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Butchers Dam and Flat Top Hill, Central Otago

Butchers Dam and Flat Top Hill, Central Otago

Why go to Butchers Dam / Flat Top Hill?

The Flat Top Hill Natural Reserve is home to a series of easy, off the beaten path hiking trails close to Alexandra which take in some awesome views over the Roxburgh Gorge and Butchers Dam. If you’re travelling through Central Otago I highly recommend a visit.

Butchers Dam

Close to the car park at Flat Top Hill Conservation Reserve, the actual dam part of Butchers Dam is really impressive when there is water crashing over it. It looks a lot like a waterfall if you capture it from the right angle. The small lake which feeds the dam is surrounded by rocky hills and is a worth seeing even if you’re not planning on hiking up Flat Top Hill.

Butchers Dam, Central Otago, New Zealand

Hiking up Flat Top Hill

There are several walking trails in the Flat Top Hill Nature Reserve. We chose to hike the Basin View Track and it was an excellent three hour walk. First follow the path to a small stone cottage and then around the dam, and from there you can access the various tracks. There are signs pointing in two different directions for the Basin View Track (it’s a loop track) — we headed uphill and slightly to the left first which turned to be a good way to do it. The walk takes you over 4WD tracks and various other paths and is signalled by orange markers. It’s easy to lose the main track but you start to realise which way to go and the tracks usually meet back up at some point. We strayed from the main track a few times and always found our way — it’s a difficult place to get lost.

Butchers Dam from above -- Alexandra, New Zealand

Roxburgh Gorge from Above

The best views on this hike look out over Roxburgh Gorge. The steep cliffs and bright blue water of the gorge look awesome from above. You can also hike along the side of the gorge from Alexandra to Roxburgh, but we’ll save that for another post. There are countless viewpoints and photo opportunities in this part of the hike — the views keep getting better the higher you go.

Roxburgh Gorge from above while hiking at Flat Top Hill and Butchers DamThe Butchers Dam and Flat Top Hill hike -- Roxburgh Gorge from above

Back to the Car Park

Eventually you’ll have to say goodbye to Roxburgh Gorge and head back to civilization. While walking along the ridge you’ll see some signs pointing you in the right direction — you can either walk down the 4WD track or keep going along the ridge a little bit more and take the “Thyme Track”. Thyme grows wild in these parts and at certain times of the year there’s a carpet of small purple flowers. I did this hike in November and the thyme was out in full force.

Hiking near Butchers Dam, Alexandra

Tips for Hiking at Flat Top Hill

  • Bring lots of water. It gets hot up there and there’s nowhere to refill your bottle.
  • Wear sunscreen. Again, it gets hot up there and the New Zealand sun is intense.
  • Wear good shoes. Some parts of the trail are quite steep and gravelly — I often hike in jandals but I’m glad I wore decent shoes this time.

How to get to Butchers Dam / Flat Top Hill

You’ll pass Butchers Dam while driving between Dunedin and Alexandra. It’s only around 6 km from Alexandra — you’ll see the turnoff on the main road. There isn’t much in the way of buses in this region of New Zealand so if you want to explore in any depth you really need a car.

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.