arrowtown activities

Arrowtown Activities: A Day in the Charming Gold Rush Town

Last Updated: 3rd November, 2023

Arrowtown is a quaint and historic town in the Otago region of New Zealand, only 20 minutes drive from Queenstown! It was once a bustling gold mining settlement, where thousands of prospectors came to seek their fortune in the 1860s. Today, it is a popular tourist destination that offers a variety of Arrowtown activities for visitors of all ages and interests. Whether you are looking for history, nature, culture, or adventure, you will find something to enjoy in Arrowtown. Here are some of the best things to do in Arrowtown for a day trip or a longer stay!

Buckingham Street, explore the main street, Arrowtown Activities

Visiting the Charming Town of Arrowtown

When is the Best Time to Visit Arrowtown?

The best time to visit Arrowtown is during the summer months from December to February, when the days are warm and sunny, with average temperatures ranging from 20-28 degrees Celsius! This is the best time to enjoy all that Arrowtown has to offer, with most of the popular activities up and running. You can enjoy biking, hiking, golfing, and exploring the towns historical attractions! However, Summer is the peak season for tourism, so you may need to book your accommodation and activities in advance!

Visiting Arrowtown in Autumn

Visiting Arrowtown in Winter

Arrowtown in Autumn
Arrowtown in Autumn!

How to Get to Arrowtown from Queenstown

Queenstown to Arrowtown Bus

Arrowtown is super easy to reach from the major tourist hot-spot of Queenstown. There are a number of public bus routes that travel from the heart of Queenstown and around the surrounding area, including a bus from Queenstown to Arrowtown!

The Arrowtown Bus service is operated by Otago Regional Council and runs every 30 minutes from Stanley Street Bus Hub in Queenstown to Adamson Drive (Reed Park) in Arrowtown. The journey takes around 40 minutes, and costs $4!

By Car

If you have a car, the easiest (and quickest) way to get from Queenstown to Arrowtown is to drive! The journey is short, and will take just over 20 minutes. There are two routes that you can take when driving from Queenstown to Arrowtown:

  1. Queenstown to Arrowtown via Lake Hayes
    This route heads South out of Queenstown, and follows the Frankton Road (SH6) out of the city, before turning left onto the Arrowtown – Lake Hayes Road until you reach Arrowtown! This journey is beautiful, and gives you stunning views over Lake Wakitipu and the surrounding mountains along the way.
  2. Queenstown to Arrowtown via Arthurs Point
    Driving from Queenstown to Arrowtown via Arthurs Point is a scenic and slightly longer route that offers beautiful views over the Shotover River and the dramatic mountains! This route follows Gorge Road out of the center of Queenstown and over the Shotover River, before arriving in Arrowtown.

Exploring Arrowtown’s Rich History

The charming settlement of Arrowtown is steeped in history, and played a vital role in the Otago Gold Rush of the 1860’s! Here is a brief overview of Arrowtown’s history:

Early Māori Presence in Arrowtown

Before European settlement, the area around Arrowtown was inhabited by the Māori people, and there is evidence of their presence dating back centuries. They were drawn to the region due to its natural resources and the Arrow River, which provided a source of sustenance and trade.

The Otago Gold Rush

Arrowtown’s most significant historical period began in 1862 when gold was discovered in the Arrow River. This discovery triggered the Otago Gold Rush, attracting thousands of miners from around the world who came in search of their fortunes. The town quickly developed to support this influx of people and became a bustling hub for gold mining. The population swelled, and the landscape was transformed as miners dug for gold along the riverbanks.

explore the historic buildings, Arrowtown activities
Historic Buildings in Arrowtown, New Zealand

Chinese Settlement in Arrowtown

Arrowtown was notable for its diverse population. Chinese immigrants also came to the region, and a small Chinese settlement called “Chinatown” developed. The Chinese miners brought with them their culture and traditions, which can still be explored through historical sites in Arrowtown today.

