Your ultimate guide to the Lake Matheson Walk

Fans of breathtaking landscapes, outdoor adventure, and nature will love the Lake Matheson walk. It is a must-do when visiting the West Coast and one of the most remarkable walks in New Zealand’s South Island. This iconic trail is best known for its mirror-like reflections, captivating sunrise and sunset views, and an experience that will leave you in awe of the natural wonders of New Zealand. Please keep reading our Lake Matheson walkway guide to discover how to get there, what to see and do and the best times to visit.

Lake Matheson Jetty Lookout view of mountain and bush reflection in lake

Why is Lake Matheson famous?

Lake Matheson NZ, is a glacial lake in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park. It is near the charming Fox Glacier township. It’s renowned for its crystal-clear waters that perfectly mirror the surrounding Southern Alps, including the towering peaks of Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. This natural spectacle is mesmerizing and allows photographers to capture truly stunning images.

How to get to Lake Matheson, New Zealand

Make your way to Fox Glacier village. From Fox Glacier to Lake Matheson, it’s a short five-minute drive. Follow the signs along Cook Flat Road for the Lake Matheson Road turn-off on your right. You will find parking facilities near the Lake Matheson Café.

Franz Josef to Lake Matheson is a 30-minute drive.    

Lake Matheson cafe view of outdoor seating.

Lake Matheson Cafe

A great way to start your adventure is with a visit to the Lake Matheson Cafe. The cafe has divine views of green fields and mountain backdrops and serves breakfast and lunch from 8:30 a.m. daily. It’s the ideal spot to grab a hot coffee to keep you warm during those early morning outings. 

However, the highlight of a visit to the Lake Matheson Cafe is to sit on the deck and enjoy the views.

Additionally, there is a gallery and gift shop. Here, you will find NZ-made memorabilia, jewellery and souvenirs.

Insider tip: The cafe is the only Lake Matheson restaurant. During the summer and on weekends, arrive early to secure a good parking spot and enjoy a tasty breakfast before the crowds arrive.

Make sure to read:

Glacier & ancient forest walks and other Cool things to do in Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Sunrise and Sunset

One of the most magical experiences is witnessing the Lake Matheson sunrise and sunset. 

The lake’s mirror-like surface creates an almost surreal reflection of the surrounding landscape during these golden hours. 

At sunrise, the lake is often shrouded in mist, adding an extra layer of mystique to the scene. As the sun slowly rises, the mist dissipates, revealing the grandeur of the mountains. 

Conversely, the sunset bathes the lake in warm, golden hues, creating a tranquil and romantic atmosphere. Both moments are a photographer’s dream come true.

Insider tip: For the best chance at capturing these breathtaking moments, check the weather forecast and be prepared to wake up early for sunrise. 

Oli posing for a photo at Lake Matheson New Zealand

The Lake Matheson Walk

This easy-to-moderate hike takes you on a 4.4-kilometre loop around the lake, offering multiple vantage points to soak in the incredible scenery.

Total walk time is about 1 hour and 30 minutes. However, you should allow at least 30 minutes extra for breaks to immerse yourself in the natural wonders and take photos.

The Lake Matheson track is well-maintained and suitable for hikers of all levels. You’ll traverse through lush native rainforest, wooden boardwalks, and gravel paths. Along the way, informative signposts provide insights into the area’s history, flora, and fauna.

The Lake Matheson walk begins with a gentle stroll on a flat path for the first 20 minutes, passing through green fields and old-growth native forests. 

Boardwalk track through New Zealand native bush

You can complete the walk in either direction. Going clockwise offers the chance to experience the epic views of the lake early in your journey. It is also the way to go if you want to do the shorter walk to the Jetty Viewpoint. 

We did the trail anticlockwise. It allowed us to do the more strenuous parts early and leave the best view till last.

Soon, you’ll come across a swing bridge that offers epic views of a rock-strewn river and a few creeks, offering lovely glimpses across farmland at various points.

As you proceed with the walk, you’ll encounter a gradual incline. Here, you’ll find some giant trees, particularly lots of rimu trees, which are New Zealand’s native pine. The track might narrow in places, but fear not; it’s still wide enough for two-way traffic to pass comfortably.

Geoff on the swingbridge on the Lake Matheson walk

Reflection Island Lake Matheson

After a short 5-minute descent, you will reach Reflection Island Lookout (within 35 minutes from the start of the Lake Matheson walk.) 

Here, you will find a huge viewing platform to rest and capture photos of the magical still Lake Matheson and the surrounding bush and mountains.

