Can-can dancing celebrates Arrowtown's 150th

Can-can dancing celebrates Arrowtown's 150th

It is like walking into a Hollywood set. Nestled into the arms of the Southern Alps between Wanaka, Cardrona and Queenstown, Arrowtown rushed into existence in the early 1860s when gold was discovered in the meandering Arrow River. The nascent town was swamped with folks, including many Chinese miners(estimated at 40%), hoping to make their fortune. Original rustic miners’ cottages, saloon bars, wooden shop fronts and tree-lined streets dominate the tiny town though today, the rivers of gold are replaced by rivers of tourists swamping the small town centre.

Main street in Arrowtown

Main street in Arrowtown

As the gold dried up, most of the miners left town though some of the Chinese remained, continuing to this very days. Their early days must have been truly challenging as highlighted in the restored Chinese Settlement(a wonderful leafy area to stroll with remains and restorations of simple mud huts). Far from home and their loved ones, they lived in tiny ramshackle huts and suffered from a heavy disdain for these foreigners. Often denied their own claims, Chinese miners sifted old tailings finding gold unnoticed or ignored by the original miner.

Inside Ah Lum Store in the Chinese Settlement Arrowtown

Inside Ah Lum Store in the Chinese Settlement

Arrowtown Ah Lum Store Chinese Settlement

Ah Lum's Store

Ah Lum’s Storewas the heart of the Chinese community (and is the highlight of Arrowtown). His humble house with its bare floors and tiny rooms was a treasure trove of exotic goods imported from China and Europe including teas, ginger, traditional medicines, pickled vegetables and opium (maybe this helped through the lonely winter nights). The upstairs loft acted as visitor accommodation while the house acted as an informal meeting place for heated discussions, friendly chatter, games of cards and a chance to smoke with friends. Being bi-lingual, Ah Lum also provided translation services and acted as an intermediatory for business transactions and dealings with the local authorities.

Miner's Band celebrating Arrowtown 150th anniversary

Miner's Band celebrating Arrowtown 150th anniversary

Today the small park is filled with dancing girls and miner’s bands for Arrowtown’s Autumn Festival – this year it is even bigger as locals celebrate Arrowtown’s 150th anniversary. The narrow main street is bursting at the seams with people and cars watching or participating in the celebration.

With a very different feel than the adrenalin-filled Queenstown, enthusiastic visitors can try their luck at gold panning, walk along the river, eat at numerous cafes and restaurants, gorge on icecreams and chocolate or explore a few of the artsy shops. However most gold today in Arrowtown is found in liquid form at Arrow Brewing.

For me, Arrowtown has a slightly fabricated or artificial feel to it but makes for an interesting diversion from frenzied Queenstown. The Chinese history in the area is well presented and the buildings in the main street have a quaint feel to them.

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7 Responses to Discovering Gold in Arrowtown (New Zealand)

  • Nice travel blog…!

  • Tanaris says:

    Such rich history for a secluded town. I would love to try my luck panning at the river :)

    • Mark H says:

      I didn’t hear any cheers of delight from down near the river but I’m sure there are a few specks of gold still around the area.

  • Sounds like great fun. I love these little town celebrations and I suspect I would have enjoyed something like this a lot more than Queenstown, with its overpriced adventure sports culture.

    • Mark H says:

      It is funny Barbara as we didn’t end up spending much time in Queenstown. We spent a little time in a beauitful little village nearby called Glenorchy which is a hidden treasure of a town around 50kms away at the other end of beautiful Lake Wakatipu and its glorious string of snow-capped mountains.

  • Jo says:

    Hey glad you enjoyed, hope you took “your” little bit of gold home for our beautiful Arrowtown… and trust you enjoyed the back country up Glenorchy way!

    • Mark H says:

      Jo, I didn’t try panning but the most beautiful gold was the slight bronzing of the trees as autumn started to take hold for another year. A pretty town but boy, was it busy when I was there. There was even a glittering red London double-decker bus packed with visitors reversing into a car park one street from the main street through town!! Glenorchy was quiet and restful and a delightful small place at the other end of the lake from energetic Queenstown.

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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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