Celebrating 152 years since the discovery of gold in Arrowtown.
The Arrow Basin was formed when the great glaciers carved out the Wakatipu Basin.
Local Maori passed through the area on seasonal trips to hunt native birds and extract pounamu (greenstone). Waitaha, the first tribe, were later joined by Kati Mamoe who were driven south after fighting with Kai Tahu. By the 1700s the three tribes were locked together by marriages and peace alliances.
William Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann were the first Europeans to establish farms in the area. Rees’ cadet,Alfred Duncan, provides us with one of the first descriptions of the Arrow River ‘flowing like silver threads through the blackened [matagouri] scrub-clothed plains.’
It was not the silver look of the river but the gold it contained that saw Arrowtown evolve. Jack Tewa, a shearer for Rees, was the first to discover gold around May 1861, followed by either William (Bill) Fox or the team of Thomas Low and John MacGregor late in 1862. It is unclear who was next. Being a forceful character, Fox took credit for the discovery and for a while the town was called Fox’s.
Although there were attempts to keep the discovery secret, there were 1,500 miners camped down on the Arrow River by the end of 1862. 12,000 ounces (340 kgs) of gold were carried out on the first gold escort in January 1863.
Gold eventually became harder to extract and the opening up of the West Coast goldfields in 1865 saw European miners heading for the riches there. This impacted on the Otago economy and in an attempt to restimulate it the Otago Provincial Government invited Chinese miners to come to the Otago goldfields. The Chinese created a separate settlement in Arrowtown, remaining until 1928.
After the initial gold rush, a more permanent town began to establish itself. The avenues of trees were planted in 1867 in an attempt to make Arrowtown look more like the European towns the settlers had left behind. Arrowtown began to stretch beyond Buckingham Street when the town was surveyed in 1869. The first mayor, Samuel Goldston, was elected in 1874.
Fire was always a constant threat. A large fire in December 1896 resulted in the destruction of the Morning Star Hotel, Campbell’s bakery and the top storey of Pritchard’s Store. The store was rebuilt whilst the site of the Morning Star Hotel was left empty and is now known as Buckingham Green. In spite of fires, and more recently development pressure, Arrowtown has around 70 buildings, monuments and features remaining from the gold rush era.
Arrowtown continued to survive after the gold ran out by becoming a farm service town. Although the permanent population declined, during the 1950s it gained a reputation as a popular holiday destination. This saw New Zealand holiday-makers restoring the historic cottages and building holiday houses. Most of these have now become permanent residences.
By the turn of the 21st Century Arrowtown had become a popular visitor destination and one of the fastest growing towns in New Zealand.