One of the New Zealand’s best-preserved gold mining towns can be found hidden within high-country tussockland near the charming tourist village of Arrowtown. Now known as Macetown Historic Reserve, it illuminates the Otago region’s nineteenth-century gold rush past through its restored stone buildings, curious relics and riveting boom ‘n’ bust tales retold through a series of information panels.
Getting to Macetown is half the fun. Starting at Arrowtown, a trail ushers riders upstream beside the Arrow River, following an old horse and dray road. Shared with hikers and 4WD drivers, the trail is wide and slopes gently upwards through the pretty river gorge passing derelict huts and an old homestead along the way. In spring, blooming lupins colour the landscape in a palette of pink, purple and yellow.
The easy surface and gradient make it suitable for most people with moderate fitness. Riders, however, will get wet feet as the trail crosses the river more than 20 times. Bikes will have to be carried across for the most part, although an attempt to ride through some of the fords will factor in some splash-tastic fun. Other crossings can be bypassed via short, technical sections of single-track; these should be eyeballed first as there are some pretty serious drop-offs. Either way, it’s a good idea to take some bike lube to curb costly wear and tear.
On arrival at Macetown, the historic reserve can be explored by bike. It is, however, well worth taking the challenging 45-minute walk up the Rich Burn Valley culminating at the four-storey-high Homeward Bound Stamper Battery – one of the country’s most impressive gold mining relics.
To get back to Arrowtown, riders return along the same trail, but this time mainly downhill, and with the added bonus of refreshments at one of the town’s fine cafes and restaurants. Arrowtown also lies along the 120km+ Queenstown Trail network that takes in many of the region’s highlights including Gibbston Valley wineries, the original bungy jump site and Lake Wakatipu.
Before setting off, riders should check the weather forecast, and get the latest trail conditions from DOC or one of the local bike shops . The Arrow River can be impassable after heavy rain, and snow and ice can cover the trail in winter and spring. The best time to ride is between February and April when winter snows have melted.