A walk around Lake Matheson is absolutely one of the things you must do when you are on the South Island in New Zealand.
Lake Matheson is honestly one of the most stunning lakes in New Zealand. Known as the lake where you can see the perfect mirror image reflection of Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in it’s still waters, Lake Matheson is so beautiful it will literally take your breath away.
Lake Matheson Walk
There are several lookouts around Lake Matheson that all provide unique views of Aoraki Mount Cook.
The walk around Lake Matheson will take around 1.5 hours (about 4.5km) and the views generally get better the further you walk around! It is a fairly easy circuit walk.
The start of the Lake Matheson walk seems a little uneventful at first as you won’t be able to see the reflection of the Southern Alps in the lake just yet.
From the Visitor Centre you’ll walk over a wooden suspension bridge to begin with. You’ll then find yourself amongst spectacular giant ferns which will make you feel like you’re in something like Alice in Wonderland!
When you come to the junction turn right (clockwise). You can also turn right and walk anti-clockwise if you wish to get to the best viewpoint first and not do the whole circuit walk.
Jetty Viewpoint – Lake Matheson
The first viewpoint is Jetty Viewpoint which is 1.2km into the walk. There used to be a jetty here where you could get a dingy into the centre of the lake to see the view better, hence the name.
It is a really nice lookout – but keep going on the walk through the forest for the other two lookouts that are even better!
The ‘View Of Views’ Lookout At Lake Matheson
Continue walking round to the other end of the lake on the boardwalk for another kilometre and you will reach my favourite viewpoint of Lake Matheson: the ‘View of Views’ Lookout. You will find the staircase on your left: it is a fair few steps (perhaps 30) to climb up but oh my goodness is it worth it!
Honestly this was one of my absolute favourite views in the whole of New Zealand! You get a high up view and the lake and reflection is perfectly framed between the trees.
Reflection Island Lookout – Lake Matheson
300 metres further along from the ‘View Of Views’ Lookout is Reflection Island Lookout – known as the best viewpoint at Lake Matheson! Head down some steps to the wooden viewing platform.
Reflection Island Lookout is the viewpoint where you can get the perfect reflection of Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in the lake as you are right by the water’s edge. As a result this is the busiest viewpoint at Lake Matheson, so be patient when trying to get the perfect photo here as the viewing platform isn’t that big!
You’ll notice that Mount Tasman appears a lot taller from here, but it is just because it is a lot closer!
To complete the circuit around Lake Matheson there is a very small hill to climb. The path then flattens and opens out a little and you’ll get a great view of the mountains! You’ll then find yourself back at the junction by the wooden suspension bridge near the Visitor Centre.
If you are short on time and just want to visit Reflection Island Lookout, turn right at the junction instead of left (so you are walking anti-clockwise around the lake instead of clockwise like most people do) and you’ll get to the lookout a lot quicker.
This anti-clockwise walk around to Reflection Island Lookout will take you around 25 minutes (1.9km from the Visitor Centre).
Best Time For Photography At Lake Matheson New Zealand
Lake Matheson is an incredibly popular place for landscape photographers. They come here to get the perfect photograph of the snow-capped Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman reflecting in Lake Matheson.
On a calm day you can get an almost perfect mirror image reflection – it looks just spectacular.
The conditions and the time of day will determine just how clear of a reflection you will get – and when the weather is unfavourable, it won’t be possible.
Visit When There Isn’t Wind
The most important thing you’ll want to look at is the wind conditions for the day. You obviously don’t want to visit on a windy day as the reflection will be blurry.
The best time to photograph Lake Matheson is usually early in the morning right after sunrise before any wind picks up and the water is still so you can see a perfect reflection of Mount Cook.
Visit When There Aren’t Too Many Clouds
You’ll also want to visit on a day when there aren’t low clouds in the sky, as they could block your view of Aoraki Mount Cook!
For photographers, sunrise is the perfect time to photograph Lake Matheson as there will be hardly anyone around, the wind is more calm and the water more still – enabling a perfect reflection. The colours can also be an unexpected surprise.
Sunset is also nice, however due to the position of the sun it will illuminate the whole landscape. This is nice and you can get some fantastic colours, however you’ll probably find that you won’t get as much contrast in your photos as you do at sunrise.
Sunset will be busier than sunrise for sure, and especially at Reflection Island Lookout there may not be too much space with several tripods around, so make sure to get to the viewing platform in plenty time to get a good spot!
Sunrise in winter provides the absolute optimal conditions to photograph Lake Matheson. Still conditions, perfect light and probably nobody else around, which will make the experience even more special!
In addition, winter sunrises sometimes have a gorgeous red glow over the mountains due to the position of the sun, which is just magical.
The position of the sun for summer sunrises changes. The sun position causes the mountain to appear as silhouettes as the sun creates a glare. Therefore you might find that if you are here during summer, sunset is more preferable to take a photograph of Lake Matheson as opposed to sunrise.
Don’t worry about the logistics if you are on a limited time frame though or not here when conditions are optimal. Sunset or sunrise, winter or summer – you can still get great photographs!
How To Get To Lake Matheson
Lake Matheson is located 5km from Fox Glacier town. It will take around 5 minutes to drive, and parking at Lake Matheson is free.
Other Instagrammable Places To Photograph In New Zealand
Without a doubt New Zealand is one of the most picturesque countries in the world and there are so many incredibly beautiful places to discover despite it’s small size.
New Zealand’s South Island is absolutely stunning and bursting full of must see Instagrammable places to photograph! With impressive glaciers, mountains and lakes, you’ll definitely not be short of places to go and landscapes to photograph!
Some of the most Instagrammable places in New Zealand include the lupins at Lake Tekapo, The Wanaka Tree, Hokitika Gorge, The Blue Lakes at Haast, Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki, Franz Josef Glacier, Thunder Creek Falls and Tunnel Beach in Dunedin.
You’ll find some great captions, quotes and puns about New Zealand to go with your Instagram photos.
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Catrina is a Travel Writer, SEO Specialist and ex-Flight Attendant based in Sydney, Australia. She has visited 85 countries and lived in several – including Italy, Australia, United Arab Emirates and England. Her work has been featured in a variety of popular travel publications including Fodors, Escape, Australian Traveller and Bear Grylls, as well as several international aviation and travel companies. The majority of her work however features on her own website – 24hourslayover.com where she has written over 500 travel articles!