Lake Matheson is a stunning glacial lake reflecting views of the Southern Alps including Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. It’s one of the most famous mirror lakes in New Zealand offering breathtaking views. The easy Lake Matheson walk follows a 4.4 km loop trail along the lake’s edge from which you can explore the different perspectives of the lake. There are plenty of photo spots to capture this stunning reflection lake and benches to take in the breathtaking views. Read in our complete guide everything you need to know about Lake Matheson, the loop track and different photo spots. 

Check here all tours in Franz Josef on Viator

Check here all tours in Franz Josef on GetYourGuide

Where is Lake Matheson in New Zealand? 

Lake Matheson is located along the west coast near Fox Glacier Township. From the Township it is about a 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) drive west and from Franz Josef Township 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) southeast.

Coming from the Cook Flat Road you have to drive 5 km along this road before you get to Lake Matheson. There is a huge car park available and a cafe called ‘ Matheson Cafe’ where you can have a coffee or enjoy breakfast or lunch. 


Explore Lake Matheson with a nature guide and enjoy pick up and drop off from your hotel in Franz Josef.

Check here current prices and availability for the Lake Matheson nature tour


Lake Matheson walk key facts 

Before we dive into the details about the Lake Matheson walk, let’s first have a look at the key facts of the trail so you’re well prepared! 

How long is the Lake Matheson Walk? The 4.4-kilometer lakeside loop track is a short but sweet walk in Glacier Country. It will take about 1.5 hours to complete the circuit around Lake Matheson. You can also only walk to the jetty viewpoint which is 2.4 kilometers from the car park taking only 45 minutes. 

How difficult is Lake Matheson Walk? With only 133 meters of elevation gain during the Lake Matheson walk there isn’t much difficulty about this trail. The path is very well maintained and even wheelchair friendly until the Jetty viewpoint. 


What is the best time to see Lake Matheson? 

The most common question is ‘what is the best time to visit Lake Matheson if you want to see the reflections?’ Of course, this completely depends on the weather circumstances as you need a calm and clear day to see the mirror reflection. Only if it’s wind-still and with a clear sky you’ll be able to see the reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman including the other snow-capped peaks. 

Usually, the best time to capture the reflection in Lake Matheson is in the early morning or before and around sunset. Because Matheson Lake is located along the west coast, the sun is setting on this side of the island. This means that with sunset the peaks will be beautifully lit up by the last sun rays. While with sunrise the sun comes from behind the mountain range, leaving Lake Matheson in the shade for a long time.

Lake Matheson with sunrise

Therefore my advice is to visit Lake Matheson with sunset if you’re in for a great photograph. However, sunrise is a great time too as you’ll have the chance of low-hanging fog. If you’re planning to just enjoy the Lake Matheson walk and its stunning ancient forest and nature surroundings, then any time of the day is a great choice! 

We have visited Lake Matheson on different occasions, in two different seasons and with different circumstances. Therefore you will see a mix of different pictures on this blog post.

What to expect along Lake Matheson Walk

Because the Lake Matheson Walk is a loop, you can either walk it clockwise or counterclockwise. There is not much difference regarding incline, the only important thing to know is that if you want to get to Reflection Island first, which is the best photo spot of Lake Matheson, then you should turn right at the first junction. There are well-signed information boards along the trail to update you on the current length.


The walk starts gently with a suspension bridge crossing and follows the gravel path through the ancient forest. You can see plenty of things along the way such as the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, native birds, flowers and many beautiful trees and ferns. 


The well-maintained gravel path changes from gravel to boardwalk when you get closer to Reflection Island. So this is your sign that you’re almost there!


Reflection Island Lake Matheson 

The best viewpoint of Lake Matheson is Reflection Island which is only 1.9 kilometers walking from the visitor centre. Wooden steps take you down onto the viewing platform from where you will have stunning uninterrupted views on Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.


Especially in the morning, it can be busy with photographers who all want to capture that famous Lake Matheson shot with reflection. It is one of the most popular lakes in New Zealand, and it’s completely understandable why!

