Autumn Colours Blaze In Kingston Queenstown And Arrowtown

Autumn, you say if you’re reading in the Northern Hemisphere? But it’s spring? Nah, not in New Zealand, it isn’t. Especially the South Island, where we’ve been mooching around since the end of January, discovering one-after-another previously unknown (to us) amazing places. Most trees retain their leaves year-round here. Of the 260 natives, only 11 are fully deciduous. This makes the seasons rather different to the UK. There’s never the stark bareness for so long. However, there’s also introduced flora and fauna, mainly from the northern hemisphere, which reveals autumnal colour changes galore.

Kingston – Not Such A Poor Relation

Trip map courtesy of Wanderlog, a trip planner app on iOS and Android

Most people have heard of Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand. Kingston, however, rarely gets a look in – it doesn’t even have its own website, rather a page on the Queenstown one. If it wasn’t the birthplace of a dear departed friend of mine, I may not have known about it and or been eager to visit. Therese often talked of how much she adored growing up there and the famous Kingston Flyer steam train. Happily, Barry wanted to see and shoot the autumn colours in Arrowtown, which meant my longed-for visit to Kingston was doable.

I contacted Therese’s daughter in Gisborne for pointers about her childhood. She knew she’d grown up on a farm somewhere nearby, had a happy upbringing, and loved swimming in Lake Wakitipu. Her dad used to drink at the Garston pub, a small settlement slightly less than 18km from Kingston. Therese’s sister, Colleen, would get the sisters to kneel and pray for his safe return. In those days I suspect he would’ve gone on horseback.

The Troubled Kingston Flyer

The vintage steam train the Kingston Flyer was operated by the New Zealand Railways (NZR) from the 1890s to 1957, as a passenger express train between Kingston, Gore, Invercargill, and less frequently, Dunedin. Therese would’ve used it during that period – she did her nurse training in Invercargill, I believe. In 1971 NZR revitalised it as a tourist venture, and it ran until 17th April 1979. Since then, it’s had a chequered history and several owners. On 29th October 2011, it was put back into operation until leaks in the boiler stopped it in December 2012. That was the last time it ran. It was almost mothballed completely, but thankfully people along the way have decided it’s worth preserving. Plans afoot to reignite the steam engines at the end of 2020 – but due to the lack of volume of tourists, this hasn’t eventuated. It’s unknown if it ever will be.

The friendly man at the delightful Kingston Flyer Café said it wouldn’t run until/unless tourists return. There are many quaint memorabilia in and around the eatery, with the mighty engine and her (?his) carriages stored nearby. There’s even a local house resplendent with carriage wheels you can photograph for a gold coin donation. We hope one day the sound of the train is heard choo-chooing once more.

Kingston Town

Kingston itself is idyllic. Set amongst magnificent mountains and nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, it’s easy to see the attraction of living here. I’d certainly prefer it to its teeming with tourists neighbour Queenstown. The streets are all named after English counties. It’s the starting point for hiking in the nearby remote Eyre Mountains Conservation Park, and one of the 22 New Zealand’s Great Cycle Trails, the multi-day 175km Around The Mountains Cycle Trail, runs through the town.

The poplars and willows were changing colour when we visited on 29th March, with oranges and yellows contrasting beautifully against an azure blue sky. On our way out, we spotted a Lilliput library. These adorable roadside mini-bookcases are scattered around New Zealand. You can deposit a book you’ve read there and see if there’s one for you. Or take one without leaving one. It doesn’t matter. There’s no obligation. No one is nearby watching ready to pounce if you take one and don’t replace it. Barry prefers to read non-fiction and rarely finds a suitable one. He found one at Kingston, which he finished last week and put in another Lilliput library near Moeraki.

The drive from Kingston to Queenstown passes some spectacular scenery with some great viewpoints. There’s a cool free campground on the lakeside we wished we were staying at but had plans to be at the Catlins a few days later, so we had a timescale to keep to. The southeastern shore of Lake Wakitipu passes by the Remarkable Mountain range, a popular skiing destination during the winter months. There wasn’t any snow at that time, but it won’t be long before there is! The ski season begins on 26th June.

Not So Quiet in Queenstown

The New Zealand media have frequently reported that since COVID restricted tourism, Queenstown businesses are struggling. The NZ public hasn’t been terribly sympathetic, believing that the businesses here are so overpriced that kiwis can’t afford to visit. Whether that’s true or not, when we visited, it certainly didn’t feel empty. The streets, shops and bars looked pretty full to overflowing to us.

We last visited Queenstown in 2011, when there WAS snow on the Remarkables. It was spectacular. We also got a good deal through NZ Holiday Homes. You can check out Barry’s photos on that post if you click on the link. This time we drove through the town and parked up near the lake for a spot of lunch and photo-taking. We just missed the TSS Earnslaw cruising past on her one and a half hour return trip

The TSS Earnslaw is an icon of Queenstown and is owned by Real Journeys. We took a boat trip on the lake in 2011, but not on the Earnslaw. It meant Barry got to take some super photos of her from the cheaper boat! Time and budget didn’t run to a trip aboard this time either, but we were blessed with a sail-by for Barry to take another few shot. The Earnslaw has featured in several movies, including a cameo in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as an Amazon River Boat, and is the only hand-fired, commercial passenger-carrying steamship in operation in the southern hemisphere.

Here’s one of Barry’s photos from our July 2011 Queenstown visit blog post:

Driving through Queenstown en route to Arrowtown, the trees were ablaze with colour on the busy streets. An appetiser for Arrowtown’s delights.

