24 hours in Arrowtown: How to spend your time in this golden town
Queenstown has its glitter but as Sarah-Kate Lynch reveals, just a gemstone’s throw away, the charming settlement of Arrowtown has the gold.
Arrowtown started life as a gold mining town in the 1860s and, unlike a lot of places that were part of that historic rush, it’s retained much of its charm. It also has more than its fair share of secret stairways, and up one set you’ll find The Chop Shop Food Merchants in Arrow Lane, which runs parallel to the main road, Buckingham Street. Go for the Turkish eggs and, if they have jam rolls, get two. I’m in a book club in this neck of the woods so I visit regularly, usually staying with my book-club buddy Miranda at Lake Hayes, five minutes away.
On occasion, I don’t even bother telling her, I just turn up and make my way to the spare room, frightening her husband, John, along the way. But if John and Miranda ever change the locks, Arrowtown Lodge in Anglesea Street is a pearler, with adorable options in separate cottages and delightful private gardens – and it’s walking distance to everything (mind you, everything in Arrowtown is walking distance to everything else). “Once you park up here, that’s it,” says lodge owner Paul Stevenson.
“You can go get a bike and cycle to Gibbston Valley for a wine tasting, do the walks, shop, eat, drink or just sit in the garden and do nothing.”
After a two-hour flight, plus jam rolls, I’m usually pretty keen to get walking myself, and there are plenty choices that start right in Arrowtown. Straight and flat along the sides of the Arrow River is good for those with dud knees or strollers, especially in the summer. Can be a bit nippy – or icy – in the winter! For something a bit more challenging, Tobins Track is a book-club favourite.
Forty minutes up (if you’re me) and 20 down, with the reward of a fantastic view of the whole Wakatipu Basin at the top. And if you’re feeling energetic, Sawpit Gully trail is an 8km loop but not for the faint of heart. Some of my book club are pocket rockets but I’m a slow-and-steady hiker so I don’t try to keep up, I just revel in the different terrains and staggering views this hike into the back blocks has to offer. My favourite though is the walk around Lake Hayes. Good for just about every level and as peaceful and picturesque as you’re ever likely to find.
If you’re still hungry – no, scrap that, hunger has nothing to do with it – find your way to Ramshaw Lane, which also runs parallel to Buckingham Street but on the lower side, closer to the river. Patagonia Chocolates and I have a deep and abiding love affair, due mainly to their cherry and pinot noir dark-chocolate truffles. Best. Chocolate. In. The. World. And trust me, I’ve tried a few.
The good news is that if you run out of time to find them in Arrowtown, there’s a shop at the airport (and the mother ship on the lakefront in Queenstown). I often buy a 10-pack of truffles on arrival. (Well, you try getting around Sawpit Gully without a little smackerel or two.) Near Patagonia, the Gibbston Valley Cheesery & Deli will satisfy any dairy requirements.
The Dorothy Browns cinema is an absolute must-do. This gorgeous little theatre with comfy chairs, blankets, and all the latest films also has a book shop. Why, you can buy this very magazine there. And don’t forget to check out the gin bar on the deck that faces out towards the river and hills. You can order fish and chips and use the basket attached to the fishing rod to raise them up to your lofty status.
Or you can pop down to Fan-Tan Kitchen & Bar for Asian-inspired sustenance, via the infamous Blue Door Bar, if you’re thirsty. Fan-Tan’s duck-lard crumpet has to be eaten to be believed. You could also try locals’ favourite La Rumbla at the other end of Buckingham Street. Then it’s time to sneak back into Miranda’s house – or boldly stride up to Arrowtown Lodge – to stack some zzzzzzzs.
In the summer, I might get up and walk around Lake Hayes. But that’s a pretty big “might”.
At the western (I think) end of Arrowtown, you’ll find the easiest walk of all, around the historic Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. It’s sobering to see the tiny huts the Chinese miners stayed in when they came in search of gold in the 1860s.
But Scott Stevens, who owns The Dishery restaurant, a new but sympathetic addition tucked away near the entrance to the village, says that actually those modest huts were a darn site more attractive after a day’s mining than a wet tent.
The gold’s not all in the past. Scott’s a keen gold panner himself – his wedding ring is made with gold he collected from the Arrow River – and he reckons there’s still plenty of the good stuff up in them thar hills.
“They say if you blew up Advance Peak, about 25km upriver, it would rain gold.”
They say if you blew up Advance Peak... it would rain gold.
At the historic Dudley’s Cottage next door, now home to Better By Bike, you can actually hire a gold pan and shovel for $10 and have a crack yourself.
“Gold guaranteed?” says Scott. “Well, there’s definitely plenty of it and you’ll have fun for sure. As far as a cheap, totally unique family activity goes, you don’t get much for $10 these days.” Oh, by the way, try the avocado on cornbread. Yum.
On the other side of Dudley’s Cottage is artist Jenny Mehrtens’ private art studio. If she’s there, looking a picture herself in her paint-splattered shirt, pop in and have chat. ”I meet amazing people here,” says Jenny. “Art cannot exist without appreciators and my art has developed – and me too – because of the people I meet.”
Funnily enough, gold is a big part of her work, “for the added layer of information it can give”. No surprise really when she’s literally sitting on a gold mine. She points out the window towards the Chinese Village and the river. “My inspiration is just there.”
While you’ve got gold on your mind, stick your head into The Gold Shop in the middle of town and ask Justin Eden if you can see his nuggets. Oh, that sounds wrong. But Justin has possible the biggest gold nugget in the country, weighing in at around 400g. When you look at it, you sort of understand why people throughout history have been so fascinated by this malleable metal. It draws you in, like a fire.
Lastly, after a final swerve back to Patagonia, I nip back up to Arrow Lane to check in on another book-club bestie, Cath Hanna, who can be found in the tiny showroom she shares with business partner Kim Turner (insert Cath and Kim joke here) for Midi, their online company aimed at women embracing their middle years. Cath’s recently moved back to the Wakatipu Basin after a few years away and is loving it all over again.
The truth is, for such a tiny pocket there is just so much to love. To put it in perspective, from the Chinese Village at one end of Buckingham Street to the Lakes District Museum & Gallery at the other, we’re talking about a distance of 400m. Paul from Arrowtown Lodge isn’t joking when he says everything is at your fingertips.
And then, as Scott will tell you, there are the seasons. “In the spring you’ve got the roses, the peonies. In the summer, we have a microclimate, which means it’s fricking hot. And the autumn is without a doubt the highlight. But then the winter is amazing.”
What to do
- Pan for gold
- Hire a bike
- Take a hike
- Catch a movie
- Browse Buckingham St
- Talk to an artist
- Ogle a nugget
Where to eat
- The Chop Shop
- Patagonia Chocolates
- Fan-Tan Kitchen & Bar
- La Rumbla
- The Dishery
- Gibbston Valley
Where to stay
- Arrowtown Lodge