Arrowtown is the gateway to some of the best short walks in New Zealand. The trail network takes you into the spectacular back country, through forests, beside rivers and lakes, to the very tops of the mountains. In just half an hour you can go from the town centre to high above Arrowtown with a breathtaking panorama or deep in untouched native forest beside a chuckling stream.
So lace up your walking shoes and get ready to breathe the fresh alpine air and connect with nature on a huge range of tracks from gentle riverside ambles to experts-only expeditions. Here are six local favourites, from easiest to hardest.
A mostly loop walkway along the banks of the Arrow River, this trail was built in 1998 to commemorate 150 years of European settlement in Otago. It is a wide, easy track overhung with willows, the first trees to turn a bright, fresh green in spring. From the near the skate park in the centre of town, walk downriver to the footbridge at the base of Tobins Track. Continue on until you hit the next footbridge, then cross over the river and walk back up the other side until you hit the Tobins bridge again. You’ll be back at Arrowtown for a thirst-slaking drink within the hour, if you don’t dawdle on the way.
The Bush Creek Track is another gentle stroll beside a stream, this time starting next to the Chinese Settlement. After crossing Bush Creek turn left and follow the dirt road west beside the irrigation pipe. In about 5 minutes you'll cross the irrigation pipe onto the gently winding Bush Creek Track. At the junction with the Big Hill Track, you'll continue along the creek to a waterfall and the old water supply intake. The track, which has been upgraded as part of the Coronet Loop mountain bike project, continues up the valley through beech forest and open grassland to the saddle. Go as far as you like then retrace your steps back to Arrowtown. You might like to spend 1–2 hours on this one.
Want to climb a mountain but only got a couple of hours to spare? Climb Mt Beetham. It’s a bit of a slog on the way up, but with amazing 360° views at the top it offers great return on investment. The ascent starts on one of Arrowtown’s most beloved tracks, Tobins Track. Originally built as road access to Wanaka, Tobins is now a popular walking, running and cycling track. At the top, just keep following the dirt road around the corner and you’ll find signs to a poled route up a cone-shaped peak. If you enjoyed the views from Tobins, just wait till you see the views from Mt Beetham – the extra 250m of grunt at the end makes a big difference to the panorama!
You’d be hard pressed to find a better short loop walk than Sawpit Gully. It’s an absolute classic, a great combination of steep ups and downs, rock hopping through a creek bed, and a traverse high above the Arrow River. To walk the 7km loop anti-clockwise, cross the footbridge near the Chinese Settlement and follow the Arrow River Trail to the Sawpit Gully turnoff. In Sawpit Gully you’ll pass reminders from gold rush days, including an stone hut on a grassy terrace that was home to a succession of miners. Up the hill you meet the Big Hill Track at Eichardts Flat and walk back down towards Arrowtown with views over Lake Hayes and the Whakatipu basin. The walk requires reasonable fitness and good shoes, and takes most people 2–3 hours.
The relatively recently built New Chums Track links Tobins Track with the Arrow River Trail, making another loop track that is longer and more challenging than the Sawpit Gully loop. Head up Tobins Track until you hit the New Chums turnoff on your left. Then follow your nose and the trail markers as you walk the ridgeline of Glencoe Station (with views of Arrowtown and beyond) before descending into gullies and streams. The exit point is by the Norman Smith Bridge over the Arrow River. Cross the bridge and head downriver until you get back to town. You can also combine this track with the western side of the Sawpit Gully walk to make a longer loop.
The Miners Trail is a 15km mountain journey that used to be accessible only for the Motatapu Off Road Event, but you can now walk it any time of year. The trail forms a loop, starting up Tobins Track, skirting Mt Beetham, and heading up to Bracken Saddle and a high point at 1047m with a stunning view of the Whakatipu basin. The trail narrows as it cuts across the top of the mountain towards the zigzag descent to the Arrow River, which you cross at the Norman Spencer Bridge and follow to get you home. You’ll need time, energy, experience and good gear for this one!
For further inspiration for different walks – these are just a few ideas to get you started – check out our Walking page. For maps and more information about what you’ll need to take with you, drop in to the visitor centre at the museum on Buckingham Street. You can also find a map online here.
Photo credits: Bush Creek, Lois McArtney; Mt Beetham, @theviewsichoosetoperuse / Instagram; Sawpit Gully, Rebecca Harding; New Chums and Miners Trail, Jimmy Sygrove.
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