Worth a Trip: Lake Hayes
Around 14,000 years ago, little Lake Hayes was joined to the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu. Now it sits in quiet isolation, its often-mirror-perfect reflections of the surrounding hills and mountains leading some to claim it as the most photographed lake in New Zealand. It's a great place for an easy stroll, with the 8km, bike-friendly Lake Hayes Walkway looping right around it. Allow two to three hours to walk it.
On the lake's eastern flank is Amisfield Bistro & Cellar Door, a match for any of the wineries in nearby Gibbston, though it's the bistro that's the real showstopper. In 2017 it was named as one of NZ's top 100 restaurants, so you can feel reassured leaving yourself in the hands of the chefs when you order – there's no menu; you simply pick three or five courses and await whatever the chefs decide. Wine tastings are free if you purchase a bottle, or $10 otherwise.
Hidden in a natural depression across the highway, south of the lake, is Lake Hayes Estate, established in the 1990s as a more affordable, less touristy residential option to Queenstown. It's worth dropping by for a bite at Graze, an unexpectedly stylish cafe-bar at the heart of the estate. Its offerings run the gamut from morning coffee to dinner to a beer from its own attached microbrewery.
Lake Hayes is 4km south of Arrowtown, on the road to Frankton.
Worth a Trip: Macetown
Macetown, 15km north of Arrowtown, is a gold-rush ghost town, built in the 1860s but abandoned by the 1930s. Many of its buildings have been restored, creating an isolated and evocative destination. It's reached along a rugged, flood-prone road (the original miners’ wagon track) that crosses the Arrow River more than 25 times.
Don’t even think about taking your hire car here. A much more sensible option is the 4WD tour offered by Nomad Safaris, which also includes gold panning in the Arrow River. Or you can hike to Macetown from Arrowtown (15km each way, three to four hours one way), but it's particularly tricky in winter and spring; check with the information centre about conditions before heading out. An alternative route (four to five hours each way) climbs over Big Hill, avoiding many of the river crossings. This track climbs above 1000m, however, so shouldn't be attempted if the weather forecast isn't looking good.
The road to Macetown is sometimes touted as a mountain-biking route, but it's for experienced riders only, with steep drop-offs and almost no mobile-phone coverage if you do get into trouble.