Queenstown on the South Island is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, but just half an hour down the road in your rental car is Arrowtown. Whatever time of year it is, you’ll find some incredible activities, from epic downhill skiing to bungy jumping. There are two ways to get to Arrowtown. The slightly longer road takes you along the edge of Lake Wakatipu, over the Shotover River and around Lake Hayes. The shorter way – there really is only a couple of minutes in it – gives you the opportunity to stop for a high-speed tour of the river.
The landscape around here is spectacular. Lake Wakatipu is a famous deep blue but changes colour depending on the glacial waters coming down off the mountains. On either side during the drive, you’ll see the snow-capped mountains for which New Zealand is famous. Get up early, take a deep breath and get ready to have fun. Here’s what to see and do on a day trip from Queenstown to Arrowtown.
The Shotover River runs between tall canyon walls and beneath suspension bridges high above it. Book a ride on the Shotover Jet and you’ll roar across the water at up to 90km an hour as you hang on for dear life. When the boat slows, look up at the cliff faces before the driver delivers some more gravity-defying stunts. This is the original jet boat ride for which New Zealand has become famous – more than 3 million people have experienced it since the mid-1960s – so it would be silly not to have a go when you’re driving through this part of the world.
If you’re not particularly keen on experiencing the high-speed thrills yourself, drive your rental car to the Old Shotover Bridge. After the original was washed away by a flood in 1878, this one was built in 1915. By 1975, an even newer bridge was built a little further along the river and this one became open only to foot traffic. From up here, you can watch the jet boats and check out the views: the Remarkables in one direction and Coronet Peak in the other.
This is the most southern grape-growing region in the world and the deep valleys with rivers running through them create unique microclimates that are perfectly suited for growing pinot noir, especially, as well as pinot gris, chardonnay, riesling and sauvignon blanc.
On your way to Arrowtown there are a few cellar doors where you can stop for a tasting. (Remember, you’ll need someone to take on the role as designated driver for the rental car.) Amisfield has an organic vineyard and produces quality single estate wines. You can even book a bespoke private tasting of a selection of pinot noir vintages. There’s also a restaurant here considered the finest in the region, where chef Vaughan Mabee focuses on the produce of a select group of fishermen, hunters, gatherers and farmers from Central Otago to create multicourse degustation meals at both lunch and dinner.
If you want to try the excellent offerings at Wet Jacket Wines, where the tasting room is located in an old woolshed, be sure to fill out the booking form online at least a day before. The tastings here are guided, and you’ll hear all about the history of the winery, the grapes grown and story of the owner who decided to begin growing grapes after exploring remote Southern Fiordland for many years.
This old gold mining town is super charming. Wander along Buckingham Street, which is lined with heritage buildings, tiny miners’ cottages, and huge trees. Along here you’ll find the Lakes District Museum, with its display of life in a goldfield (there’s also the restored remains of the Chinese village near the river), as well as quirky shops, galleries, bars and restaurants. If you want to do something special for lunch, head to Bendix Stables, where a local politician’s horses were housed in the late 1800s. Now, the building has been transformed into a pub serving internationally inspired dishes, as well as drinks from local wineries, breweries, and distilleries.
There’s a whole range of walks around the town. An easy route, the Arrowtown Millennium Walk, follows the river, passing what was once a quartz mine. It’s particularly beautiful during autumn when the leaves of the sycamore and larch trees turn shades of red, orange and gold. If you want to eyeball the lake as you walk, try the Lake Hayes Walkway, which takes you on a two-hour loop trail. There are lots of beautiful cottages around the edge of the lake, ducks who like to see if visitors will give them something to eat, and the chance to capture some beautiful photos of the reflection on the water’s surface.
If the day’s come to an end and you still want to enjoy Arrowtown, see what’s showing at Dorothy Browns. It’s touted as one of the best cinemas in New Zealand, with giant seats sporting huge armrests you can use for resting a cheese platter. There are two screens showing a range of arthouse and Hollywood films.
When you want to begin exploring around Arrowtown, hire a rental car from Queenstown before you leave.