Giving Back

Celebrate autumn in Arrowtown

New Zealand's natural beauty makes the change of season truly inspirational - particularly the glorious golden hues of autumn. Perhaps one of the prettiest (and most fun!) places to celebrate the time of year is tree-lined Arrowtown, where the Autumn Festival is a big occasion for locals and tourists alike.

Now in its 31st year, this year’s festival will take place April 21-25 and will include a Market Day and parade featuring local community groups, a Gold Panning Championship, and a "Pie, Pint and Pinot" sampling event of craft beer, locally made pies and Central Otago wines.

And to give you some autumn inspiration, we asked Lakes District Museum Director David Clarke about this stunning part of New Zealand. Having worked at the museum for more than 25 years, few people know Arrowtown better than David - during his tenure he has conducted 600+ hours of interviews with 370 subjects to boost the district's historical records. You certainly won't find a more enthusiastic guide to the town's stories.

Q: In your opinion, what makes Arrowtown a special and inspirational place?

A: There are numerous reasons that make Arrowtown special and inspirational. The town has a rich heritage from the gold mining period (over 70 buildings and features) and is probably one of the most tree lined towns in New Zealand. The trees provide inspiration all year round, especially the stunning colours in autumn. The local history is inspirational in that it tells a story of triumph over adversity, and the Chinese miners’ story (told at the restored Chinese settlement) is also very powerful. The town’s catchphrase ‘Where history meets nature’ is very appropriate with our proximity to walking tracks and cycleways. It’s a close-knit community of interesting people.

Q: Do you have a favourite historical inspirational person from the Arrowtown area? What is their story?

A: Jack Tewa, or Maori Jack as he was known. A shearer and shepherd originally from Thames, he worked for the founder of Queenstown, William Rees. In 1862 he discovered gold in the Arrow River (although William Fox is often given the credit), which subsequently led to the Wakatipu Gold Rush. Tewa also saved a man from drowning in Lake Wakatipu in 1862 and won the Royal Humane Medal for his efforts – so he had a pretty amazing year. He then left for the West Coast, but no one has been able to find out what happened to him. I would have loved to have met him.

Q: Can you give us a short history of the festival?

A: The Festival started in 1985 and was really a celebration of the end of summer, organised by the people of Arrowtown. At that time Arrowtown was more of a farming service town as well as a tourist town, so the farmers enjoyed participating in all the events. In the early days you had to queue up around the block to get tickets to the various dances and plays! The festival has grown into being a highlight of the yearly calendar of Arrowtown events, and has helped with the promotion of Arrowtown as a destination.

Q: How did you first get involved with the Autumn Festival, and how long have you been involved now?

A: I got involved when I became director of the Lakes District Museum in 1989. Each year I curate the Autumn Festival Art Exhibition, which draws artists from all around the South Island and is very popular. I’ve been involved in plays, workshops, market days and I've served on the organising committee for several years. 

Q: And finally, what are your personal highlights of the Autumn Festival?

A: The opening day always has an amazing atmosphere! There's a market held in the library reserve under golden trees and the float parade. There also used to be sheep races through the main street – I remember in particular a sheep entering one of the shops and causing chaos.
The biggest attendance was a few years back when we had a men’s ballet. I was Prince Charming, but Sleeping Beauty was about 100kg... The final lift and spin did not go well – but that’s another story!

To find out more about the Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival, including this year’s festival programme and how to buy tickets, visit or connect on Facebook.