Arrowtown’s golden stature as a poster child for New Zealand tourism remains unblemished by the ravages of Covid, writes Mike Yardley.
The crowds and queues remain conspicuously absent, but Arrowtown’s photogenic allure as a Wild West frontier town, with its delightful clapboard buildings, colonnaded shop fronts and ornate cornicing never fails to charm the pants off all visitors. Lock it in to your summer travels! Drop into the saloon bar at the New Orleans Hotel, circa 1866, and sink a few tots of whisky, before venturing out on one of the many, easy rambles around the town, where history slaps you in the face at every turn. The discovery of gold in the Arrow River, in 1862, feverishly gave rise to the beautifully preserved township, as thousands of miners from all corners of the world swooped on the area.
One of the great legacies of the gold rush is the expansive collection of colonial stone and timber cottages, fairytale churches and tree-lined avenues to be leisurely explored today. (Over 60 original structures remain standing, beneath the towering trees, planted to remind miners of their home countries.) Storied Buckingham Street, the beating heart of Arrowtown, is studded with a cross-hatch of historic shops, pubs and cottages. The line-up of homeware and gift stores is particularly impressive. History hounds? Stop by the Lakes District Museum which presents some fascinating displays on Arrowtown’s rich, pioneering history. If you have children in tow, they’ll love the interactive, hands-on exhibits.
A cluster of gorgeous old properties, including the original BNZ building (currently being lustily restored to its former glory) and bank’s stables, the town baker’s oven, and the village Post Office all fall under the museum’s purview. A short walk brings you to the restored Chinese Miners’ Village. The Chinese ‘diggers’ were relegated to the margins of this fledgling mining town, and their depressingly primitive living quarters never ceases to astound you. The sparkling Arrow River and its sprawling velvety lawns are the perfect location for a languid picnic, freshly-assembled from the spree of delis’ peddling fresh and flavourful local produce on the main street. Burn off any excess calories by selecting from the myriad of photogenic walks that lace the surrounding valley.
Great eats in town? I really enjoyed brunching at The Chop Shop in Arrowtown. For breakfast, you can’t beat their Turkish eggs with garlic, dill, Greek yoghurt and chilli. And I went back for lunch to devour their Ricotta hotcakes with roasted quince, cardamom, honeycomb and vanilla bean mascarpone. The Fork and Tap is a great haunt, anytime, day or night. As an aside, right next door to this pub, one of those iconic Buckingham Street cottages just sold for 2 million dollars. Another local favourite that you’ll definitely want to check out is Slow Cuts. Comfort food in a convivial setting – and everything on the menu is slow cooked, whether you want a cheap and cheerful buttermilk chicken burger or Moroccan roast lamb.
Wine time? From Arrowtown, I struck out to Gibbston by e-Bike on the Arrow River Bridges Trail. Better by Bike is the team to see, located in Dudley’s Cottage, adjacent to the Chinese Village. They offer fully supported, self-guided bike hire with optional return shuttles. Given the insatiable popularity of e-bikes, they’re currently converting their entire fleet of hire bikes to electric. Ride at your leisure through some of the most stunning scenery in New Zealand with breathtaking views around every corner.
The Arrow River Bridges Trail is a cracking route that’s repurposed the old miners’ trails from the goldrush. It’s about 13km each way, very undulating, but there are no big hill climbs. Best of all you cross some time-honoured suspension bridges, like the Edgar Bridge and the Kawerau Bridge where A J Hackett’s bungy jumps take place. The views will blow your hair back, as will the thyme-scented air, and the e-bikes make the ride such a breeze. www.betterbybike.co.nz
If you’re a Pinot Noir devote like me, Gibbston Valley has a siren-like pull. Home to some of the most awarded Pinot Noir winemakers and wineries on the planet, this small but bountiful valley punches well above its weight on the global scale. Vinophiles rejoice at Kinross. Unlike most vineyards who only spruik and sell their own wine, Kinross represents five world-class local Central Otago wineries.
A visit to Kinross enables to you to discern the subtle differences of the Central Otago sub-regions like Gibbston, with side by side tastings. The more I sniffed, swirled and sipped, the more I could decipher the different winemakers’ expressions of the area, each with their own terroir, complexities, craftsmanship and stories to tell.
