Arrowtown is often seen as a day trip destination, but there is heaps to keep you busy, whether you’re there for a few hours or a few days. Towns don’t get much cuter than Arrowtown, and the hills surrounding the town are home to heaps of walking trails. We’ve been to Arrowtown half a dozen times over the last few years and I finally feel confident to show you what I consider to be the best things to do in Arrowtown!
Wander the Streets
One of the best parts about a trip to Arrowtown is wandering the picturesque streets. It’s a compact old town (it won’t take long to walk) and you’ll see heaps of cute old shops and other buildings. It’s one of the best looking and most atmospheric tourist towns in New Zealand – it does get busy though.
Walk by the River
The Arrow River sits close to the main street, making it an easy diversion from wandering around town. The Arrow River Trail takes you along the river, past a small waterfall and eventually to a bridge. It’s an easy walk (great for kids) and can also be cycled. Past the bridge is a FWD track to Macetown (more on that later).
Hiking in the Hills
There are lots of tracks in the hills above Arrowtown. I reckon the best one to do is the Sawpit Gully Track, which branches off the Arrow River Trail. The scenery changes quite a lot on this walk, and it loops around to take you back to Arrowtown. Another option is Tobins Track – I thought it was good but not quite on the same level as the Sawpit Gully Track.
You can ride you bike along the Arrow River Trail, along one of the mountain bike tracks above town or on the Arrowtown Bridges Trail, which links Arrowtown to the Kawarau Gorge.
If you’re into history, or you just want to see some interesting old buildings, head for the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. It was once home to a community of gold miners living and working in extremely harsh conditions. It’s free, quick to look around and it gives a great insight into life as a goldminer back in the late 1800s.
Lakes District Museum
It makes sense that one of the best historic towns in New Zealand would have a good museum to tie it all together, and the Lakes District Museum is certainly that. The displays are informative and they’ve recreated some of the key aspects of the town as they were back then, like shops and bars.
Apparently there’s still gold in the Arrow River, and tourists are encouraged to rent a pan and try their luck. I’ve seen a few groups of tourists doing this, I’m pretty sure they never find anything too valuable, but that’s not really the point. You can rent the gear from the museum if you want to give it a go.
See Autumn Leaves
Arrowtown is one of New Zealand’s most iconic Autumn destinations. Every year, from around mid-April, the town comes alive with the colours of autumn. The hills are full of brightly coloured trees and the trees in town start to drop their leaves – there’s even an Autumn festival every year to celebrate it.
Lake Hayes is a few kilometres away from Arrowtown and is just off the main road to Queenstown. It’s a stunning lake, especially on still winter days. You can walk all the way around Lake Hayes, or just park up and enjoy the views.
The Crown Range
The mountain pass between Queenstown and Arrowtown, known as the Crown Range, starts close to Arrowtown. It’s one of the highest main roads in New Zealand and views are stunning – be careful on the tight corners though! I remember driving this road when I was around 18 (and a very inexperienced driver) and it was frightening – it was much easier when we did it recently!
Other Things to Do in Arrowtown
Some of the other things to do in Arrowtown include gold courses (including the famous-in-New Zealand Millbrook), hot air balloon rides, driving the scenic backstreets and shopping in the many boutique shops. You’re also close to the ski fields, as well as all the world-class hikes closer to Queenstown.
Arrowtown VS Queenstown
If you’re spending a few days in the Queenstown area it could be tempting to stay a night or two in Arrowtown. When the day tripping crowds leave, Arrowtown becomes pretty sleepy, so if you’re after somewhere a bit quieter than Queenstown, it’s a good option. It’d also be a good idea to stay the night there if you’re planning to drive to Wanaka early the next day. If nightlife and a wide variety of eating options is important to you, definitely choose Queenstown!
A Day Trip Itinerary
If you’re doing a day trip to Arrowtown from Queenstown, I’d recommend stopping off at Lake Hayes along the way, and then parking up in Arrowtown for a few hours while you explore the town and go for a quick walk by the river / in the hills. On the way back to Queenstown you could take the route which takes you close to Coronet Peak way and drive up there for some awesome views and a gondola ride (in summer).
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our two-week South Island itinerary!