New Zealand: The Outskirts of Queenstown

11 04 2011

The stunning landscape you pass as you drive toward Queenstown is the perfect subject of a picture post.  For much of the approach to Queenstown, the Gibbston Highway follows the Kawarau River as it snakes through the mountains forming a dramatic gorge.  I had heard that Peter Jackson filmed Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings, in the Lord of the Rings film from a location you could view so I set out to find it.  We turned into a gorgeous vineyard set in the mountains and I snapped this shot.


Chard Farm Vineyard

Apparently, this was the correct location because we encountered a Lord of the Rings tour van on the way down.  The road we traveled on to view this location was incredibly scary, though.  It was a one lane dirt road with no rails that was on a cliff.  We should have known the road would be precarious when we saw this sign.  This the most warning we’ve ever seen in New Zealand, where basically you do anything at your own risk.


Funny Sign


Another View of the Kawarau River

On the other side of the highway is the famous AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge, the world’s first commercial bungy operation.  From the vineyard side, we were able to see  two bridges – the first one was the highway and the second one was the bungy bridge.  Alas, the AJ Hackett was closed when we went so we did not partake.  To be honest, we had no intention of bungy jumping anyway.


Bridges over Kawarau River

We did drive over and explore the bungy jumping center.  Even though it was closed, we were still able to walk to the staging area and jumping off point on the bridge.


View from AJ Hackett’s Bungy Jump

While we were on the bridge, we saw a jetboat zoom up the river.  I believe this was the Shotover river.


Kawarau River

Before we left, we saw this very confusing and contradictory setup.  We didn’t know if we should leave immediately or stay awhile and enjoy a picnic.


A Contradictory Message

A few miles down the road, we took the turn off for Arrowtown.  Arrowtown is a small, historic gold mining town located right outside of Queenstown.  We had heard that it was a well preserved and picturesque frontier town that was also a former Chinese mining settlement so we stopped to take a look.  Although I am aware that the Chinese have a long history of migrating overseas, the waves before the 20th century have always interested me.  Being an immigrant is not a piece of cake so I am always amazed at the Chinese pioneers from before the modern age and globalization.

After gold was discovered on the Arrow River in 1861, Arrowtown sprung into being to accommodate the flood of speculators.  By 1865, however, the population dipped when gold extraction slowed and richer gold fields elsewhere in New Zealand lured many miners away.  To remedy this economic recession, the Otago government invited Chinese miners to the area and they established a separate settlement in Arrowtown.  These miners remained in the area until 1928.

Modern day Arrowtown was as quaint as we imagined it.  The historic main street is called Buckingham Street and features well maintained buildings, equipment, and other objects.  According to the official website, Arrowtown has over 70 buildings, features, and monuments remaining from the gold rush era.


Post and Telegraph, Arrowtown


Buckingham Street

At the end of Buckingham Street is the site of the old Chinese settlement.  A path leads through a series of stone huts where the Chinese miners worked, socialized, and lived.  We only had time to enter one of the buildings, but it was very interesting.  The first thing I noticed was how dark everything was, even when it was bright sunlight outside.  We really take electric lights for granted.  The second thing I noticed was how low the ceilings and doorways were.  Even though I’m Chinese and not tall, I had to duck through some of these doors.


Stone house in the Chinese settlement at Arrowtown.

After seeing the Chinese settlement, we decided to explore the area around the Arrow River.  The riverbank is just behind the town.  We passed by a hiker’s sign, where I saw this incomprehensible request.  We assumed didymo meant trash until we looked it up.  Apparently, didymo (commonly known as rock snot) is an invasive species of algae.  This is why I love travel.  You learn something new every day!


Yo, No Didymo!

You didn’t think you could escape this post without another Lord of the Rings reference, could you?  One of the *ahem* main reasons I dragged my husband to see the river is because according to my LOTR location guidebook, this is where they filmed the scene where Arwen escapes the Nazguls on horseback by flooding the river (Ford of Bruinen).  And yep, we found it.


Site of Arwen’s Stand, Ford of Bruinen

The area around the Arrow River was really lovely, though.  How can a view of a shallow river threading through soft green woods against a backdrop of gorgeous mountains ever be bad?


Arrow River

As the sun set, we returned to the road for the last few miles to Queenstown, where we would stay for the next three nights.  Just before we reached the town, we saw a glorious view of the aptly named Remarkables mountain range.  The Remarkables surround Queenstown and is one of its most famous features.


The Remarkables

Next: Queenstown








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