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Lake Matheson Fox Glacier

This is one of the easiest and most popular walks on the West Coast and is suitable for people of all abilities and fitness. The 2.6 kilometre circuit around the Lake takes about 1 ½ hours return. The track to the Jetty Viewpoint is a wheelchair access track and takes 40 minutes return. Tucked between two moraine terraces on the northern side of the Cook River Flats, Lake Matheson is one of the most well-known ‘postcard’ scenes in New Zealand.

Location
Once in Fox Glacier Village, turn off the Main Road State Highway 6 and drive down Cook Flat Road. The junction is next to the old Fox Glacier Hotel. There are signposts for both Lake Matheson and Gillespie’s Beach. Please adhere to the speed limit and remember that you will pass the local school. Five kilometres from the main road you will see the signpost for the turn off to Lake Matheson. The car park is about one kilometre from the Cook Flat Road.
The Track
From the car park walk past the Lake Matheson Gift Shop and Cafe to the Clearwater River suspension bridge, this is the river that goes on to feed the Gillespie’s Beach Lagoon. Wander through ancient podocarp hardwood forests past tall kahikatea (white pine) and rimu (red pine) to the Jetty Viewpoint. If you are lucky you may see a long finned eel at one of the viewpoints. The lake was an important food-gathering site for Moari travelling along the coast hunting for pounamu or greenstone.
The Viewpoint provides a spectacular mountain, and the dark water stained by vegetation humus is the perfect canvas for reflections fringed by native foliage. The track leads you to the View of Views at the top end of the Lake. As you continue on this quiet path you will catch more glimpses of the Lake through the temperate rainforest.
The track becomes a boardwalk that crosses reed and flax beds around the Western end of the lake and takes you to Reflection Island on the northern side. Here, you can see the popular scene that is on many postcards and chocolate boxes and includes views of Mounts Aoraki/Cook, Tasman and La Perous.
From here the trail ascends a small hill with a convenient park bench at the top before heading back down towards the neighbouring farm and car park. If you go, don’t forget your camera and be sure to reward yourself with a coffee and some gourmet food at the Matheson Café afterwards.

Track History

The lake was formed when Fox Glacier / Te Moeka o Tuawe retreated some 14 000 years ago. The glacier ground a slump in the moraine debris which then filled with water, forming the lake. The long-finned eel found in the lake made this an important food-gathering site (mahinga kai) for Māori travelling along the coast searching for pounamu (jade or greenstone).
It is named after Murdoch Matheson, a farmer who ran cattle in the area during the 1870s. Organised excursions to Lake Matheson started in the 1950s. Guests from the Fox Hotel were encouraged to go on this early morning excursion. All would gather for a cup of tea in the hotel kitchen then if the bus would start they were driven the short distance to the lake car park. The trailhead was at the same place that is today, however, there were no bridges, so guest was warned to wear sturdy walking shoes or boots.
After a 15-minute walk through the tangle of native bush the guests would have a ride in a rowboat to Reflection Island. Sometimes a low fog made the trip seem eerie, and yet the view seemed all the more spectacular once the morning sun burned through the cloud and mists and the mountains were revealed in the reflection of the tannin stained water.
Booking and more information:

P: +64 3 752 0796
www.doc.govt.nz

Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre,
Main Road,
Franz Josef Glacier,
New Zealand

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