The Flat Top Hill Conservation Area consists of 813 ha purchased by DOC in 1992. Situated behind Butchers Dam, it encompasses the northern end of Flat Top Hill running north to south, bounded by Lake Roxburgh in the east and Butchers Creek and State Highway 8 in the west. Flat Top Hill is a miniature block mountain, at the foot of the Old Man Range (Kopuwai).
A dry land ecosystem, Flat Top Hill supports a diverse range of animal and plant life, including examples of regenerating native plant species that previously covered much of the lowland valleys of Central Otago. Dry land ecosystems are one of New Zealand’s most threatened ecosystems. Flat Top Hill is important for observation, recording and management of such ecosystems
The area also includes some interesting historical evidence of European and Chinese settlement.
In 1862, gold was discovered in Butchers Gully (now submerged under Butchers Dam). Water was essential for mining the gold and for survival. European settlers quickly learnt the value of water in the dry Central Otago climate. Butchers dam is itself a legacy to the need for water reserves in an environment that makes water the equivalent of “liquid gold”.
What lies beneath? During the 1860s, Butchers Gully as it was known, teemed with goldmining activity. Although not as rich as nearby Conroy’s Gully, it was productive for many years.
A store and butchers shop was set up mid 1865. During 1868, the road between Roxburgh and Alexandra was completed and Butchers Gully Hotel was built. It was later destroyed by fire on 29 January 1886, In May 1890, a replacement hotel was built and successfully managed by a succession of owners, until it was submerged under the Butchers reservoir in 1937. It is said that when the water level is low, the chimneystacks may be seen below the surface.
Butchers Dam and its outlet tunnel (728 metres through solid schist rock) were built between 1935 and 1937 during the great depression in order to create a water reservoir for the nearby town of Alexandra. The dam and race are now only used for irrigation. The Last Chance Irrigation Company now owns the dam.
The Chinese influence on Butchers Gully can be seen in the remains of a market garden, orchard, schist rock storeroom and surrounding stacked rock fence. These were the efforts of Lye Bow (Li Bo), a Chinese gentleman, one of the many Chinese miners who came to New Zealand in the early 1860’s. A popular character of this area, his unusual story is told in detail on the Interpretative Loop Track.
The property surrounded by the conservation area and Butchers Dam is in private hands, but is still known locally as Lye Bow.