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Arrowtown museum’s director explores the origins of many of our place names

The Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown was founded in 1948. The museum holds a huge repository of objects, photographs, papers, books and interviews relating to our history. It also has an attached public art space, a bookshop and research facility. The museum has for many years run a full time education programme and runs the Arrowtown Post Office. The museum is a charitable trust relying largely on its door charge and sales to survive.

The ongoing future of this district institution is seriously threatened due to the need to earthquake strengthen its heritage buildings and the impact of Covid 19.

David Clarke has been the museum’s long serving Director and likes to walk and bike the districts track and trails. 

Even though we have all been in lockdown, one salvation has been our ability to get out and exercise in our beautiful environment. The autumn weather has been sensational and even as it turns cold you can rug up and enjoy the pure crisp air. The silence, punctuated by the prolific native bird song has added to the experience.


This week I thought I would start a list of some of the place names in the district and talk about their origins.

Ailsa Mountains - At the head of the lake these mountains were named by surveyor James McKerrow after Ailsa Craig, an island at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde in Ayreshire

Mount Alfred - Mountain at the head of the lake. It is the triangular shaped mountain in the centre of your vista as you head towards Paradise. It was named after Alfred Duncan. Duncan was a farming cadet working for William Rees and looked after the Rees farm near Glenorchy. He was probably the first European resident of Glenorchy.

EL6450 Head of Lake showing Mt Alfred

Arthurs Point - Named after Thomas Arthur who along with Henry Redfern discovered gold on this part of the Shotover river in 1862. Their discovery led to a massive goldrush on the Shotover which was known as the richest river in the world

Blanket Bay - Said to be from the fact that Rees’s first shearing was undertaken in a shelter made of blankets.

Bowen Peak - Named after Sir George Bowen, Governor General of New Zealand (1869-1873). It was possibly named by the Government Office following the visit of the Governor General to Queenstown in 1869.

Ben Lomond (1751 metres) - Named after the Scottish mountain. The name was first bestowed on the eastern peak of the mountain and then later transferred to the western peak. It was named by Duncan MacAusland in 1861. He was a shepherd working for William Rees. It is known in Maori as Te Taumata o Hakitekura which means ‘The viewing place of Hakitekura’ and relates to a famous Maori woman Hakitekura who swam from the village of Tahuna (Queenstown) to Refuge Point at the bottom of Cecil Peak.

EL4793 Lake Wakatipu from Ben Lomond

Buckleburn - Named after a farm in Aberdeenshire owned by Alfred Duncan’s father. It was named on Duncan’s first expedition with sheep to the head of the lake.

Caples River - Named after Patrick Quirk Caples, who explored the Greenstone, Hollyford and Dart Valleys in 1863

Cardrona Valley (and river) - Named by John Turnbull Thomson, the Chief Surveyor of Otago, After the river in Peebleshire near the Scottish Border.

Crown Range - Named after a group of rocks at the summit that form a crown shape. Named by Rees in 1860. Rees and his fellow explorer Nicholas Von Tunzelman, crossed the range looking for suitable sheep grazing land. The road that links Wanaka to Queenstown reaches 1120 metres above sea level, making it the highest main road in New Zealand.