During the 1860s Butchers Gully, as the area was known, teemed with goldmining activity and was productive for many years.

Butcher's Dam, Flat Top Hill. Photo: Nicola Vallance.
Butcher's Dam, Flat Top Hill

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.

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