Lake Matheson is one of our favourite mirror lakes in New Zealand and an absolute must when you’re road tripping the West Coast.
Formed over 14,000 years ago by the retreating of Fox Glacier, Lake Matheson is surrounded by dense ancient forests and an abundance of birdlife. It might be a well-known tourist attraction, but if you time your visit right I can almost guarantee you’ll have it to yourself.
Here’s our guide to Lake Matheson, New Zealand which includes our favourite viewpoints, the best times to visit Lake Matheson and everything else you need to know.
Lake Matheson New Zealand at sunrise
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The best time to visit Lake Matheson
Lake Matheson is stunning all year round but if you catch it on a calm day, it’s even more spectacular. Visiting during winter will get you the best reflections with more snow on the mountains but it’s just a beautiful in summer.
The main thing you want to focus on is the time of day.
We’ve found that the Lake Matheson walk is a lot more peaceful at sunrise or sunset and you’re more likely to get those mirror-like reflections that this lake is famous for.
How to get to Lake Matheson
Once you’re on the West Coast, Lake Matheson is only a short drive from Fox Glacier on a sealed road. It’s sometimes over-looked by road trippers due to being off the main road but don’t be surprised if you get there at lunch time and find the car park full of tour coaches.
Lake Matheson walk
When we decided to do the Lake Matheson walk, we didn’t know what to expect.
It turns out, Lake Matheson is a great option if you’re looking to do a short walk with amazing views on the West Coast – and something that’s a little different to the more popular Glacier viewpoints!
Reflection Island Viewpoint
30 minutes from the car park
For obvious reasons, this is the most popular lookout along the water’s edge – but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. We didn’t know that prior to our walk so it was this viewpoint we aimed to be at for sunrise.
Setting off in the dark meant we didn’t get a good look at the first 30 minutes of the walk but I can assure you it’s well maintained and easy to navigate by the light of a headtorch.
The track was very up-and-down however, switching from steep gravel hills to flat boardwalk with each corner. We dodged possum who seemed confused to see us on the track at such an early hour and made it to reflection island just in time for sunrise.
As we sat and watched the sunrise over Lake Matheson, Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, I was pleasantly surprised by the stunning views this lake had to offer. It fast became our favourite of all the mirror lakes in New Zealand.
This lookout is a wooden platform that’s been built to stand further into the centre of the lake, giving what we thought would be unparalleled views of the mountains.
We didn’t know that just 10 minutes up the track would be an even better view.
Lake Matheson Mirror Lake Walk View
View of views lookout
40 minutes from the car park
Once we had taken in the views at reflection island we continued on the track, not expecting to see much else until we reached the Jetty Lookout.
We were able to appreciate the track a little better now the sun had come up. It was a nice mix of well-groomed track and rustic forests. The birds were awake now too and every now and then we would be swooped by a curious fantail.
That was when we came across the ‘views of views lookout’, a newly built high platform that gives you similar views to reflection island but from up in the trees.
It was spectacular and I wish we had gone here first. If you’re planning to visit Lake Matheson at sunrise, this is the place you need to be.
There wasn’t another soul at this lookout and it was magnificent.
Lake Matheson Walk Track
20 minutes from the car park
By this point, the track was a lot busier than it was only an hour ago. We had shared the sunrise with very few people but now the track almost felt crowded.
When we reached the Jetty Lookout it seemed we had met up with the first tour bus of the day. A group gathered around the fencing battling to get their photos. A little bit of patience later and we had the whole jetty lookout to ourselves.
This lookout is the easiest to access. It’s only 20 minutes from the car park and the track between the two is flat, even suitable for wheelchairs. Because of this, many visitors only walk this far to snap some photos before turning back.
In doing that they miss out on a lot of Lake Matheson’s beauty so if you have the time and are able to, I highly recommend you walk the whole loop. The full circuit will take you roughly an hour and a half without too many long stops, but there are plenty of places to see along the way!!
Lake Matheson quick tips
- The circuit walk will take you roughly an hour. If you walk to the reflection island first, you’ll pass the crowds going the other way.
- No need for tough walking boots on this track! It’s very well maintained and even the steeper sections are manageable in everyday shoes (or even flipflops!)
- Pack some lunch and have a picnic at one of the viewpoints. There is a cafe in the car park, but like with all tourist attractions, it’s pretty over-priced.
- Arrive early for sunrise. While it’s quieter at this time, there will likely still be others there. Get to your spot early to guarantee a good view for photos as the sky comes alive.
- Drones are not allowed at Lake Matheson, neither are boats or dogs. Fishing is also prohibited.
Lake Matheson Walk Directions
Camping at Lake Matheson
Overnight parking is no longer allowed at Lake Matheson, even if you’re fully self-contained but there is a DOC campsite not too far away.
Gillespies Beach Campsite is about 10-15 minutes down the road past Lake Matheson. The road is very narrow and gravelled in places, not really suitable for low or wide vehicles.
This is a pay on arrival DOC campsite priced at $8 per adult per night. Despite being quite tricky to reach, it can be busy so arrive early.
The beach is really nice and there are several walks to do from here too!
Photography tips for Lake Matheson
If you get the right conditions, Lake Matheson is really easy to shoot. However, we highly recommend you have the following with you just in case;
- Head torch (if you’re going for sunrise/sunset)
- Wide-angle lens
- Sturdy tripod
- Polarising filter
- Shutter release button
As with any landscape photography, the lighting is key. This is also part of the reason we suggest going at sunrise or sunset. Not only will this allow you to have a quieter time to shoot, but the lake is also usually calmer and of course, the like is prettier at these times. If you want to get a killer Lake Matheson Mirror Lake photo, check the weather and set aside enough time to hang around if you need to wait for the right light.
A quick round-up for visiting Lake Matheson, New Zealand
- Arrive early. Sunset is good, sunrise is best
- 1.5 hours to walk the full loop
- Head straight for the view of all views – not the island lookout. Either to the top of the steps or to the edge of the lake. Thank me later
- Fast-changing weather – be prepared
- Can camp nearby
- Toilets/Cafe/Shop available
Have you been to Lake Matheson? Or maybe a different mirror lake in New Zealand? How did it compare? We love finding places like this that are popular tourist attractions but still hold on to their peaceful charm. If we’ve inspired you to add Lake Matheson to your New Zealand West Coast road trip, drop us a comment and let us know!
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