What does the Arrow River mean to you?

Otago Regional Council is currently working on a planning framework for the Arrow waterways catchment area. They have some upcoming meetings at the bowling club for people to talk about what the values of the river are to us. If you haven't really thought too much about this, read on!


About the river

The Arrow River starts beyond Macetown and runs all the way to the confluence of the Kawarau River. Its Māori name is Haehaenui, which means 'big scratches' – a reference to the channels it has gouged out. It is fed by a catchment 236 km2 in size, incorporating many valleys and mountains that are popular with local hikers. The water comes from a mixture of springs, snow melt and rainfall, with some streams running dry during the hot summer months.


Gold mining

Because of the catchment's rugged terrain, historic use was almost entirely focused on gold mining. After the discovery of gold in 1862 large parts of the river and its tributaries were worked using alluvial mining methods, including hydraulic sluicing that scarred the landscape and tunnels into the hillsides to retrieve gold-bearing gravel.

There are many archaeological sites related to mining in the Arrow catchment. What is now car parking below the town was extensively worked for gold, before being planted with willow trees to stabilise the banks.

Recreational gold fossicking is currently allowed on a section of the Arrow close to town, while other stretches of the river are under mining permit.



By the early 20th century the transition of local industry from mining to farming was complete and there was growing demand for irrigation. The Arrow Irrigation Company was formed in the 1920s and it built a network of pipes fed from a dam between Arrowtown and Macetown. This system still feeds many properties across the eastern Wakatipu, including farms and golf courses.


Town water

In the 1860s the first water supply for the town was brought in by water race from Bush Creek. It was named after Butel, who operated a farm at what is now Millbrook. It was upgraded and modified over the years, and you can see the remnants of this scheme at the Bush Creek waterfall and along the far bank.

The current town water supply is fed by bores in Bush Creek (across from the Chinese Village) that tap 19m and 22m deep into the aquifer. The aquifer is fed by both the Arrow River and Bush Creek. The water is at the moment pumped up into water tanks above the cemetery (a new larger reservoir is planned for the end of Bush Creek Road) before being treated and piped to houses and businesses. Surplus water is discharged back into the river downstream of the bores.

Unfortunately, Bush Creek was also the site of the Arrowtown tip in the mid 20th century. Even today rubbish will appear on the surface after heavy rainfall.


Ecological values

Remnant patches of beech forest can be found along the waterways, as well as surviving riparian strips and grey shrubland. Birds that feed on fish such as kōtare (kingfishers) and kawau (shags) sometimes visit, and Bush Creek still has native galaxiid fish. However, the spread of invasive weeds has the potential to seriously affect these ecological values and water flows in the catchment.

Predator Free Arrowtown has installed a line of predator traps along the river to help encourage native birds to return, and the Arrowtown Wilding Group is overseeing the removal of invasive wilding trees on the faces above the river.



The river, particularly near the town, is enjoyed by both residents and visitors. It draws runners, walkers, bikers (both mtb and ebike) and dogs along the accessible river trail. Several swimming holes have long been used by local families, and increasingly by tourists. It is a productive place for anglers fishing for trout. The old miners road to Macetown runs beside and through the river and is popular for 4WD trips.


Where to from here?

What will happen to the catchment in the future is currently unclear. Climate change modelling has not been undertaken with enough resolution to determine how much water will run in the Arrow. It is important that we think about the values identified above, as well as others, and how these may be affected. Come along to one of the ORC meetings at the end of the month, and make sure these values are acknowledged.

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