ARROWTOWN, at the confluence of the Arrow River and Bush Creek 23km northeast of Queenstown, still has the feel of an old gold town, though on busy summer days any lingering authenticity is swamped by the tourists prowling the sheepskin, greenstone and gold of its souvenir shops. Nonetheless the town is very much a living community, with grocers’ shops, pubs and a post office and a great range of accommodation and places to eat. Arrowtown has a permanent (and increasingly wealthy) population of around 2400, but in summer, when holiday homes are full and tourists arrive in force, it comes close to regaining the 7000-strong peak attained during the gold rush.
The best way to appreciate Arrowtown is to linger on after the crowds have gone. If you’re visiting from Queenstown and not staying over, consider coming for lunch, spend the afternoon hiking, swimming in the river or biking up to the former mining settlement of Macetown, then catch a movie and dinner, making sure you get the last bus back.
If you can, visit in late April when the town is at its best, the trees golden and the streets alive during the ten-day Autumn Festival (w arrowtownautumnfestival.org.nz), with all manner of historic walks, street theatre and hoedowns.
There is considerable doubt as to whether American William Fox was actually the first to discover alluvial gold in the Arrow River in 1862, but he dominated proceedings, managing to keep the find secret while recovering over 100kg. Jealous prospectors tried to follow him to the lode, but he gave them the slip, on one occasion leaving his tent and provisions behind in the middle of the night. The town subsequently bore his name until Foxes gave way to Arrowtown. The Arrow River became known as the richest for its size in the world – a reputation that drew scores of Chinese miners, who lived in the now partly restored Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. Prospectors fanned out over the surrounding hills, where brothers Charley and John Mace set up Macetown, now a ghost town.