Running roughly parallel to Skippers Canyon and the famously dangerous Skippers road, Arrow Gorge was another Gold Rush hot spot in the late 19th century. It stretches from Arrowtown, currently a thriving tourist trap I mean, attraction, to Macetown, now a ghost town but once home to a community in the hundreds.
Macetown, Arrowtown… I’m hoping to find a Flailtown, too, but so far haven’t. (Macetown was named for the Mace Brothers, who ran the first hotel there, not after any weaponry, sadly.)
You can take a 4WD road the 15km (10 miles or so) from Arrowtown to Macetown, but it’s not a la-dee-dah kind of 4WD road. It fords the Arrow River more than two dozen times, with some of the fords more than a meter deep. Not the place to take a Subaru Legacy Wagon, even one so brave as Bill.
So I walked.
Yes, 30km (about 20 miles) is a little much for a day walk, but it was an easy track, following the 4WD road most of the time with occasional diversionary paths around the deepest fords. I still had to splash through the river, up to my knees, several times, but the cold water felt refreshing on a warm summer day.
Macetown itself is more or less gone… there are two reconstructed buildings, a few stone foundations and unmarked graves, and a lot of non-native trees like sycamores and willows that the European miners brought with them. The highlight of the trip was definitely not the destination, though it was pretty enough. Instead, the most memorable bits were the heady smell of all the lupin in bloom, crowding around the road, and the excitement of fording the river (over and over and over…).
Also of note: seeing Opium Bob’s cottage (a miner who became addicted to opium, though when you see his pad, perched on top of a crag on the steep side of the river opposite the road, you have to wonder how he got his supplies… I’m thinking carrier pigeon), meeting another hiker, a really interesting English cartographer (a cartographer… how awesome is that? I wanted to ask him eight zillion questions but didn’t want to scare him) and hitching a ride back to Arrowtown, the last five miles anyway, with a 4WD tour in a Rover that went slamming through the river in the deepest fords. Wheeeeee! And for freeeeee!
The tour guide also invited us (Mark the cartographer and me) to go gold panning with his two charges (two not particularly friendly guys from Austin, TX) on the way back to Arrowtown. Well, when in Rome… He showed us how to do it and I gave it a go, but quite frankly it wasn’t all that. I can’t imagine traveling by ship and horse and foot halfway around the world to live in such a remote place and swirl rocks and dirt around a pan for hours at a time, squatting beside the river, day after day after day, hoping for a nugget or two.
Now, plowing through deep river fords over and over in a Rover? Yeah. I could do that.