Calmly nestled between forested hills, Arrowtown couldn’t be further away (in a metaphorical sense) to the bustling, often overcrowded tourist metropolis that Queenstown has become. It is close in a literal sense though. Arrowtown is only 20 km from Queenstown and attracts a fair share of its popular neighbour’s visitors. Once you walk through its historic streets it’s easy to see why. This is one of the most atmospheric old towns in New Zealand and provides an quaint experience which Queenstown can’t match.
Walking the Historic Streets of Arrowtown
Arrowtown was founded way back in the 1860s, a direct result of the gold boom that swept the region. The Arrow River was teeming with gold, attracting thousands of miners from around the world. The town flourished. Today you can walk around Arrowtown and, if you’re willing to use your imagination a little, imagine what it must have been like all those years ago.
READ MORE: 10 of the Best Queenstown Hikes
The bars and brothels that were prevalent in Arrowtown’s glory days have mostly been replaced by cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. It’s a tranquil place to wander, assuming you aren’t visiting in the height of the tourist season when it can get a bit overrun. We’ve been to Arrowtown a few times and winter is by far our favourite time of year to visit.
Most of Arrowtown’s nicest old buildings are located on Buckingham Street. It’s the old town’s “main street” and it’s very photogenic. Historic buildings line both sides of the street, which is often (annoyingly) full of cars. I can’t work out why they haven’t “cobblestoned” it and blocked it off to traffic – it’d really improve the look and feel of this impressive historic street. Most of the old buildings house businesses, but there is also a museum to check out.
There are more old buildings scattered around the surrounding streets. My favourites were the Arrow Lodge Kilwinning on Wiltshire Street and the tiny St Paul’s Anglican church on Church Street.
The Chinese Village
Chinese miners flocked to Arrowtown during the gold rush, creating their own little village down by the river. It’s now an open air museum where you can walk into the tiny dwellings and get a feel for how the miners lived. I imagine it got pretty gold during the notoriously harsh southern winters, but that was obviously a small price to pay for the chance to strike it rich.
READ MORE: 15 Fun Things to Do in Queenstown
Other things to do in Arrowtown
There are a few walks around Arrowtown, including the long trek into Macetown, an abandoned mining village (you can also go there in a 4WD. There are also easier hikes around, including Tobins Track and the Lake Hayes Track. There are a couple of world class golf courses nearby and the area is full of vineyards, adventure activities and cycle trails.
Getting to Arrowtown
Arrowtown is 25 km from Queenstown and is easily reached by road. The drive there from Queenstown is stunning, especially in winter. Buses also ply the route and most big South Island tours include it in their itineraries. The road to Wanaka (the Crown Range) also starts near Arrowtown — I’d recommend driving it for the views alone!
Walking the old streets of Arrowtown is one of the best things to do in the Queenstown region. It’s worth stopping there for at least a couple of hours on your way through, and it also makes for a great alternate to Queenstown as a base while you explore this beautiful region.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our two-week South Island itinerary!
Latest posts by Jon Algie (see all)
- The Old Man Range, Central Otago: Driving to the Obelisk - April 21, 2021
- Frasers Beach, Manapouri - April 19, 2021
- Driving from Queenstown to Te Anau and Milford Sound: The Best Places to Stop - April 13, 2021