Reflections on Arrowtown

I spent my last two months in New Zealand living and working in Arrowtown, a lovely little community in the Queenstown area with a wild, wild west feeling to it. No where else in New Zealand can you take your pet lamb for a walk by the river, let your super friendly golden retriever wander around town advertising for the local art gallery, take your four dogs for a swim in the Arrow River, leave your doors unlocked at night, and walk to work in under two minutes. I am really going to miss it.

Taking the pet lamb for a walk

Dogs on an ATV after a swim

How did I discover this wonderful place? Last April, I stopped by briefly before heading to Dunedin in order to see the fall colors. I was impressed and decided that if I ever had the chance to return, I would.  That opportunity came on January 1, and so with less than two months left on my working holiday visa, I headed to Arrowtown to work at the backpackers. Poplar Lodge is the only backpackers in Arrowtown and has the highest BBH rating in the Queenstown area. BBH hostels are a network of locally owned hostels all over New Zealand, and many people choose to stay at top ranked hostels. The deal for cleaners is that you get free accommodation for 2-3 hours of work in the morning cleaning the lodge. The rest of the day is yours. I was only supposed to stay 10 days; it turned into two months. Within two days of arriving, I got a job at Pannikins cafe, home of wonderful homemade food, working in the afternoons. I then spent my free time in the hills combing over kilometers of tracks with great views of the Wakatipu Basin and the Arrow River. My favorite trail run was the Arrow River Track, which is 4 km roundtrip and follows the Arrow River upstream. I would try to hit that several times a week after work. It was a great way to unwind after serving coffees and ice creams all afternoon at the cafe.

Sawpit Gully Track

The Arrow River

The town itself is a wonderful community of locally owned shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s a popular tourist destination with daytrippers arriving in droves from Queenstown on the Connectabus. Buckingham Street is where the majority of the shops are located and is bordered by the Chinese Village is at one end and the library at the other. There were even Zumba classes in the Arrowtown hall on Wednesday evenings. The nice thing about New Zealand is that most of the shops and cafes close at 5:00 or 6:00 PM enabling people to have a life outside of work. The town is very quiet after the tourists go home for the day.

On my last day in Arrowtown, I ate lunch at Pannikins and found that Glen, my boss, had made chocolate chip scones, which I had requested a few days ago; and they were amazing. I had so many goodbyes to say that I almost missed the bus to the airport at 2:00 PM, which was full of Queenstown daytrippers. I think I left a piece of my heart in Arrowtown.

The Arrow River in fall

Delicious chocolate chip scones

Up next is the biggest culture shock of my life…Southeast Asia


The Glenorchy District…or Paradise

There have been several movies filmed in the Queenstown area in the past few years. Some of these include the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the first two installments of the Chronicles of Narnia, Wolverine, and now the Hobbit. Today I joined a Pure Glenorchy Tour to the Glenorchy/Paradise area, which is an hour’s drive from Queenstown. Pure Glenorchy is a small, family run business that does scenic and historical tours to Glenorchy. In Queenstown, land of big tourism, it’s a nice touch to see a family business flourishing along with the big boys.

Twelve Mile Delta

Mark, the tour guide

I took the afternoon tour, and the weather was perfect. The 45 km road from Queenstown to Glenorchy follows Lake Wakatipu and is filled with jaw dropping scenery. Several scenes from The Two Towers were shot along this road. According to Mark, our guide, many Queenstown locals were employed as extras during the filming of Lord of the Rings back in 1999. Their pay rate was $300/day. So of course, many Kiwis called in sick to their real jobs during filming!

We stopped at several overlooks along the route to Glenorchy alongside Lake Wakatipu. Lake Wakatipu is a brilliant blue color due to the glacial sediments suspended in the water. It’s 82 km long and almost 400 meters deep, and hovers around 10° C all year, which is even too cold for a polar bear swim.

Lake Wakatipu

Mount Albert is the cone peak with Mount Earnslaw (Misty Mountains) to the right hidden in the clouds. The two islands in the foreground are Pig and Pigeon Islands, which are predator-free bird sanctuaries for Yellowheads and Wekkas.

Glenorchy is a really small town, even for New Zealand, with only 200 residents. However, it supports two pubs. It’s also the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park, a world heritage site, and the start of the Routeburn Track, which I hiked last March.

The world's smallest library.

Amon Hen, The Fellowship of the Ring

The road leading out of Glenorchy heads to Paradise, where Lothlorien, Amon Hen, and Isengard were filmed. The sign posted at the junction is one of the most photographed signs in New Zealand, thanks to Lonely Planet. It has also been stolen several times.

The forest of Lothlorien

The famous Paradise sign

This scene has been featured in several movies.

This scenery has been featured in the following films: The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Wolverine, and most recently the Hobbit. The farmer that owns this land has made a killing over rental fees for film makers. According to Mark, the farmer charged Peter Jackson $3000/day to film the Lord of the Rings here

The Dart River

Continuing down the road from Paradise, we crossed several small streams, before reaching the end of the road at the Dart River. From this point, it’s only 14 km to Milford Sound, but the mountains are in the way.

On the way back, I had to stop and take a photo of the following sign, which sums up the small town feeling of Glenorchy.