Arrowtown in the Autum
27th April, Arrowtown, New Zealand
On the way to Queenstown yesterday I had passed a turn-off to a place called Arrowtown, but just kept going because we were so close to Queenstown it seemed foolish to stop. As it turns out it would be foolish for any visitor to New Zealand not to see Arrowtown. Or at least, when the weather is this good and the autumn colours this rich.
Arrowtown is around 20 km from Queenstown, and I first read about it in the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) location guidebook. Like most of the locations, though, it had drifted in and out of memory and I couldn't remember why it was significant (this is the problem with all guidebooks, really - place names and photos don't really mean an awful lot until you get there and get your bearings). All we knew about the place as we headed back there was that it was an old gold mining town and that it looked like a movie set. The last comment could not be more true, but more on that later.
We followed the road in to town and found a parking spot near the Arrow River. I then picked up the LOTR guidebook and read up on why this place was significant:
"Park in the area behind the main street and walk down to the adjacent riverbank"
So instructed the guidebook. I looked up and realised that we had parked in exactly the right spot and glancing over to the river I could see the location where, in The Fellowship of the Ring, Arwen was riding away from the Nazgûl with Frodo on the back (moments before sending a flood down river). We then followed the guidebook's instructions to walk 200m up river to the precise location where the scene was filmed and we spotted a couple of groups of people checking the place out too. Given that we had crossed the river and walked a little out of the way to be there, it suggested that these people too had been following directions in the LOTR guidebook, and sure enough as we passed them I spotted a lady referring to the book. The author of that book must be laughing all the way to the bank - everywhere we go we see this for sale. It is now one half of the New Zealand visitor's essential reading (the other half being the Lonely Planet).
We spent some time walking up and down the river, trying to capture the scene then headed over to the restored Chinese settlement (where Chinese came during the gold rush years in the 1800s). Here we saw the little stone shacks that they lived in which were very simple but still kind of homely (or they would be with a fire on). All around the trees were shedding their leaves and leaving carpets of yellow and orange; those trees that did still have a covering of bright yellow were contrasting brilliantly with the bright blue sky. It was the perfect autumn day in one of the prettiest places in New Zealand, but still very cold for us!
The town itself is, like the Lonely Planet described it, much like a film set. Every building along the main street had its own character and it truly felt like we were back in one of the purpose-built sets at Universal Studios, but with everything coming to life. There was a real buzz today in particular because the town was having its annual autumn festival. Down the end of main street the local schoolchildren were putting on some kind of performance, watched by rows of seated senior citizens (proud grandparents or just locals from the old folks' home?). It all helped to reinforce a general happy vibe in the town. We had something to eat and sat in the sun while a lady opposite sat on the grass feeding her dog ice cream from a cone. The dog was having a great day too.
We left Arrowtown shortly after lunch then made our way a few kilometres further out towards the Kawarau suspension bridge, which is better known as the AJ Hacket bungee bridge. At 43m depth it's not the biggest bungee in the world (or even New Zealand), but it is one of the most famous. Those who do feel the inclination to strap a piece of rubber to their ankles and hurtle to the ground can do much worse than this place - the view is stunning, and the colour of the water in this river a beautiful aqua. And for anyone jumping, they can expect to see the water very close up (a dunking may be on the cards). And no, we didn't try the bungee for ourselves.
Our last adventure for the day was a gondola ride up over the hill (Bob's Peak) that overlooks Queenstown. Yep, another gondola ride (that is the suspended cable-car gondola, not the boat gondola like you'd see in Venice, in case you were wondering). We'd already been up in gondolas in Port Hills (Christchurch) and Rotorua in New Zealand, but the views you can get are stunning, so up the hill we headed once more. We got there just as the sun was setting behind us, and the mountain range opposite - the Remarkables - was only partially lit and fading fast. It was also ICY cold up there. Capital letters were justified there, I assure you!
The rest of the evening was spent trying to sort out some problems that can affect you more as a long-distance/duration traveller, namely trying to re-order a cashpoint card that has been irretrievably lost in an ATM (and then get it sent round the world to an ever-moving target - me!) and also discovering that your credit card has been blocked because of a missed payment and not replying to the various letters sent as reminders. Ouch. It's just as well that I brought a few cards with me, eh?!