A Wander Around New Zealand’s Most Reflective Lake

A photographer’s dream, a perfect mirror image, reflections beyond your wildest dreams! Today, we are going to witness the famous Lake Matheson!

What’s also great about this lake is that it’s only 7 minutes drive from Ivory Towers Backpackers where we are currently staying. The DoC signs even from the roadsides make getting there super easy. So after a morning of hardcore travel writing work (Which isn’t really work, let’s be honest. All we do is travel and take a couple of photos, right?), we hop in our monster of a campervan and tackle the shortest drive of our lives.

Man, this place has got it sussed for parking, which usually indicates a tourist hotspot. We’re expecting to be totally overcrowded here, but as we see the Lake Matheson Cafe is pretty quiet, we decide this is a good time to get some lunch!

Lunch with a Southern Alps view!

Windows go the entire length of the walls giving every cafe-goer perfect views of the Southern Alps while they’re having their meal/coffee/cake. Plus, a substantial decking area outside soaks up the sun and is surrounded by flax attracting the native birds. We have our table chosen even before we’ve ordered!

So picking a table is easy at the Lake Matheson Cafe, but choosing something to eat… European, Asian, classic New Zealand foods… Gluten free, vegetarian, or fatty meaty wheaty food… Cabinet food or full-on meals… Because we haven’t eaten out in a while, we decide to dig into a lunch meal of a massive BLT baguette and a salmon and ramen noodle broth soaked in ginger and garlic.

A mammoth sandwich with a mammoth view A mammoth sandwich with a mammoth view
Mesmerised by the rainforest Mesmerised by the rainforest
A reflective duck A reflective duck
Whatcha doing up there, Laura? Whatcha doing up there, Laura?

Trying not to be out-eaten

Robin has the sweetest tooth of them all so he doesn’t need much convincing to get a frangipani and the most intricately decorated hot chocolate. And Laura gets a large slice of carrot cake because she doesn’t like to be out-eaten!

Vintage finds

We decide to let our lunch settle a bit before walking around Lake Matheson, so we take a look in the ReflectioNZ art gallery and gift shop for souvenirs to send back home. Our attention is mostly grabbed by the vintage designs originally used to promote New Zealand during the early 1900s. We flick through the designs seeing how much has changed… The Fox Glacier might look different but the slogan “Wait in the queue for Queenstown” still holds true.

Swingbridge to the forest

Lake Matheson, let’s see your famous reflections! We set off on the walk which starts right next to the Lake Matheson Cafe. After crossing another swingbridge in New Zealand (How many is that now?!) we immediately delve into the forest.

How can we feel like one minute we are among civilisation and the next we are nestled in the trees feeling completely alone? Yes, we only pass about five groups of people on the way to the Lake Matheson viewpoint, but honestly, that’s pretty surprising considering the amount of vehicles parked at the entrance. The great thing about New Zealand is that walks tend to spread people all over the place.

A flashpacker lunch at Lake Matheson Cafe

Rainforest wonders

Once again, we are blown away by the rainforest that occupies the West Coast. Vines and mossy tree trunks work together to grow as high as possible, while an array of ferns hang out on the forest floor.

Maybe it’s because our eyes have been opened since visiting the Westcoast Treetop Walkway in Hokitika where we saw a rainforest canopy from above, but we are really noticing all the layers of height within a rainforest. Just to simply look up is so striking!

“That, up there, is a photographer’s dream! Forget about this Lake Matheson!” we say as we continue walking to the viewpoint of Lake Matheson… Shame.

Damn you, ducks!

Views of the lake come much earlier than expected when we spot a picnic table at an opening in the trees. The tabletop is covered in muddy footprints. We add some more to get better views over the flax. The reflection in the lake is entirely occupied by the forest on the other side of the lake, which is being broken up by about four ducks swimming across the lake as if they are trying to p*ss us off. That’s not going to work, ducks! You are actually creating ripples that distort the reflections in a bizarre and beautiful way, so thank you, ducks, thank you! As you can see, we like to take the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mantra.

And yes, this place is real And yes, this place is real
Let's see that reflective lake one more time! Let's see that reflective lake one more time!
Bigfoot pizza for big eaters! Bigfoot pizza for big eaters!

A photographers dream

Ok, where were we? Oh yes, Lake Matheson. The forest walk continues until we spot a bench looking over a decked platform looking out to that picture-perfect view. We have seen this image a million times but nothing compares to seeing the real thing.

The water is as still as a statue and as dark as the night’s sky. That, coupled with the lake’s forest lining and a backdrop of the Southern Alps makes a landscape that is perfect for framing. You know why this place is called a “photographer’s dream”? Because it does all the work for you!

A list of peaks

Today, we have clouds breaking up in the sky, and despite not seeing every peak that we would be able to see on a clear day, such as Mt Tasman, Mt Roon, Mt Mitchell, Mt Haast, Lendenfield Peak, Torres Peak, Sam Peak, Craig Peak, Mt Fox, Mt Damper and Mt Hicks (can you tell we read the signs?), the clouds only reveal New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki Mt Cook. The view is unique in its own little way, which feels like a small victory for us and our cameras.

It’s not that we don’t like people…

What’s more, there are not too many people occupying the decking area with us. We help a small group of backpackers take a group photo and we talk to an Australian couple for five minutes, but otherwise… It’s pretty quiet. (Does it sound like we hate people? We don’t hate people, per se, we just prefer not being crowded).

After capturing the lake and it glassy waters from every angle possible, we make our way back to the car park and back to Ivory Towers Backpackers.

a Familiar face

As we’re working in the living area of the backpackers, Robin spots a car pull up.

“That’s Lyndsey!” Robin says running outside. Lyndsey is an American girl who we met in Auckland so many months ago! What are the chances of us bumping into each other?! (Ok, pretty slim on the West Coast of New Zealand with only one main road doing through it, but, yah know…)

Lyndsey who has just finished working with the DoC is now travelling with her mum. Although we’ve already eaten out today, we can’t miss the opportunity to join them at The Bigfoot Bar this evening for pizza and a catch-up!

Bigfoot bar eats

While Lyndsey and her mum make the most of the Saturday Roast and drink deal, we dig into some Cajun chicken and pepperoni pizzas with a jug of Little Foot beer thanks to a discount coupon given out to many of the accommodations throughout Fox Glacier.

Hanging up our art

We can’t help but notice all the feet decorating the back wall of the Bigfoot Bar. We have to add something, so Robin grabs the Sharpie pencil case at the bar and gets to work on his chicken head-meets-foot. Laura draws a Mexican-inspired design of a man sleeping under a cactus, for whatever reason. Lyndsey draws a magnificent scene of Milford Sound, clearly inspired by her DoC work in Fiordland. Our designs have been trumped right here!

Nevertheless, we all hang our feet on the Bigfoot Bar wall paying homage to another awesome day on a gap year in New Zealand

Tomorrow, we’re sure it’s going to be just as fantastic with a hike up to the terminal face of the Fox Glacier, before making our way to Haast. Join us tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

The gorgeous Lake Matheson from all angles!
The gorgeous Lake Matheson from all angles! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow, backpacking buddies!

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