Lake Matheson from Reflection Island

When you continue the walk, there is another viewpoint overlooking the lake called the ‘View of Views’. For this viewpoint you have to climb a few stairs and at the top is a nice bench overlooking the lake. It is a great spot for a short rest, however, it is a bit covered by bush and therefore not the best viewpoint.

The ‘View of Views’ on a cloudy day

Finishing the loop you will continue on the boardwalk which spans over the lake. Here you should look out for eels and other wildlife which is easy to spot. The long-finned eel is the most common species at Lake Matheson and can sometimes be spotted when breaking the tranquil surface of the lake.


If you have more time after finishing the Lake Matheson walk, then you can also visit the nearby Lake Gault. This 8km return walk starts from the visitor center and branches off the Lake Matheson Track. It’s a great combination if the Lake Matheson track is too short for your taste. 

About Lake Matheson 

The Lake Matheson Walk is also known as Te Ara Kairaumati Walk in the Māori language. Located in Tai Poutini National Park along New Zealand’s South Island west coast, you can perfectly combine a visit to Lake Matheson when staying in Franz Josef

Only on a calm and clear day, you can see a mirror reflection in the lake. The reflection in Lake Matheson is due to the dark brown colour of the water which is the result of leaf litter from the forest floor. This is because the streams that feed Lake Matheson pass through dense native bush, and often accumulate foam after heavy rains. Because the water carries organic substances from the forest, it turns the lake into a dark brown surface. The result is that it limits the visibility of the water and enhances the mirroring effect from the lake. 

Visiting Lake Matheson is a must, and combined with the lovely cafe and stunning views on Fox Glacier from the garden, it is a lovely start of the day.

Views on Fox Glacier from Cafe Matheson

What is the history of Lake Matheson?

Lake Matheson was formed between two moraine terraces about 14,000 years ago when Fox Glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe retreated. During this last major ice age, the retreating glacier left behind a valley and a huge slab of ice insulated by a deep layer of moraine gravel. This gradually melted and collapsed to form the lake bed. 


FAQ Lake Matheson 

Can you swim in Lake Matheson?

Yes, you can swim in Lake Matheson if you’d like to. However, it’s quite difficult because the lake’s edge is wild and there is very little access to the water’s edge. You could jump in the lake at the viewpoints, but other visitors probably won’t be happy with that when they are trying to get a photo without ripples in the water.

How deep is Matheson Lake?

Lake Matheson has an average depth of 12 meters.

Why is Lake Matheson famous?  

Lake Matheson is famous for its stunning mirror-like reflections, which are the result of leaf matter leaching into the water and turning it a dark brown color.

How to get around in New Zealand 

To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a carcampervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them, you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand. 

Car rental New Zealand

Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for this kind of roads.

We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car! The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pickup date.


Campervan rental in New Zealand

Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a road trip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will give you a true feeling of freedom and fully connects you with nature.

We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Station wagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 roadside assistance & long-term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream road trip!

Where to stay near Lake Matheson  

Lake Matheson is only 5 kilometres away from Fox Glacier township which is a small and quiet village. Franz Josef is a 30-minute drive away which has many more options for supermarkets, restaurants and cafes. Therefore I recommend staying in Franz Josef instead of Fox Glacier town. You can then easily visit Franz Josef Glacier, the Glacier Hot Pools and many more attractions near Franz Josef. Here are the best places to stay in Franz Josef. 

JAG Escape Franz Alpine Retreat

We have stayed here ourselves and absolutely loved the self-contained chalets. It felt like a ‘home away from home’ with everything you need. A fully equipped kitchen to cook your own meals, comfortable bed, table with chairs for dining, comfortable couch, private parking and shared laundry. Highly recommended! 

