How I Got the Ultimate Lake Matheson View

New Zealand affords so many picture-perfect moments wherever you look. I reckon if you try to take them all in on a road trip, it will take years to complete! My personal favourite has to be the Lake Matheson view of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. You don’t even need to Google it; it’s the photo of the snow-capped peaks reflected in a lake at the top of this blog.

The images that I saw before my visit seemed too perfect, even by New Zealand standards, so I had to find out for myself when I visited Westland. Lake Matheson is 5 kilometres west of the Fox Glacier village; while it’s easy to hitch a ride, I was grateful that I had my own car. That ensured that I had the best chance of getting the best view – no depending on the kindness of strangers. I was the one dishing it out instead.

I decided to check the Lake Matheson view out the moment I reached Fox Glacier village with my hitchhikers. After the 4-hour drive from Wanaka, a 10-minute detour wasn’t going to make a big difference. We didn’t know what to expect when we got there but my hopes weren’t high; it was partly cloudy, and a gentle breeze was blowing through the pine trees.

It’s safe to say that the view at noon was a let-down.

Lake Matheson view
The view at midday – too many clouds, too many ripples.

We made it only as far as the Jetty Viewpoint before returning to the car park. For the hitchhikers, it wasn’t a wasted trip since they hadn’t known about this place.

I, however, had the car, and hence the option of revisiting Lake Matheson closer to sunset. As I barrelled down Cook Flat Road once again, the twin peaks that I didn’t see in the afternoon appeared in the rear view mirror. Cue fist pump.

Even the view from the car park was really sweet.

Mt Tasman and Mt Cook
The conditions couldn’t be more different

The route was easy, and the path, while busy, wasn’t crowded. Getting to the far end of the lake was a piece of cake for a moderately fit person. That was where the superlatively named ‘View of Views’ was.

When I reached the top of the steps, though, my first thought was, ‘Surely this can’t be all?’

Lake Matheson view
The View of Views wasn’t all it was made out to be.

The still water reflected the snow-capped peaks perfectly, but with the foliage in the way, it was difficult to immerse myself in the scene. Everything felt far away, like looking at a billboard on a building across the street.

A little further along the path, however, Reflection Island fixed everything. A short flight of steps led to a small pier in the middle of the lake and an unobstructed view of the peaks. Just check out the azure skies and mirror-like reflections of snow-capped mountains and lush conifer forests. Absolutely gorgeous, isn’t it?

Lake Matheson view
Aoraki and Mount Tasman from Reflection Island.

If it weren’t for the shutterbugs queuing for their Instagram moment – and the sandflies – I would’ve sat down and dipped my toes in the water. After I took my photographs, I stood back and continue to admire the scene while others crouched to get their shots.

The sunset looked to be a stunning one, so I had a gander around the gift shop (which was run by a friendly Czech on a working holiday like me) and dinner at the cafe. The food was pricey but it was creatively prepared with local ingredients. It was also more delicious than anything I could’ve mustered in the hostel kitchen.

Lake Matheson View
I also got to enjoy the sunset.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the story behind my killer blog header.

TL;DR: These are my three tips to get the ultimate Lake Matheson view:

  1. Go in the early morning or late afternoon, when the air is still (I’m told tour groups tend to go in the morning);
  2. Check the rearview mirror on the way there;
  3. Be patient and follow the signs to Reflection Island.

Have you enjoyed the Lake Matheson view too? What’s your favourite view in New Zealand?

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