Thursday 23 July 2015

Winter Beauty- Butchers Dam

Yesterday morning, after nearly five weeks parked in our Winton family’s driveway, we headed back ‘Out There’. We were sad to be leaving but we know we’ll be back down south in the summer so it won’t be too long before we see them again.

We had an awesome time, lots of laughs, a few surprises and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Ollie & Ruby especially as the last two weeks were school holidays. It’s great to see that the family have settled into Winton well after shifting from the ‘big smoke’ Invercargill.

I’m afraid we wouldn’t enjoy the winters very much if we had to live that far south though. For at least the first three weeks we had minus 2-5 degree frosts nearly every morning which wouldn’t have been so bad had the day warmed up to something above 5 degrees. At least the sun shone brightly every day. And then the snow came, but that was definitely a highlight. Although it refused to melt for nearly a week which shows you how weak the sun’s warmth was.

I think we’ve jinxed Southland; on the first visit we spent 5 weeks in Invercargill over Christmas & New Year (2013-14) and it blew a howling gale and was freezing cold for all but 3 days and everyone said it was the worst summer they’d seen. This time it’s five weeks in Winton and everyone said it’s the coldest winter they’ve ever had, never mind the dump of snow. Oh, and in between we made a special trip back to attend the Bluff Oyster Festival. Well we know what happened there- we got evacuated when a storm blew the marquee apart. And hail fell on the ground at the campground two inches thick! Hmmm…perhaps we’ll meet the family on neutral territory next time.

We left Winton just as the heavens opened up and it was a wet and gloomy trip all the way through to Gore where we stopped for lunch. Blue sky arrived as we crossed into Otago and by the time we arrived at Butchers Dam it was a relatively warm late afternoon, even with a solid coating of snow along Old Man Range behind us. Butchers Dam is 9kms from Alexandra in Central Otago.

Butchers Dam was built between 1935-37 during the great depression for an irrigation scheme, as were many dams in the Central Otago area. During the 1860s Butchers Gully teemed with gold mining activities and up to 150 people lived in the Gully. Most of the mining took place in the basin that is now the reservoir behind the dam.

A store, butchers shop and hotel were set up in the gully during the 1860s. The hotel was destroyed (by fire) and replaced twice before the last hotel was built in stone in 1890. This hotel was submerged under the reservoir in 1937. It is said that when the water is low the chimney stacks can be seen below the surface.

The remains of a stone cottage belonging to a well know and generous Chinese gentleman, Lye Bow, is located in the poplars across the dam. Initially he mined in the gully during the 1860s, then went on to purchase land and planted the first apricot orchard and market garden in Central Otago.

Butchers Dam is a well known freedom camping area, there are any number of spots to park along the west and north ends of the dam tucked in and around the small coves. It’s a busy place during the summer but all we have for company are the rabbits and a few hardy birds.

It was autumn when we last passed the dam (we didn’t overnight then) and the poplars and willows were stunning in their brilliant autumn colours. One of my photos of the dam then is the cover photo of the NZMCA member’s handbook. But as you can see every season has its beauty.

The owners of the dam allow access across the dam wall to the  Flat Top Hill Conservation Area which has a number of walks around and over it and forms the backdrop to the dam. It also forms part of the Clutha River gorge on the far side.

The dam wall is 24 metres high and 69 metres along the top.The concrete arch varies in thickness from 762mm at the top to 2.7 metres at the bottom. The far half of the dam wall is slightly lower allowing excess water to spill over, falling onto a series of rocks to break up the energy on it’s way down so that the dam base and creek bed are not worn away.

The day’s end at Butchers Dam. Tomorrow we will tackle Flat Top Hill.


  1. Hi guys , you are a very talented photographer Shellie - stunning as per usual of course.
    Cheers from Bruce and Barb

    1. Hey there! Lovely to hear from you, thankyou, you are too kind Bruce :) Hope all is well with you two and it sounds like you've had the most amazing time up north in Aussie. You forgot to add the X rating to your last post Bruce! :) Hi to Barb xx


  2. HI Shellie & David,
    Another Place to put on the "to visit list"
    Enjoy back out on the road, I'm sure you'll find much in lower Westland to report.
    We're off for a shortie weekend to Marlborough, before USA...look after NZ for us will ya! Ciao J & C

    1. Hi Jimu, hope the repair work is well on the way to healing, just in time for your trip away to the States. Safe travels and take care of each other. We're actually heading into the Maniototo next, leaving lower Westland for the summer. Take care.

  3. We haven't been there , but my parents have they talk about it alot, now we will have to visit next time we are down that way

    1. You will Francis, it gets a bit crowded in the summer but there are plenty of places to park up. It apparently has good fishing and it looks magical in the autumn too.


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