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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!