Reflections of Lake Matheson, New Zealand

Forgoing the more touristy Franz Josef, I traveled a bit deeper into glacier country to Fox Glacier Township. My plan in Fox was to helihike the glacier, but that was derailed due to the cloudy conditions. And considering my vacation to New Zealand would totally be ruined by the helicopter crashing into Mount Cook, I was fine with not going.

Lake Matheson4Boo to the cloudy weather that canceled my helihike.

Fox Glacier Township is small. Actually I’m not sure if it qualifies as a town. I’d really call it a village. Beyond the actual glacier, the other thing that draws thousands of visitors each year to Fox is Lake Matheson. This lake was formed about 14,000 years ago when Fox Glacier retreated and created a depression in the earth that later filled with water. Nobody swims or fishes in this brown, eel-filled lake. Boats pulling skiers are absent. So what makes Lake Matheson so special?

Sunrise @ Lake MathesonCredit

Reflection - Lake MathesonCredit

Lake Matheson Credit

Need I say more?

Lake Matheson, also known as the mirror lake, is a photographer’s dream. Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman are perfectly situated to reflect off the glass-like water. This isn’t an easy picture to get. Conditions have to be perfect, with clouds at a minimum and winds calm. The best chance to capture this shot comes at sunrise and sunset. For hours, amateur and professional photographers stake their claim with tripods on a small section of rocks just waiting to capture the perfect shot. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. I spoke to a photographer who’d spent three days waiting for the clouds to part and the winds to die just to get the shot.

In case you’re wondering, here’s my shot of Lake Matheson.

Lake Matheson2Hella-Cloudy at Lake Matheson

Surely you weren’t crazy enough to think that I got the shot! After all, the clouds were the reason my helihike was canceled. It would have been nice to see the famous reflection, but I enjoyed my time walking around Lake Matheson anyway.

Just like the rest of New Zealand, Lake Matheson has a well-kept walking trail that completely surrounds the lake. The Lake Circuit takes an hour and a half to walk, but there’s also the thirty-minute Jetty View Point walk and the fifty-minute Reflection Island walk. The tracks meander through an ancient native rainforest where countless species of birds are seen.

Lake MathesonThe Silver Fern is a national symbol of New Zealand. This looks like one to me!

I walked the entire track backwards. Perhaps I should clarify. I walked the entire loop starting from the ending point. It wasn’t on purpose, I just spotted a pasture of cows and started walking towards them. A Texan excited by the sight of cattle, isn’t that like taking sand to the beach? Whatever.

Lake Matheson3Cattle in New Zealand have it made!

Lake Matheson6This Hereford kept posing for me.

I took about two hours to walk the track. Stalking cows, posing for pictures, and talking with photographers certainly extends the return time. It didn’t matter because I was in no hurry. But by the time I returned to my starting point, I was famished. Luckily, Matheson Cafe was only a few steps away. Practically made of glass, the cafe was a perfect spot to watch the sunset, have some New Zealand pinot noir, and dine on New Zealand beef and lamb.

Lake Matheson7Satisfied with our delicious meal at Cafe Matheson

My day in Fox Glacier Township wasn’t the one I envisioned, but rolling with the punches enabled me to have a fantastic afternoon that included Lake Matheson. Talk about making lemons into lemonade!

Lake Matheson5Clearwater River drains into the lake.

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  • Erik
    March 16, 2012

    That is totally my biggest fear!!!! I am planning on going flightseeing here, and I even built in a second day just in case the first day is cloudy. I could even wait a third day for clearing although I would miss out on Kaikouria, but that is fine. I want that picture from Lake Mattheson and also my scenic flight. It’s the thing I am looking forward to most! Boooooooooo….. 🙂

    • Leah Travels
      March 16, 2012

      We rescheduled for the next morning, but the clouds were still there. We considered taking a flight while we were in Mt. Cook, but decided against it. We used that money to buy art in Queenstown instead. 😉 As far as the shot at Lake Matheson, getting there early in the morning is your best bet. Best of luck with both activities.

  • Shauna
    March 17, 2012

    That happened to us too! I was really, really hoping to see the beautiful reflections but it just didn’t happen. But that’s what makes every trip unique, we did some hiking and enjoyed a pint (or 2) at the pub in town, and we had a blast.

    • Leah Travels
      March 17, 2012

      I agree, Shauna. Sometimes the story and fun is not getting what you wanted. It’s kind of like my adventure in not bungy jumping and your adventure trying to get to Queenstown. A good traveler just goes with it.

  • John
    March 17, 2012

    I love the sunrise shot! It almost looks a bit like Colorado…

    • Leah Travels
      March 17, 2012

      You’re right. I had someone look at some of the photos in my office without knowing they were of New Zealand. He thought they looked like the Canadian Rockies though. Of course, he’s from Canada. There were several places in NewZealand that reminded me of Colorado too.

  • Ryan Brown
    March 18, 2012

    Wow Leah, this lake is DEFINITELY a photographers dream. Even though it is murky and eel filled as you said, it LOOKS stunning. I have yet to get down to Fox Glacier but when I do, I’ll definitely be checking this out. Thank you for the share, and beautiful photos!

    • Leah Travels
      April 22, 2012

      Yes, get to Fox and check out the lake. Even if it is cloudy, it’s a nice get-a-way. There are other brilliant things to photograph there…like the cows! 😉

  • Christina
    April 22, 2012

    Stunning pictures! I guess I should really go and see Lake Matheson next time I’m in NZ!!

    • Leah Travels
      April 22, 2012

      As you can see from the photos, if seen on a great day, Lake Matheson is spectacular. I wasn’t so lucky as displayed in my photo. It’s still a nice place to take a stroll though. Plus, the restaurant is lovely.


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