An article by Sonja Jeanine
Sitting on the edge of the South Island’s Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is well known by adrenaline junkies as being the adventure capital of the world. It is a popular base for many to explore the region’s vineyards, take day trips out to nearby towns, and of course, to visit the famous Milford Sound. This is a town that never sleeps, with its thriving restaurant and bar scene, and myriad of shopping outlets and activities to keep one occupied.
But if you’re looking for a change of pace and scenery, look no further than the towns of Arrowtown and Wanaka. These smaller towns exude charm and beauty and make for relaxing day trips out of the hustle and bustle of Queenstown.
Tip: Best time to visit these towns would be in autumn for the fall foliage.
We share our experience visiting these two scenic towns and uncover the best places to eat, shop and play.
A historic 19th century gold mining town just a 20-minute drive from Queenstown, the town is the epitome of a charming heritage settlement with its restored cottage houses, heritage buildings and array of boutique shops, restaurants and gallery studios. Arrowtown is located on the bank of the arrow river, once a rich source of gold, and there you will find the stone ruins of what was once the Chinese miners settlement, built during the Otaga Gold Rush of the 1860s.
Established in 1866, the New Orleans Hotel provided accommodation for the influx of hopeful miners during the gold rush.
Where to Eat
The Chop Shop Food Merchants (7 Arrowlane, Arrowtown) is a vintage industrial styled restaurant, with a lovely rooftop deck providing a view of the surrounding landscape. For lunch, we ordered the Crispy Beef Cheeks, Softshell Crab, and a dessert of Banana Bread to share, and ‘wow’ were we impressed! This was without a doubt the best meal we had had in New Zealand. The menu was innovative and had a touch of Asian flavours which paired well with the vibrant ingredients. We were utterly satisfied to say the least.
Crispy beef cheek, spicy jalepeno, mango, mung bean, radish salad, red thai curry, roti, and fresh herbs.
Crispy soft-shell crab with bean sprouts and rice vermicelli.
Warm banana bread chock full of walnuts, melted chocolate, bananas and topped with a cube of butter.
Patagonia Chocolates in Arrowtown (31 Ramshaw Lane, Arrowtown) is the original chocolate, ice cream and coffee speciality shop established by Argentinian owners Alex Gimenez and Lorena Giallonardo in 2005. The hand-crafted chocolates were decadent, with a wide variety of flavours and types of chocolate products available; from Mexican-chilli to rose petal to citrus peel infused chocolates. The chocolate truffles range in price from NZ$2.50-$3.50 and we couldn’t resist buying a box each along with a dark chocolate ice cream and basil orange sorbet to share. Their cafes can also be found in Wanaka and Queenstown.
My personal favourite – boysenberry chocolate truffle
What to Do
Blue Moon Rummage (42 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown) is a local vintage store, which has a fabulous collection of furniture, homeware, souvenirs, gifts, and ski memorabilia. Being the bargain hunters we were, we combed every inch of the store to see if there were any good deals, and picked up some funky sunglasses for about NZ$40. Unfortunately, they had a strict ‘no photo taking’ policy here.
You can easily spend one full day in Arrowtown to explore the quaint little shops and galleries, visit the Lake District Museum and the Chinese Settlement, take a bike ride along the valley or walk along the arrow river hoping to catch a glimpse of gold. We chose to sit at a café along the street, busking in the atmosphere of a foregone era.
Wanaka (which means ‘renewal of the soul’ in Maori) is a scenic town in the Otago region of South Island New Zealand, set on the southern end of Lake Wanaka with views of the snowcapped mountains. An hour’s drive from Queenstown, it offers year-round adventure options such as hiking, water sports, sky diving and skiing, especially with its close proximity to Mt Aspiring Park. We loved the laid-back vibe of this picturesque town, the unique shops, and quirky places to eat and drink.
Read more about Lake Wanaka in our post: New Zealand’s South Island Lakes to Take Your Breath Away
Where to Eat
Big Fig (105 Ardmore Street, Wanaka) serves up modern middle-eastern inspired slow food, served fast. You could choose between a small, medium or large plate, and select as many dishes as you’d like till the plate was full. On display were delicious lamb meatballs, rotisseried chicken, pomegranate beef cheeks, tasty vegetarian dishes, salads – you’d be spoilt for choice. Be warned, the medium-sized portion (NZ$17) is quite substantial and we had difficulty finishing one plate each. But we loved that this place offered healthier, vegan and vegetarian food options, including gluten free and vegan cakes!
Medium-sized plate with lamb meatballs, chickpea chicken salad, and broccoli salad.
The ‘Food Truck’ culture is thriving in Wanaka and we were excited to try it! Up on Brownston Street are a cluster of permanent food trucks: Francesca’s Pizza, Dripping Bowl, Burrito Craft and Buddha’s Corner. We ordered a fish taco (3 for NZ$17) and a pulled pork burrito (NZ$12) from Burrito Craft, along with a wood-fired wild mushroom truffle-oil pizza (6” for NZ$12) from Francesca’s Pizza. The food was hearty, delicious, and hit-the-spot on that cold autumn night.
What to Do
One of our favourite shops was the Gifted Design Store (19 Helwick Street, Wanaka), a contemporary giftware store featuring both New Zealand and overseas designer items such as bath and body products, jewellery, fashion accessories, home décor, stationery, candles and diffusers, etc., and even a section for the little ones. We spent a good hour or two here trying to refrain ourselves from buying up the whole shop!
The Wanaka Farmers Market (93 Ardmore Street, Wanaka) is one of the few in New Zealand that run all year-round and we were lucky enough to be there on a Thursday from 3pm – 6pm, when it is usually held. There were stalls selling home-made jams and chutneys, artisanal breads and pastries, freshly roasted chestnuts, bottled kefir, and also local designers selling their handicrafts and artworks. Being the Singaporeans we were, we just had to try the roasted chestnuts to see how it compared to our local ‘gao-luck’. Dare I say it was just as good?
The Wanaka Lavender Farm (36 Morris Road, Wanaka) is an 8-minute drive from the town centre and a perfect escape from the buzz of the holiday resort towns. Step into nature and enjoy a leisurely walk through the lavender fields, flower gardens, and mingle with some of the farm animals (including the fattest pig ever!). You can also relax with a cup of herbal tea and lavender ice cream or buy some of their lavender products and honey at the gift shop (both of which we did). Best time to go would be during the Spring and Summer months (December – March) when the flowers are in bloom.
Entry fee is NZ$5 per adult from December to March and NZ$2 from April to November.