I just managed to sneak a photo of the world-famous AJ Hacket Bungy Jumping Kawarau bridge as we drove past. There’s not the slightest chance either of us would ever be crazy enough to do this!

Arriving Late To Arrowtown

Arrowtown is one of a collection of settlements in central Otago that suddenly sprang up during New Zealand’s ‘gold rush’ in the late 19th century. What sets it apart is how well preserved the majority of the buildings on the high street and miners cottages are, as well as the outstanding autumn colour display.

When the West Coast goldfields opened in 1865, many European diggers headed over the Southern Alps as much of the easier gold in Otago had gone. Trying to re-stimulate a flagging economy, the Otago Provincial Government invited Chinese miners to come and work. The small Chinese village they created in Arrowtown stayed settled until 1928, and its remains are part of our history. As a more permanent town emerged, the avenues of trees were planted in 1867, making Arrowtown look more like the European towns the settlers missed.

By the time we finally arrived in Arrowtown, it was late afternoon. Unfortunately, it meant we missed the award-winning museum by about ten minutes. Most of the shops closed at 4 pm too – which wasn’t a bad thing!

Arrowtown is certainly quaint. Although we missed many shops, I found a gorgeous greenstone manaia at the Jade and Opal shop. It felt appropriate to find one I loved between what would’ve been my Mum’s 88th birthday on 24th March and Dad’s 101st on 30th.

I’d been searching since we got back to Aotearoa for one that feels right to me. The craftsmanship of Lee-Roy, the carver and owner, is outstanding. He informed me he’s fortunate to own the building outright, so overheads are less than other businesses. He reckons he’s 70% down in visitor numbers this season and is grateful to be managing to stay afloat and keep his staff on and paid.

I haven’t worn my spiritual guardian yet, as I hope to find someone appropriate to bless it first. Mum had a bone carved manaia dad bought for her 69th birthday at Wai O Tapu on 24th March 2002 and wore it constantly. Once I put mine on, it’s likely to remain there too. I suspect it’ll be when we leave Aotearoa.

The Manaia is regarded as a kind deity that protects people and helps them communicate with their ancestors. It is regarded as a mythical being with a bird’s head a human body and fish tail. It is believed to be the invisible light, or aura, surrounding a person. Manaia are considered the messenger between the Gods and mortals. In Māori culture the bird is thought to be an omen-carrier or intermediary between man and the spirits. Often they are carved with three fingers which are believed to represent birth, life and death. The Manaia is seen as the guide that leads the spirits to heaven. They are worn to guide and protect.”

Arrowtown in Autumn

We arrived in Arrowtown 24 days too early for the 36th Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival. This was kind of intentional – we’re not keen on being in places when hoards of people are around. The colours were superb enough for us at the end of March. We even found a few more lupins.

There are notices around the vicinity of Otago about the ‘wilding‘ project – getting rid of non-native conifers, yet here’s a place that exudes non-natives. I guess it’s quite a dichotomy. Is that the word I’m looking for?

Arrowtown Miners Cottages

The historic gold miner’s homes are extremely eye-catching and well maintained. They’re mostly privately owned nowadays, and lovingly cared for. During the annual autumn festival, it must be rather overwhelming to have hundreds of people gawping into your home. But that’s the price you pay to live in one of these.

Arrowtown Chinese Settlement

I was keen to walk around the Chinese settlement too. It’s in complete contrast to the row of far more comfortable European miner’s cottages. These are set apart and sparsely built. I continue to find it shameful how Chinese miners were treated. Having been invited and encouraged to leave their families and come to New Zealand for gold mining, they were then treated abominably. Yes, they made money because they were hard workers. They were able to send money home. But at a huge personal cost.

Compare their living conditions below to the Europeans above. They truly were remarkable …

It does seem this disaparity is being addressed today, being highlighted as an example of how NOT to treat people.

Roaring Meg To Champagne Gulley

We left Arrowtown in the evening to find a free campground before it got too dark. On the way, Barry wanted to stop at ‘Roaring Meg’, a small Hydro Electric Power Station beside the road. The roar was loud, and the water glacial blue and fast flowing. Definitely worth a look. Barry’s photos do it far more justice in his slideshow below.

Our overnight free campground location at Champagne Gulley was amazing. After the beauty of the daytime autumn colours, the oranges, purples and blues of the sublime sunset at the end of the day was a perfect conclusion. I sat out with a glass of red wine to watch the crimson sky show. Admittedly it was a bit noisy as the camp is right by a fairly busy road, but there was little overnight traffic. And earplugs are terrific!

Barry’s Slideshow

Barry’s photography really excels in this post I’m sure you’ll agree. Click on the first image to begin …

6 thoughts on “Autumn Colours Blaze In Kingston Queenstown And Arrowtown

  1. Pingback: A Superb Few Days Around St Bathans ~ Barry & Sandra's Adventures

  2. Pingback: Following The Gold To Gabriel's Gulley ~ Barry & Sandra's Adventures

  3. We’ve been to Arrowtown a couple of times and found the Chinese area fascinating but also really depressing. As you say, the people were treated diabolically and it’s good that the truth is on display which hopefully educates a few people nowadays. x

    • Kia Ora Phil and Cal. From reading the information boards in Arrowtown and other gold mining towns where the Chinese were similarly treated, it’s portrayed that they kept themselves to themselves and were happy. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know. They did however manage to grow produce well which they sold to the European miners which is hope would’ve helped relationships. It’s fascinating to learn about this time in NZ’s history despite the sadness 🙂

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