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Things to do in Arrowtown (and the Chinese settlement) – New Zealand

Arrowtown first image

On the fifth day of our holiday in Queenstown, we booked a bus tour to Arrowtown and Wanaka. Opting for a guided tour instead of self-driving was a wise decision, considering the tales we had heard about the steep and winding route to Wanaka. 

In this article, I will take you through the beautiful historic locations and breathtaking photo spots we discovered during our visit to Arrowtown. Today, there are about seventy buildings left from the gold-rushing era. Details about our exploration of Wanaka will be featured in a separate article.

Watch the video we shot at Arrowtown. It is at the end of this article. 👇👇

1. Arriving in Arrowtown

Due to our morning visit to Wanaka, our itinerary for Arrowtown was tight, allowing us only an hour to explore. With this limited time frame, we prioritized visiting the Chinese settlement and the picturesque Arrow River, then utilizing the remaining time to wander through the charming streets of this small town.

2. Chinese settlement: See how Chinese gold miners lived

The Chinese Settlement offers a glimpse into the lives of the Chinese miners who once resided here during the gold rush era.

They arrived in large numbers, seeking their fortunes in the goldfields. The Chinese Settlement was established to provide them with housing, social support, and communal spaces, fostering a sense of community in a foreign land. Nowadays, the Chinese Settlement has been meticulously restored.

As we entered the Chinese settlement, we were greeted by numerous signs in both English and Chinese, providing detailed explanations of the historical significance of the buildings before us. These informative signages allow us to comprehensively understand the bygone era as we explored the meticulously restored buildings.

We visited Ah Lum’s Store, a restored Chinese general store. Ah Lum’s Store

The store stocked various European and imported goods, including Chinese teas, rice, pickled lemons, ginger, opium, gambling pieces, medicines, and smoking accessories.

Ah Lum was a respected community leader. His English and Chinese literacy enabled him to transact business deals and serve as an interpreter and letter writer.

By 1890, Otago’s gold was exhausted, and many Chinese miners moved on. The main occupants of the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement became elderly men with limited means, living rather lonely lives.

3. Arrow River: Lord of the Rings, and gold

This picturesque river and its surrounding landscapes were a filming location for several iconic scenes in the Lord of the Rings.

Arrowtown Arrow river

According to this source, the river and its banks hold fame as they served as the filming location for the Ford of Bruinen in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” alongside the stunning Skippers Canyon. This fictional river served as a transportation route for the characters, offering a stunning backdrop of rugged mountains and lush forests as they ventured through Middle-earth.

When gold was discovered in Arrow River in 1862, the river became a focal point of activity, with miners setting up camp along its banks and utilizing various techniques to extract gold from the riverbeds.

Arrowtoen Arrow River

4. X Marks the spot

In August 1862, Jack Tewa, known as Maori Jack, found golf near this spot. Tewa was employed as a shearer by William Rees, runholder and the founder of Queenstown.

Tewa was not particularly interested in gold mining, but words of this find got out to those that were.

This news led to the Great Wakatipu Fold Rush, which drew miners worldwide and laid the foundation for Arrowtown.

things to do in Arrowtown

5. Buckingham Street

We stroll down the charming heritage area of the village, known as Buckingham Street. This street has many original buildings with authentic European and Chinese architectural styles harkening back to the town’s early settlement days. As we walked along this quaint street, we were enchanted by the rows of buildings framed by magnificent trees and the majestic backdrop of the surrounding mountains.

Explore Arrowtown in the fall

Arrowtown truly shines in the fall season. From March to May, the foliage surrounding Arrowtown undergoes a magnificent transformation, becoming a captivating tapestry of yellow, red, and orange hues.

things to do in Arrowtown

things to do in Arrowtown

During May, a blanket of autumn leaves embraces the charming streets and historic buildings. It’s an enchanting sight that adds an extra layer of beauty to the already serene atmosphere of Arrowtown. 

things to do in Arrowtown

Lakes district museum

The Lake District Museum & Art Gallery is a treasure trove of historical riches that will transport you back to the gold rush era.

things to do in Arrowtown

Catholic Church & the Sister Mary MacKillop’s cottage

The Church is the largest stone building in Arrowtown. Next to the church is Sister Mary MacKillop’s cottage

The small cottage is on the grounds of St Patrick’s Church. It was originally built as a miner’s house around 1870. 

things to do in Arrowtown

After the sisters departed, the building underwent various transformations before it was restored in the 1990s. Nevertheless, these remarkable women, renowned for their efforts to educate underprivileged children and rural communities, left a lasting legacy.

Other notable buildings

things to do in Queenstown

things to do in Queenstown

things to do in Arrowtown

6. A brief introduction to Arrowtown

Arrowtown is a historic town on the South Island of New Zealand, about twenty minutes drive from Queenstown.
The discovery of gold in the Arrow River in 1862 triggered a rush of miners worldwide. The name “Arrowtown” is believed to have originated from the nearby Arrow River. The name may have been given because of the fast flow of the river or because the junction of Arrow and Bush creeks resembled an arrowhead.
The gold rush brought many people to Arrowtown, including Europeans, Chinese miners, and the Pacific Islands.
During the peak of the gold rush in the 1860s, the population of Arrowtown had swelled to around 7,000 people, making it larger than nearby Queenstown at the time.
As the gold rush waned in the late 1860s, many miners shifted to other goldfields or returned to their home countries, leaving behind a much smaller community. Today, Arrowtown remains a thriving community with around 3,500 people.
Arrowtown has become a tourist destination now thanks to its well-preserved historic buildings and heritage. The picturesque streets, lined with quaint cottages and preserved structures, offer a glimpse into its gold rush past.
The town has various attractions, including the Lakes District Museum, which provides insights into its gold mining past, and the Chinese Settlement. This restored village showcases the lives of Chinese miners during the gold rush.

Watch the video we shot at Arrowtown👇👇

We also upload a video we shot during our trip. Please click the image below to bring you to our YouTube channel (shot in high definition!). You may also want to check out our visit to Queenstown Hill and Queenstown scenic helicopter flights.

Arrowtown link