The Best Historical Activities in Arrowtown, New Zealand

Fortunately, Arrowtown’s history was not forgotten! In the mid-20th century, efforts were made to preserve the town’s historic buildings and heritage, including the well-preserved Chinese Settlement. Today, Arrowtown’s historic streets, buildings, and artifacts provide a unique opportunity for visitors to step back in time and explore the life of the gold rush era. Here’s a list of historical activities you can enjoy in Arrowtown:

1. Wander along historic Buckingham Street

  • Cost: Free!
  • Family-Friendly
  • Outdoors
  • Accessible

One of the must-do Arrowtown activities is to explore the heart of the town. Buckingham Street, the main street of Arrowtown, is a charming street absolutely filled with history! This is where you will find many of the historic buildings that date back to the gold rush days, such as the old post office, the telephone box, the bank, and the cottages where the European miners lived!

Arrowtown Activities, exploring Buckinghamn Street, Arrowtown
Buckingham Street, Arrowtown

Some of these buildings are now heritage sites and have been restored to their original condition, making for an awesome experience. This street is also filled with restaurants, cafes, and boutique stores, so you can browse through local products and have a bite to eat while you’re at it!

Location: Buckingham Street, Arrowtown

2. Visit the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement

  • Cost: Free!
  • Family-Friendly
  • Outdoors
  • Wheelchair Accessible

Another must-see activity in Arrowtown is visiting the partially-restored Chinese Settlement, located on the banks of Bush Creek at the edge of town. This settlement is where the Chinese miners lived in the 19th century, after they were invited by the Otago Provincial Government to work on the gold fields. However, they faced discrimination from the European settlers, and were forced to live in small and simple huts on the outskirts of town made of stone and wood – some of which are still there today! Many of the huts have been restored, offering visitors the chance to step back into that ‘golden’ era and see how the miners lived.

Arrowtown Activities, arrowtown chinese settlement, Arrowtown
Historic Chinese Settlement, Arrowtown

You can visit these huts and walk around the historic Chinese Settlement, as well as learn more about the history and culture of the Chinese in Arrowtown through the interpretation panels nearby.

Location: The Arrowtown Chinese Settlement is near Bush Creek, at the top end of Buckingham Street, Arrowtown’s main street.

  • Cost: $5 for kids, $12 for adults
  • Family-Friendly
  • Rainy-Day Activity
  • Accessible

If you want to learn more about the history and culture of Arrowtown and the Otago region, you can visit the fantastic Lakes District Museum & Gallery in Arrowtown! This is one of the best small museums in New Zealand, with exhibits and displays that cover the early Maori life, the gold rush era, the Chinese settlement, and the development of the town.

This museum is an awesome place to visit while in Arrowtown, as it is educational and offers awesome entertainment for adults and kids alike! The Lakes District Museum has a strong hands-on focus, presenting an authentic picture of early Maori life and the pioneering days in an immersive and interactive way. You can even hire a Gold Pan and try your luck panning for gold down at the river – good luck to ya!

Lakes District Museum, Arrowtown Activities

Location: 49 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown, New Zealand

4. Gold Panning in Arrowtown!

  • Cost: ~$20
  • Family-Friendly
  • Outdoors

One of the most popular and exciting things to do in Arrowtown is to try your luck and go Gold Panning in the Arrow River! This is an awesome activity for the whole family, and lets you take a step back into the wild Gold Rush era, hunting for your fortune along the banks of the river.

What to Expect

Gold panning in Arrowtown takes place along the Arrow River, where gold was originally discovered during the gold rush in the 1860s! To go gold panning, you’ll need some basic equipment, which is usually provided by the tour operators. This equipment typically includes a gold pan, a shovel, and a container for all your gold! If you decide to pan for gold on your own, you can rent the equipment from the Lakes District Museum.

While it’s unlikely to strike it rich, visitors can find small flakes or tiny nuggets of gold while gold panning in Arrowtown. The experience of discovering even a small piece of gold is a thrilling one and provides a unique souvenir of your visit!