In addition to tasting some Kinross varietals, I sipped my way through some very fine product crafted by Coal Pit, Hawkshead, Valli and Wild Irishman. During my private tasting session, my charismatic sommelier Marcial shared not only the flavours, but also stories behind the brands, delving deep into the wondrous world of Central Otago wine. The neighbouring sub-region of Bannockburn arguably produces the most powerful pinot noir and most Gibbston wineries have vineyards.
Pick of the bunch? Wild Irishman “Doctors Flat” Pinot Noir, produced by Gibbston’s godfather, Alan Brady, is absolutely sensational. Not only does it exude the silky elegance associated with Gibbston wines, but is revved up with the power and wild forest fruit flavours associated with Bannockburn’s vineyards.
I also ventured to Gibbston Valley Wines, the cradle of the industry. Inspired by his passion for winemaking, Gibbston Valley Winery founder, Alan Brady, planted his first vines in Gibbston in the early 1980s. At 45 degrees south of the equator, his vines were right on the knife-edge of possibility for grape cultivation. Everyone thought that it was too cold for grapes here, but Brady had a hunch, and he was right, like the Burgundy of the Southern Hemisphere.
Alan planted Gibbston Valley’s first commercial vineyard, Home Block, in 1983 with the first commercial vintage released in 1987. The wine gained considerable recognition, creating Central Otago’s first footprint in the world of winemaking. By 1995, storage space for the numerous oak barrels used to mature wine was becoming a problem. The barrels require a very controlled environment with constant temperature and humidity. Alan decided to blast a 1400 cubic metre cave into the schist mountain which provides the backdrop for the winery.
It continues to be the largest wine cave in New Zealand, doubling as an alluring tourist attraction, alongside its primary purpose as the perfect natural environment for aging barrels of wine. The cave is home to more than 400 barrels of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. that line its rocky schist wall interior. It’s also a fantastic place for a wine tasting to taste as part of Gibbston Valley’s Cave and Winery Tours. With an on-site Cheesery, the Gibbston Valley Wine & Cheese tastings and tours are another delightful revelation, pairing fromage with great wine.
For five star dining, you’ll love the Lodge Restaurant, under the command of acclaimed chef, Anthony Gradiska. His revolving a la carte menu, inspired by classic European cuisine with a modern New Zealand twist, uses seasonal and local produce. www.gibbstonvalley.com
Adjacent to Arrowtown, I fell in love with the Lake Hayes Walkway. It’s an 8k, loop track, lassooed around the lake, so you can easily knock it off in two or three hours. Be warned, with Amisfield, Akarua and Stone Ridge Estate edging the track, there are seductions aplenty to go off-piste.
It’s an undulating track, so you’re served up delicious viewpoints across the lake and mountains, and you’ll stumble across lonely old crumbling schist cottages, like lingering ghosts from the goldrush. I was also struck by Project Gold, where the hillsides around Lake Hayes have been replanted in thousands and thousands of kowhai trees, creating a new blaze of gold.
A superlative place to stay are The Cottages at Lake Hayes. Wide, open, unpeopled spaces are going to be a hot ticket this summer and this blissed-out bolthole ticks every box. They’re secluded, only a year old, loaded up with all the creature comforts and that mirror magic of the lake in the morning calm is well worth waking up to. Situated on the gently sloping western shore of Lake Hayes, there are five of these beautifully finished luxury cottages, each boasting breathtaking views, New Zealand artworks and brand new amenities with their own bespoke interior.
Floor to ceiling windows allow for natural light to flood through the properties and the private seating at the front of each cottage provides the perfect spot to sit back and get lost in the dreamily bucolic views. There’s a shared tennis court at your disposal, that wonderful Lake Hayes Track and cottage guests can mingle for a glass of local wine by the communal fire pit before retreating to your own inside fire for a cosy evening by their private bar, or in the hot tub.
The Cottages are able to be booked individually or can be booked together for a group of friends or family wanting an ultra-relaxing stay in one of New Zealand’s most revered settings. Each cottage is decked out in a curated art collection of magnificent works, from local artists. Every piece is actually available for purchase, should the mood take you – there are temptations galore!
Each of the 5 cottages sleep up to 4 adults with 2 en-suite bedrooms with private terraces, a fully-equipped kitchen, dining, bar, and lounge with wood-burner. So if affordable absolute lakefront luxury accommodation is your bag, crowd-free, The Cottages at Lake Hayes are a seriously irresistible new offering. www.lakehayes.com
Planning a great summer escape to the wonders of the Queenstown Lakes region? Make your first port of call the region’s official website. www.queenstownnz.co.nz