, especially in Autumn, giving the photos a golden backdrop from deciduous trees.
Continue around the back of the building to visit the Arrow River. As a child, I remember being mesmerised by the morning mist on top of the river so this is somewhere I really wanted to visit when I returned.
With beautiful scenery literally everywhere you look, you can see why The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Series were shot in the South Island of New Zealand.
Cross the stream with gumboots or try your luck at balancing on top of a fallen branch. My fiance ended up misplacing his foot in the cold water, but it was a lot of fun getting across.
4. Try your luck at Gold Panning
Why not try gold panning in New Zealand’s most famous gold mining town?
This is the perfect activity for children and competitive adults alike. What’s more is it’s very affordable. The Lakes District Museum has gold pans for hire for $3 (with an additional $10 deposit).
If you want a bit of a lesson before trying on your own, head to Dudley’s Cottage. $15 NZD will get you a lesson and a pan, or you can hire a pan for $6 NZD and head on down to Arrow River.
I clearly didn’t have the magic touch, but many do find a few small nuggets to take home.
5. Feast at the Many Cafes/Restaurants
This little town is teeming with places to eat so you’re spoilt for choice. Our tip is to buy small dishes at each of the places you visit and share them. This way you can try from many of these trendy eateries.
Our top recommendation is Unwind Cafe and Bar – pick up a grilled sandwich or muffin here then head to The Chop Shop for some eggs and a coffee and finish at Terra Mia for a pizza.
If you’re still hungry or looking for a snack on the road, Bonjour does a tasty ham and cheese croissant.
6. Go for a Scenic Walk
Head across the Arrow River and soak in the views of Arrowtown and the turquoise waters of Lake Wakatipu. Start at the carpark on the bottom of Ford Street.
The short walk will take you 30 minutes each way but it does get steep in places, so a moderate fitness level is required. Where there’s climbing involved, you’ll know you’ll be rewarded with extensive views.
Sawpit Gully Track
Start the trail in the carpark of the Chinese Settlement Village and follow the Arrow River Trail.
There are steep climbs up the gully once you continue on to the Sawpit Gully Track, so bear this in mind and wear appropriate shoes with good grip.
There’s a lot of variety in this walk – you’ll get to see the Arrow River, Lake Wakatipu, Lake Hayes, open country views and beech forest. To return to the starting point, continue down the Big Hill Trail.
The full walk will take you between 2-3 hours.
7. Tour the Lakes District Museum
Since 1948, The Lakes District Museum has held a lot of information about the town’s history, as well as New Zealand overall. Learn about Arrowtown’s gold mining history, early Maori life, Chinese and European settlement and greenstone gathering.
This also makes for a great wet-weather activity.
The museum is open daily from 8:30-5pm. Entry is a small $10 NZD fee for adults and $3 NZD for children 5-18 years. There’s also a family pass available for $20 NZD.
8. Hire a Bike
With over 120 kilometers of cycleways, the iconic Queenstown trail is also rightfully known as one of New Zealand’s Great Rides. Two of these trails leave Arrowtown; the Arrow River Bridges Ride and the Countryside Ride.
The ever-popular Arrow River Bridges Ride spans up to the Kawarau Suspension Bridge. The trail is 16 km long and will take you 2-3 hours to complete. Travel through the Gibbston Valley past many wineries.
Many riders choose to do a wine tasting or two along the way. The combination of drinking and cycling doesn’t seem like the brightest idea – it might pay to choose only one or two wineries of the many along the way. We put together a list of our favourite vineyards in Queenstown.
The Countryside Ride also leaves Arrowtown and ends at Lower Shotover River. The 12 km trail is a bit more hilly and is recommended for intermediate riders. This should also take you around 2-3 hours to complete.
If you’re looking for more of a leisurely cycle, hire a bike and cycle around Arrowtown itself. It’s a great way to see the town.
Arrowtown Bike Hire offers both full-day and half-day hire starting from $42 NZD for adults and $20 NZD for children. They’re open from 8.30-5.30 pm daily.
9. Play some Golf
You’d be surprised to hear there are not only one or two, but three golf courses in Arrowtown. Take your pick!
Arrowtown Golf Club
166 Centennial Avenue, Arrowtown
Arrowtown Golf Club is known for its scenery – enjoy your game of golf accompanied by a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and beautiful, lush greenery.
Fees for 18 holes are $50 NZD for those affiliated with NZ Golf Association, or $95 NZD otherwise. Hireage of clubs and carts are also available. Join the men’s competition on Saturdays at 12:30pm, or mixed competition from 12pm on Sundays.
The golf club is open during the warmer months from October to April. Stop by The Clubhouse after your game for snacks and drinks.
Millbrook Golf Course
Millbrook Resort, Malaghans Road, Arrowtown
For avid golfers, Millbrook Golf Course is the one for you. It has won a myriad of awards, including Best Golf Hotel in 2016 and 2017.
This huge 27-hole course is bound to keep you busy. Enjoy the amazing views of the Remarkables surrounding the course.
Fees are pricier, especially during the peak season from October to April at $145 NZD for in-house guests and $195 NZD for visitors. The great thing about Millbrook is it is open year-round at $85 NZD off-peak (May to September).
The Hills Golf Club
164 McDonnell Road, Arrowtown
The Hills Golf Club by Sir Michael Hill is one of the most famous clubs in the country. Once again, you’ll be surrounded in the South Island’s beautiful scenery, with the addition of sculptures to complete the look.
Being New Zealand’s most exclusive golf club, not everyone is allowed to enter the course. They hold a members-only policy, however, visitors may be able to play if space permits. Your best bet would be to get in contact well in advance.
For those lucky enough to be given the opportunity, enjoy the restaurant and day spa facilities.