Tucked between two moraine terraces on the northern side of the Cook River Flats Lake Matheson is one of the most iconic ‘postcard’ scenes in New Zealand. It has long featured on chocolate boxes, beer bottles, calendars and even the 1946 New Zealand Peace Stamp.
Named after Murdoch Matheson a farmer who ran cattle in the area during 1870’s the Lake circuit is one of the most popular short walks in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. In 2010 a 1.1 kilometre track to the Jetty Viewpoint was made wheelchair friendly.
To be a ‘Wheelchair Access Walk’ the track must be well formed with an even surface, and any slopes have to be within an angle of five degrees elevation. This poses an interesting engineering challenge and Luke Archbold, Programme Manager Visitor Assets, South Westland Weheka: Department of Conservation (DOC) explained that creating a wheelchair access track is no ‘walk in the park.’
The project design and primary surveying was completed by Mark Nelson, and Gary Patterson over a year ago. Since then a crew of up to a dozen rangers have worked on the track construction with the help of Ian Hartshorne from Franz Hire. Scrub bars, chainsaws, power carriers, compactors and a 1.5T digger were all used to tame the landscape which runs through dense podocarp forest.
The result: a world class walking track that allows you to experience breathtaking views of New Zealand's highest peaks and their stunning mirror reflection in the lake.
The DOC Visitor Information team led by Frans Dellebeke completed research for new information boards and Rebecca Reid of TELLTALE created the final graphic design masterpieces - located under cover outside the Reflectionz Gift Shop at the beginning of the track. The DOC Community Relations team then organised a ‘Community Day’ as part of World Wetlands Day. Locals from Fox Glacier Village took ownership of their own back garden and spread gravel to help finish the track surface.
The full 2.6 kilometre circuit around the Lake takes around 1½ hours return. There also is the shorter option of the 20 minute return walk to the jetty. Don’t forget your camera and reward yourself with a coffee and some gourmet food at the Matheson Café afterwards.