Historic Arrowtown. © Claudia Babirat

Tohu Whenua: Arrowtown

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Historic Arrowtown is possibly Aotearoa’s most charming gold rush town. Established in the 1860s during the Otago gold rush, Arrowtown has no less than 60 heritage-listed buildings to explore.

At the heart of Arrowtown lies popular Buckingham Street. The quaint collection of heritage buildings that line both sides of the main street give Arrowtown its iconic frontier town look. Back in the 1800s this area was home to wealthy European bankers and merchants who made their fortunes from gold panned in the Arrow River. 

But don’t let the historic facades fool you – these buildings now house chic galleries, boutique gift shops and restaurants to rival the finest in nearby Queenstown. Buckingham Street is also home to the Lakes District Museum which has a good display of life in a goldfields town and serves as the local information centre. 

Stroll a little further and you come to a very Instagrammable tree-lined avenue of tiny miner’s cottages that date to the 1870s. 

At the opposite end of town you can visit a historic attraction of a different kind. The Arrowtown Chinese Settlement is a collection of carefully excavated and restored huts that remind us of the 'forgotten' community of miners. Here to work the goldfields by invitation from the Otago Provincial Government, the 60 or so Chinese men were nonetheless marginalised and forced to live on the outskirts of town in a collection of crude huts. Their settlement had a social hut at its centre (now destroyed) plus a couple of supply/grocery stores and some gardens so, in effect, it was their own self-sufficient community.

The famous Ah Lum's Store was the focal point of the later settlement (around 1910), run by a man who was one of the few Chinese to earn respect from the Europeans. When Ah Lum died in 1926 the Chinese community seemed to disappear with him. The huts are free for all to visit and the track that runs through the settlement connects with a vast network of other very scenic hiking and cycling tracks.

Despite historic efforts to find all the gold, the good news is that there’s still plenty left. Simply hire a pan and try your luck. For gold of a different kind, make sure you visit in autumn when the hills are ablaze with fiery colour – celebrated by the annual Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival

Historic Arrowtown is recognised as a Tohu Whenua, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best heritage experiences.

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