→ Book here your stay at JAG Escape Franz Alpine Retreat

JAG Escape Franz Alpine Retreat-

Rainforest Retreat

Set amongst the lush native bush in Franz Josef town is the Rainforest Retreat located. With a range of different accommodations from luxury tree huts to backpackers rooms, the Rainforest Retreat has something for every budget. There are 5 bedroom holiday homes and one bedroom cottages. There is also the option to choose for a private hot tub with some tree houses or rooms with bunk beds. With an on-site spa, sauna and restaurant, there is nothing you will miss in this beautiful accommodation.

→ Book here your stay at Rainforest Retreat Franz Josef

Rainforest Retreat

Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier

Centrally located in Franz Josef Village, the Scenic Hotel offers spacious and modern furnished rooms and suites with en suite bathrooms. Some rooms have a balcony. You can enjoy breakfast and dinner at the hotel’s restaurant which serves modern New Zealand cuisine and quality wines.

→ Book here your stay at Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier

Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier

Best tours on the South Island

New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are few experiences that are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below a summary of the best tours you can book.

Check here the best New Zealand South Island tours on GetYourGuide

Check here the best New Zealand South Island tours on Viator

Franz Josef Glacier Helicopter Flight with Snow Landing

An absolutely unforgettable experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight to Franz Josef Glacier including a snow landing. Fly above the icefalls, snowfields, and crevasses before you land in a glacial snowfield. A must-do in Franz Josef and absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience!

→ Book here your Helicopter flight to Franz Josef Glacier including snow landing


Milford Sound Cruise and Kayak tour

Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.

→ Book here your Milford Sound Cruise and Kayak tour


Cruise to the hidden Doubtful Sound

The lesser-known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. Your naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.  

→ Book here your cruise to the hidden Doubtful Sound


Take a scenic flight over Milford Sound

A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20-minute helicopter flight, you will return to Milford base.

→ Book here your scenic flight over Milford Sound

Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you book the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round-trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen on the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must-do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.

→ Book here your Milford Sound Scenic Fly-Cruise-Fly departing Queenstown


More New Zealand travel guides

I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about Lake Matheson. Make sure to put this awesome spot on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!

There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides and read more!

Franz Josef Glacier Country

Best Franz Josef heli hike tours –  All You Need to Know

Franz Josef Glacier walk – The Complete Guide

Roberts Point Track – All You Need to Know

Hokitika Gorge walk – The Complete Guide

Fox Glacier walk & Walking on Fox Glacier Guide

Best Franz Josef walks – The Ultimate Guide


30 best things to do in Queenstown – The Ultimate Guide

16 best hikes in Queenstown – The Ultimate Guide

10 best wine tours in Queenstown – The Complete Guide

12 best helicopter tours in Queenstown – The Complete Guide

Queenstown Hill walk – The Complete Guide

Ben Lomond track – The Complete Guide

Moke Lake loop track & viewpoint – The Complete Guide

Bobs Cove nature walk – The Complete Guide

Mount Cook National Park

12 best Mt Cook walks – The Ultimate Guide

Mueller Hut hike – All You Need to Know

Hooker Valley track – The Complete Guide

Sealy Tarns track – The Complete Guide

Tasman Glacier viewpoint – The Complete Guide


20 best things to do in the Catlins – The Ultimate Guide

8 best waterfalls in Queenstown – The Complete Guide

Matai Falls – The Complete Guide

Curio Bay & Petrified forest – The Complete Guide 

McLean Falls – The Complete Guide

Purakaunui Falls – The Complete Guide

Waipapa Point Lighthouse – The Complete Guide

Koropuku waterfall – The Complete Guide

Fiordland National Park

20 best things to do in Milford Sound – The Complete Guide

Milford Sound Cruise – The Complete Guide

Lake Marian track – The Complete Guide

Mirror Lakes New Zealand – The Complete Guide

Key Summit track – The Complete Guide


20 best things to do in Glenorchy – The Ultimate Guide

Glenorchy walkway & lagoon track – The Complete Guide

Earnslaw Burn glacier valley and waterfalls – The Complete Guide

Similar Posts

This post may contain affiliate links

We hope this guide will help you plan your travels! If you consider booking your accommodation, tours or rental car via our affiliate links, you support this blog because we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *