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  • Writer's pictureRach Stewart


Your Complete Photo Guide to Lake Matheson New Zealand Blog

Lake Matheson on the West Coast of New Zealand is one of those locations that encapsulates everything incredible about this little country at the bottom of the world I get to call home, and why thousands of landscape photographers visit every year to grab that perfect New Zealand frame for their portfolio.

Nestled in the heart of New Zealand's breathtaking West Coast, Lake Matheson is an absolute pristine gem that has every element you could ever dream of for creating a jaw dropping scene and photograph. Surrounded by ancient native rainforest and framed by the towering peaks of the Southern Alps, this mirror like lake is renowned for its reflective waters, which perfectly mirror the surrounding landscape, creating a surreal and mesmerising panorama.

The stillness of Lake Matheson and its dark tannin stained waters allows for a truly unique experience, especially during the calm mornings and evenings when the lake's surface transforms into a flawless canvas, mirroring the snow capped peaks of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. The walking track around the lake is absolutely beautiful meandering through lush greenery and offering three amazing vantage points for you to take in the incredible views over the lake.

In this Complete Photo Guide to Lake Matheson New Zealand I share my favourite viewing points for photography, everything you need to know about what time to go, where to stay, what camera gear you need to take and everything I have learnt from visiting Lake Matheson many many times over. Let's get to it!

NZ Guide and Travel Map






The 334km (approx 4 hours 40 mins) journey from Queenstown to Lake Matheson is one of the most beautiful scenic drives the South Island has to offer.

When self driving your options from Queenstown setting out westward on SH6 include either travelling over the Crown Range to Wanaka, or continuing on SH6 which will take you through the Kawerau Gorge and the towns of Cromwell and Luggate until reaching Wanaka. Continuing on SH6, the road leads you northward, guiding you through the awe inspiring Haast Pass. This mountainous passage presents an opportunity to witness the untamed wilderness of the West Coast with waterfalls, lush native rain forest and incredible gorges.

Upon crossing Haast Pass, a turn onto Cook Flat Road (SH6) leads to the final stretch toward Fox Glacier. Following signs to Lake Matheson, you will arrive at the Lake Matheson carpark where you can begin the track and start your Lake Matheson photo journey.

Other transport options include public bus and guided tours.


The 412km (approx 5 hour 30 min) journey from Christchurch to Lake Matheson is a long one but is full of New Zealand's diverse landscapes from farm land, snowy mountains, lush rain forest and the wild and rugged coastline of the West Coast. From Christchurch you will head westward on State Highway 73 (SH73) through the Canterbury Plains where rolling hills and farmland set the stage for road ahead. Further into the drive you will continue through the Southern Alps, making your way towards the charming little town of Arthur's Pass. As you navigate the mountainous terrain, keep an eye out for the native flora and fauna that dot the landscape.

Exiting Arthur's Pass, continue on SH73 toward the West Coast, where dense rainforests and glacier-fed rivers create a lush backdrop. Upon reaching State Highway 6 (SH6), turn south and follow the signs to Fox Glacier, the gateway to Lake Matheson.

Other transport options include public bus and guided tours.


If you have come across from the North Island on the Ferry and are leaving from Picton it is another long drive to Lake Matheson but again the diversity you'll come across is incredible. It will take you around 7 hours to drive from the Picton Ferry to Lake Matheson in total.

From Picton you will head south on SH1 and then turn onto SH63 and make your way through wine country and the Wairau Valley heading towards St Arnaud. If you have time stop in to see Lake Rotoiti which is a beautiful lake nestled in the mountains of the Nelson Lakes region.

Following the signs to the West Coast you will eventually reach the town of Greymouth and the west coastline. The drive from here is beautiful as you make your way along the wild west coast of New Zealand before heading inland through the rain forest and ending up in Fox Glacier.

Other transport options include public bus and guided tours.

NZ Prints and Canvas



The weather on the West Coast of New Zealand is influenced by the Tasman Sea, and the mountains and rain forest that make up this beautiful region. Most of the weather here is generally characterised by high rainfall and a temperate maritime climate.

Being one of the wettest regions in New Zealand, with rainfall occurring throughout the year, it can be a challenge to plan your trip to Lake Matheson in the hopes of the mountains being clear. After speaking with a helicopter pilot on one of my many photography adventures to this area, the clearest time to see the mountains is in the winter. The colder air means that clouds tend to form less around the mountains whereas in summer the climate is more rainforest vibes and cloudy.



There is no actual accommodation at Lake Matheson itself, but there is plenty accommodation just a few minutes away in the Fox Glacier township.

Motels: A few motels in the Fox Glacier township I can personally recommend are the Bella Vista Motel Fox Glacier and Mt Cook View Motel . But a quick google search will produce a lot more options.

Campsites: Fox Glacier Top 10 is a great accommodation option if you have a campervan or are staying in a tent. They also have cabin options at affordable prices.

Freedom Camping: There is no freedom camping available at Lake Matheson.




ND Filters


Wide Angle (eg. 16-35mm lens), Mid Range (eg. 24-70mm lens) and/or Zoom Lens (eg. 70-200mm lens or similar)

Because the Southern Alps and in particular Mount Tasman and Mount Cook are situated in the distance, your best lens for the Lake Matheson photo locations in this blog is your mid range zoom lens if you have one. This will allow you to still take wide angle images, but it will also help compress the mountains in your photo and make them look larger and closer in the frame.

If you don't have a mid range lens then your wide angle will definitely suffice for a wider looking landscape image.





Lake Matheson Track Fox Glacier
Lake Matheson Track Fox Glacier

The Lake Matheson Track is a well maintained short walk that surrounds Lake Matheson offering amazing views at each of the three viewpoints available. The full walking track takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes as it meanders through native bush and streams. The track begins just past the Lake Matheson cafe and Visitor Centre and is a relatively easy walk with just a few inclines along the way.

NZ Guide and Travel Map



I'm going to start with my favourite view of Lake Matheson first .. the one I always visit and where most of my photos come. Of the three viewpoints available along the track, Reflection Island is the most aesthetically pleasing for photography in my opinion. From this location Mount Tasman and Mount Cook are perfectly centered with the bushline draping in from each side. I absolutely love this view.

The Reflection Island viewing platform at Lake Matheson
The Reflection Island viewing platform at Lake Matheson

Around 5 minutes into the trail you will come to fork with signage directing you to go left or right around the track. Take the right hand path and this will get you to Reflection Island first in about 1.5km. Head down the side path and the steps to the platform and there will (hopefully) be your perfect Lake Matheson reflection view!

If you've got a selection of lenses, I would take your wide angle and a mid range lens like the 24-70mm. If you have an ND filter set definitely try out some long exposure photography to get that reflection looking crisp and perfect.

The best time to photograph Reflection Island is at sunrise or sunset. At sunrise you will see light hitting the mountains from the left after the sun has risen, and colourful skies (again if you're lucky) pre-dawn. At sunset the mountains are lit from the sun setting on the west and this can create those beautiful pink tones on the snow. The lake tends to be much more calm at these times of the day.



My second favourite view on the Lake Matheson walk is the View of Views lookout not far past the Reflection Island viewpoint. If you carry on past Reflection Island on the right hand side of the track you will reach the steps that lead to the View of Views lookout.

Lake Matheson from the View of Views Platform
Lake Matheson from the View of Views Platform (ISO100, F11, 1/100, 16mm)

This is a beautiful elevated view of the lake and mountains and offers a different perspective on what you see from the other viewpoints. The gorgeous natural frame by the native forest is a must have image from Lake Matheson.

Lake Matheson View of Views
Mount Tasman and Mount Cook from the View of Views (ISO100, F11, 1/125sec, 50mm)

If you've got a selection of lenses, I would take your wide angle and a mid range lens like the 24-70mm.

Again this spot works best at either sunrise or sunset. These shots were taken just after sunrise.

NZ Prints and Canvas



The Jetty Viewpoint is a great spot for astrophotography as the milkyway lines up nicely with the mountains and the lake. For sunrise and sunset I find it the least aesthetically pleasing for that kind of landscape photography. The mountains are off to one side and the composition is quite hard to frame, but it is still beautiful nonetheless and if you need a little rest stop this is a great place to pause and admire the view.

For this viewpoint I would suggest your wide angle lens especially if you're planning to shoot astrophotography here. The best months for astro are during the Autumn and Winter between April and September.



As previously mentioned above, I have photographed Lake Matheson at both sunrise and sunset and can honestly say that either is an amazing choice for golden light and reflections. The wind tends to be more calm during these hours and you have a better chance of capturing a reflection.

If I had to choose I would be more inclined to go at sunrise as there are less people around and there can also be morning fog that creates that added atmosphere to the images.



Track info: 4.4km loop track taking around 1 hour 30 minutes.

Best time to photograph: Works both at sunrise, sunset and astrophotography during winter

Facilities: Cafe, car parking along with toilet facilities


Thanks for taking to time to read my Complete Photo Guide to Lake Matheson. I hope it inspires you to come to New Zealand and explore Lake Matheson and the Fox Glacier area sometime soon.

If you are interested in prints of any of the New Zealand Landscape Photography seen in this blog, please feel free to head on over to my New Zealand Photography Print Store and have a little look around.

NZ Guide and Travel Map


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