Sunday 26 July 2015

Flat Top Hill Conservation Park

We’ve not done much exercise in the last couple of months, we've been blobbing it a bit, both because of the cold and the fact we’ve been enjoying just being parked up and relaxing with the family.

So  I was thinking we’d ease back into it, it was such a lovely day we’d walk the Butchers Dam Loop, an hour long walk at the back of the dam that took you a little higher up the hill so we could see the whole lake.

I mentioned that I’d love to walk to the top though,  because I was sure that we’d be able to see the Clutha River Gorge over the other side. So it was a nice surprise when David said “Let’s go!, we'll walk to the top” So we set off along the Basin View track which initially followed a 4WD track west along the base of the hill, slowly climbing.

Looking back we could see the dam wall and the lake with ‘Out There’, way over the other side. We got a bit of a fright when we saw a car pull up beside the van, it’s an awful feeling seeing someone near your vehicles and knowing that there was nothing we could do if they had ill intent on their minds. We breathed a sigh of relief when they walked off after awhile, with a dog bounding ahead of them. I don’t know why we got a fright, we leave the vehicles all the time and have never had an issue. I think it was because we could see them.

The 4WD track wound it’s way in and out of the gullies and seemed to go on forever, around every bend we thought we’d turn to start the climb up the ridge. In the end David decided a short cut was in order. Especially when he saw a line of sparsely placed small white pegs with a tiny blue ribbon attached, weaving their way up the side of the hill beside us. After a bit of a discussion and a check of his tracking app, we decided to follow the white pegs and cut off the corner of the hill.

I don’t know what the pegs were for, perhaps for a yet to be cleared mountain bike track (mountain biking has only recently been given permission to form tracks over the hill), or an orienteering course or maybe a cross country race, but we carefully followed them up the hill, around and through the many rock piles and over the dried thyme which gave out a fragrant smell as we disturbed it. For a non-native plant it’s certainly made itself at home, it covers nearly every inch of space for as far as the eye can see.

We’re climbing higher and the dam is getting smaller and our van is still in view…with no cars parked nearby.

After the initial steep climb the ground levels out a little, the white pegs disappear and we’re still not back on the main track with the DOC orange marker poles to lead the way. I spot a white stick with no blue ribbon far up to the left but David thinks we should go to the right (which is the way we'll be heading when we do find the top- he's keen to shorten this walk some more). We beg to disagree and he heads off on his own to the right, I head to the left and pick up the peg trail again just below the outcrop of rocks on the left ridge.

We weren’t too concerned as either way we had to reach the top of the hill and the track soon- anyway I wasn’t going to starve, I had the food, all he had was my tripod and a thermos of hot water!  But seriously, I can see how people get lost out tramping in groups, especially if they disagree with a direction and head off on their own course.

I made it to the DOC track first but had to walk further, as I came around a peak I could see David ahead of me, beating his way through the briar bushes.

We were finally on the track and heading for the top, I turned around to check out the view to the north, towards the Maniototo, where we’ll be heading next. Far off in the distance are the snow covered Southern Alps. It’s a bit hazy, a photographer I spoke to at the dam earlier in the day told me there was a big burn off on one of the stations and the whole valley was covered in a smoky haze.

We found a view to die for and a large flat rock to sit on to have our lunch before the last final push to the top of Flat Top Hill. SH8 (Roxburgh to Alexandra section) can be seen running along behind the lake and up behind is the snow covered Old Man Range. No wonder this walk is called the Basin View.

After lunch, refreshed and refueled, we headed off again, the track nice and level for a short distance…

…before we pass a vehicle track that heads off back down to the lake and David is tempted to take it when he sees how steep the last section to the top is. I tell him there’s no way I’m taking. After coming this far, I want to see if the Clutha River is on view when we get to the top. He decides to stick with me. It’s a tough haul up the rutted track, not least because it’s turned into a bloody hot day and we have winter clothing on.

Finally we are rewarded, the Clutha River snaking it’s way down the gorge from Alex. I’d love to see this view in the autumn when all those willows along the banks would be in their autumn colours and the river a brilliant turquoise. That’s a walking track along the other side of the river and part of the Clutha Gold cycle track runs along this side of the gorge in the shadow.

There are some amazing rock formations all over the hill, from stacked rounds of schisk piled on top of each other to slivers that look to have been pushed sideways.

The track passes close by a rocky outcrop that drops away into the gorge below. It’s a pity we left our run a bit late and the sun is leaving the riverbed. This is looking east towards Roxburgh, the cycle trail can be seen more clearly in this shot. It may not look like it but it’s a very long way down there, I doubt you’d see more than a black dot on the path if anyone was passing by.

I wonder how the rock finds its way to sticking up like this.

David’s getting weary, and impatient to find the track back to the dam, he leaves me in his wake. Which isn’t hard when I keep stopping to take photos.

We pass a cutting in the rocks and can see straight down to the lake….and our van again. I’ve zoomed in quite a bit here. There’s no way down through this section, we have to carry on along the ridge.

Finally we find a road going virtually straight down, we can see another sign a few hundred metres further on and looking through the binoculars and checking the tracking app we see that it’s the walking track to the bottom but it wends its way back and forth down the steep hill taking all the steepness out of it but probably doubling the distance to walk.

We decide the Haul Road will do us so off we head, down some very steep sections, we skid on the loose gravel and try not to let our feet get away on us. By about half way our toe tips and knees are complaining, it reminds me of walking down the Key Summit track on the Milford Road.

It took forever to reach the bottom, and even then we took a short cut when the track headed off in the opposite direction before reappearing at the base of the hill. Six kilometres and three and a half hours later we arrive at the lake edge and head for home passing the remains of Lye Bow, the Chinese gentleman’s cob cottage on the way (see the previous blog for details).

Maybe next time David will listen to me when I say we’ll ease our way back into walking.

From DOC-
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.


  1. What a fantastic trip to take , well done

    1. Yes, it was worth the effort Francis. I don't usually like open country walks where you can see where you're heading and from where you've come, they're sometimes pretty boring but this one had some surprises for us and now I want to walk it in the autumn to see the colours.

  2. I know from experience that shots like these require quite allot of fitness, which is all good for mind and body...anyway couldn't see you with a drone....David well that's another matter.
    Cheers J
    Ps Ward Beach from your recommendation...Fab!

    1. You're not too far wrong Jimu, Mr FKG has been swotting up on drones this past month or so but he was shot down in flames when the new regulations came on board. Glad you enjoyed Ward Beach, I love in a storm!

  3. Great photos really captured the landscape what a cool looking place. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks Martin, glad you enjoyed the blog. If you go in autumn the colour contrast between autumn colour and parched ground and rock is stunning.


Thank you for taking the time to leave a message, I love reading them! All comments are personally moderated by me and I will post and answer them as soon as possible, Shellie