Arrowtown has been called “the world’s first million dollar small town”.



Located in the lakes district of  Central Otago, the quaint and attractive little settlement of Arrowtown offers a peaceful, quiet environment.  It currently has a resident population of 2,200 and over the past eight years, it was the fastest growing small town in New Zealand.

Arrowtown is now the first small town where every house, including the small, modest ones, are worth over one million dollars! Yes, it’s true! In fact, there are no other comparable towns in the world where the value is so high. The amazing land price is due to ring fence zoning meaning no new land is available for development. If the population is to grow, multi storied accommodations must be built but currently this is not an option as the town’s only draw card is its colourful history and to change the look of the town with high rise buildings would completely destroy the character and appearance that are the town’s lucrative attractions.


The whole town reeks of history.  On a calm day, you can actually smell the mustiness of the past in the air. Sixty of the town’s original early 20th century wooden buildings have been carefully preserved and today it excitingly resembles a colonial town of a century and a half ago.


Arrowtown came into being in 1862 when William Fox discovered gold on the banks of the Arrow River, named because its junction with Bush Creek resembled the head of an arrow. William and his small group of prospectors, dug 47 pounds of gold from the gravel with that first find. Within weeks, 1,600 miners flocked to the area in search of gold. A row of canvas huts were assembled at Fox’s , as Arrowtown was originally called. As new gold finds were made in other parts of the Arrow River, Fox’s was renamed Arrowtown and the canvas huts made way for roughly built wooden structures that faced each other across the newly formed main street. To protect themselves from the cold winters, the 7000 miners who now lived in the settlement soon built more substantial buildings that included cottages, churches, hotels and shops. After the gold ran out, many miners left the town but a number stayed to farm the land, officially becoming settlers.  They grazed sheep and planted crops but more importantly for today, they planted trees around their new settlement which was officially elevated to a borough status in 1867.


Arrowtown had a boisterous history with many a fight taking place in and around the numerous canvas pubs that lined the muddy main street. Not only did the fights take place between drunk Europeans, there were also fights with the unwanted Chinese miners who moved into the town in 1868.

Bully Hayes is one of New Zealand’s best known rogues and his story is stuff movies are made of. American born Hayes lost an ear after he was found cheating at a card game back in the USA. The fraudster was a ship’s captain who kidnapped natives in the Pacific Islands and sold them to work on plantations before arriving in Arrowtown to open a pub. His dark past was revealed when he was forced to have a haircut and his missing ear was revealed thus identifying his true identity. He is the most infamous of all Arrowtown’s inhabitants and one of the most colourful characters of New Zealand’s pioneering days. There was even a play written about him.


The Lakes District Museum has been called one of the best country museums in the southern hemisphere. I was impressed with the interesting collection of gold rush artifacts on display.  The elderly man looking after the museum at the time of my visit told me some interesting stories and the pride he had in his town’s history was obvious. He was particularly happy the Chinese huts that had fallen into disrepair on the banks of the river just a few paces from the main street were finally being restored and recognized for their importance to Arrowtown’s history.

arrowtown87Gold Mining Exhibit Lakes District Museum


During the 1870s and 80s, Chinese miners lived together in communal huts that housed between two and six men. They used mud brick, mortared stone, wood, corrugated iron, and canvas to build their huts. Some of the roofs were thatched, while others used corrugated iron. It must have been punishingly cold over the winter months when the low sun, blocked by the surrounding hills, only briefly warmed the snow covered town. The Chinese were industrious and developed an extensive garden area producing vegetables they sold to the European miners.  Ah Lum’s store, carefully restored today, is a highlight of the little Chinese settlement which is one of only three of its kind in the world.

It is unlikely any Chinese women ever lived in Chinese Arrowtown as the unfortunate women mainly settled in the red light district of Dunedin where they could negotiate pavements with their bound feet. It would’ve been tricky trying to stand upright on their tiny feet on the rough ground of  New Zealand’s gold mining settlements. It must have been a cold, lonely existence for the Chinese men, shunned by Europeans and forced to live in the coldest parts of town. They may not have had female company but they did have opium to ease their discomfort. I was once filming the excavation of a Chinese miner’s settlement not far from Arrowtown and the archeologists kept digging up small glass opium vials. They were everywhere, especially in the dirt that were once the floors of the Chinese primitive stone huts.

arrowtown 64Chinese Miner’s Hut


The landscape around Arrowtown was barren and exposed to the cold winter winds when the miners arrived. Many were from Britain and missed the trees so the ones who settled in the district sourced young elm, oak and sycamore trees from their homeland and planted them around the town, not only to make them feel more comfortable in their foreign landscape, but to also protect them from the hot summer sun. Today, the spectacular autumn colours these trees present, are the basis for an annual Autumn Festival. It has been said, the autumn colours in Arrowtown are among the finest in the world. I have been fortunate to witness this natural splendour on a number of occasions and have always found them a truly spectacular sight. The numerous bike and walking trails around the town are particularly glorious in the autumn when the gold and red carpets of leaves dazzle your eyes and bring a certain joy and comfort to your heart.


As the title of this blog proclaims, properties in Arrowtown start at one million dollars. Of course, houses in the town differ dramatically. There are the quaint cottages from the town’s early days to modern holiday homes and luxury villas. I guess what attracted me to this story was the high prices asked for basic little cottages with no view and little space to swing a cat. However, potential buyers are not interested in lack of space, but in the belief their property will never lose its value. They are prepared to pay these amazing prices because Arrowtown is only a 20 minute drive from Queenstown, one of the world’s top alpine resorts. It is also only 10 minutes from Coronet Peak, one of the southern hemisphere’s top ski fields. Vineyards have been established around the town and the 500 acre Millbrook Resort, one of Australasia’s top golf resorts, is right beside the town.

arrowtown 21Historic Miner’s Cottages Arrowtown

There is a certain magic found in Arrowtown. I’ve been to just about every town in New Zealand and have travelled extensively around the world. I can say with confidence, Arrowtown has a truly unique feel to it. I guess this is another reason people are prepared to pay a million dollars to live there!

Check out this 4 minute promotional video on Arrowtown.

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