Location: Arrow River, Arrowtown

The Best Outdoor Activities in Arrowtown, New Zealand

Arrowtown is surrounded by the stunning landscapes of the Southern Alps and the beautiful Arrow River, and offers a wide range of outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers. Here are some of the different outdoor activities in Arrowtown:

5. Hiking and Walking Trails

  • Cost: Free!
  • Family-Friendly
  • Outdoors
  • Accessible

Arrowtown is a hikers paradise! The town and its surroundings offer numerous walking and hiking trails suitable for all levels of fitness, ranging from gentle strolls along the banks of the Arrow River, to challenging day-hikes into the surrounding mountains.

To see a list of the best walks in Arrowtown, check out my post here!

6. Biking from Queenstown to Arrowtown

  • Cost: Free! (+ bike rental)
  • Family-Friendly
  • Outdoors

Another awesome Arrowtown activity is to cycle from Queenstown to Arrowtown, along a section of the stunning Queenstown Trails! These trails are designed to take you through some of the incredible back-country around Queenstown and Arrowtown, and makes for a memorable day out!

Biking the Queenstown Trail from Queenstown to Arrowtown, Arrowtown Activities

What are the Queenstown Trails?

The Queenstown Trails is a network of interconnected cycling and walking trails in the Queenstown area, stretching all the way from Queenstown to Gibbston Valley, and along the Arrow River Trail into Arrowtown!

There are a number of different trails that you can follow, which takes you through some of the most incredible landscapes the Queenstown area has to offer! Below is a map of the route that we followed on the bike from Queenstown to Arrowtown:

Highlights of biking from Queenstown to Arrowtown

  • Views over the Remarkables Mountain Range
  • Crossing the Old Lower Shotover Bridge
  • Following the stunning Kawarau River
  • Joining up to the beautiful Arrow River Bridges Trail
  • Biking around the peaceful Lake Hayes
  • Coffee and Cake, followed by an explore of the historic Arrowtown!

7. Play a Round of Golf (or two!)

  • Cost: $$-$$$
  • Outdoors

If you’re a golf lover, then you know that there a number of amazing golf courses around Arrowtown and the Wakatipu Basin! There are 3 world-class golf courses near Arrowtown, making it a great place for golfers to stay and play!

  1. Millbrook Resort
    The closest golf course to Arrowtown is Millbrook Resort, which is famous in the area and offers world-class golf! Millbrook Resort offers two 18-hole golf courses, set in the stunning natural alpine landscape, and makes for an incredible experience! To complete your dream golf escape, Millbrook also offers luxurious accommodation and access to their outdoor hot pool and sauna – Bliss!
  2. Arrowtown Golf Club
    For a slightly cheaper option, the Arrowtown Golf Club offers 18-holes perfect for golfers of all skill levels! This golf course is renowned for its scenic beauty, with incredible views over the surrounding mountains. Visitors are welcome to play at the Arrowtown Golf Club! You can book tee times in advance, and golf clubs and carts are available for rent if you don’t have your own equipment.
  3. Hills Golf Club
    The Hills Golf Club in Arrowtown is a renowned golfing destination that offers a world-class experience. Nestled amidst the stunning Southern Alps, the course is known for its breathtaking beauty and challenging design, often hosting prestigious golf events. While it is a private club, there are a limited number of visitors are able to play here – but it’s essential to make reservations well in advance!

8. Skiing in Winter!

  • Cost: $$
  • Family-Friendly
  • Outdoors

If you are visiting in the winter months, Arrowtown is a great place to stay and get out onto the slopes! Here are some of the popular winter sports and activities nearby to Arrowtown:

  1. Skiing and Snowboarding
    The nearby town of Queenstown is a hub for winter sports, with several world-class ski resorts within easy reach! These include Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, and Cardrona Alpine Resort. These resorts offer excellent facilities, groomed slopes, and terrain suitable for all skill levels.
  2. Cross-Country Skiing
    You can explore the beautiful backcountry areas around Arrowtown and Queenstown through cross-country skiing. The Snow Farm, located in the Pisa Range, is a popular destination for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
  3. Snowshoeing
    Snowshoeing is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the winter wonderland of the region. Many trails are accessible for snowshoeing, offering a serene and peaceful experience amidst the snow-covered landscapes.
Skiing Cadrona near to Arrowtown, Arrowtown Activities
View from Cadrona Skifield!

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