Continuing your walk, within 10 minutes, you’ll encounter another excellent viewpoint aptly named the “View of Views.” 

Take the wooden steps up to the heavenly spot, sit back and enjoy the serene ambience as you peer down the hill, taking in the captivating panorama. 

lake and bush view.
Reflection Island Lookout

Within 15 minutes, you will reach the Jetty Lookout. This viewpoint is our favourite. The majestic Southern Alps reflect perfectly in the glassy waters of Lake Matheson. Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, the tallest peaks in New Zealand, appear so close you could almost touch them. The view will leave you in awe.

READ NEXT – Best Attractions on the West Coast South Island New Zealand.

What You’ll See on the New Zealand Lake Matheson Hike   

As you wander through the ancient forest, keep an eye out for the native birdlife, including the famous New Zealand fantail (piwakawaka) and the bellbird (korimako). These charming creatures often flit among the trees, adding a melodic soundtrack to your walk.

In places, you’ll find plank boardwalks, river crossings, and creek crossings. There are a few steps in some parts of the walk.

Occasionally, you will stumble upon wooden chairs perfectly positioned to offer mad views of the lake. From here, you can gaze at the snow-covered mountains in the background and the surrounding trees—a lovely spot to take a well-deserved break.

Prepare to be spellbound for much of the viewpoints. 

Lake and bush view on the Lake Matheson walk
View Of Views Lookout

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Guide tip: To avoid crowds, consider visiting during quiet times. Weekdays during the early morning and late afternoon are ideal for a more intimate experience.

Alternate Routes on the Lake Matheson Walk

If you’re running late for sunrise or sunset, or if you’ve already completed the walk, returned for sunset, and wish to catch a different perspective, consider an alternate route. 

Starting in the opposite direction, the shorter option from the car park offers a short, easy 45-minute return walk to Jetty Viewpoint, an excellent viewpoint for snapping photos of the snow-covered mountain reflections in the lake. 

This route provides a more condensed experience, perfect for those with limited time. However, it is the lookout where you can get those stunning photos you have viewed on the internet of the mirror lakes.

While you might not always find the perfect reflections if there is no sun or it is windy, Mother Nature can occasionally surprise you with a burst of sunlight, as it did for us on the gloomy day that we visited.

Lake Matheson Jetty Lookout view of mountain and bush reflection in lake
Jetty Viewpoint

READ NEXT – The Great Coast Road New Zealand: Greymouth to Westport Drive.

Lake Matheson Essentials

Before you embark on your adventure, it’s crucial to be well-prepared to make the most of this breathtaking experience. Here are seven essential tips and recommendations to ensure your Lake Matheson Mirror Lake Walk is smooth and enjoyable.

1. Footwear and Attire: Wear comfortable and sturdy hiking boots or walking shoes. The trail can be damp and muddy in places, so proper footwear is essential. Dress in layers, as the weather in this region can be changeable.

2. Check the Weather: New Zealand’s weather can be unpredictable. Before heading out, check the weather forecast to ensure you’ll have clear skies and optimal conditions for viewing the reflections.

3. Timing is Everything: If you’re keen on capturing the lake’s mirror-like reflections, the best time to visit Lake Matheson is during sunrise or sunset. These moments offer the best lighting conditions for stunning photographs.

4. Insect Repellent: In the warmer months, sandflies and mosquitoes can be pretty active in the area. Carry insect repellent to keep these tiny biters at bay.

5. Water and Snacks: Bring a water bottle and light snacks to stay hydrated and keep your energy levels up during your walk. 

6. Camera Gear: Whether you’re a photography enthusiast or not, bring your camera gear. The photos from the Lake Matheson walk are usually Instagram-worthy! Additionally, a tripod can be handy for capturing those long-exposure shots during sunrise or sunset.

7. Respect the Environment and pristine natural area: Be sure to carry out all your rubbish and leave no trace of your visit. Dogs are not permitted in order to protect the wildlife. Drones are not allowed unless you receive prior permission. Respect any posted signs and stay on designated paths to protect the delicate ecosystem. 

Is Lake Matheson worth it?

Absolutely! You can witness some of the most extraordinary views when the weather conditions are ideal.

Regardless of perfect conditions, the easy short walk offers the quiet beauty of nature, gorgeous New Zealand native bush views and stunning water views. From the serene reflections to the captivating sunrise and sunset views, this trail is a true gem to explore. We consider Lake Matheson a unique treasure of the West Coast, South Island.

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