2 stunning lakes to walk around in New Zealand

Lake Rotopounamu Track & Lake Matheson Walk

When traveling, my husband and I always look for opportunities to go for a short to medium-length walk as we consider it a good way to get a sense of the place. That was no different on our month-long Australia and New Zealand trip (see outline). Circling a lake is always a rewarding thing to do as you get a feeling of achievement and you are always by the water. In New Zealand, we discovered two nice and easy lake circuits, Lake Rotopounamu Track, a less known on the North Island, and Lake Matheson Walk, a very popular one on the South Island.

Lake Rotopounamu Track


Lake Rotopounamu, located in the center of New Zealand’s North Island, is part of the Tongariro National Park, the country’s oldest one. It is one square kilometer (250 acres) in size and is situated in a wooded area full of fauna that is typical for New Zealand. If you are interested in botany, there are informative panels that explain what is growing around you. It is also a great place for birdwatchers as the bird population thrives as a consequence of a pest management program. And the lake is suitable for swimming in, although it is rather cold!
There are toilet facilities onsite but no shops or restaurants. The nearest town is Turangi, about 11 km (7 mi) away.

Lake Rotopounamu Track

The track starts with an uphill walk from the car park, just by State Highway 47 and flattens out to circle the lake. It is 6.4 km (4 mi) long with 90 m (295 ft.) of elevation change. Allow two hours for walking it at a leisurely pace. When you get to the lake, there is a sign that recommends that you head to the right first (counter clockwise tour).

When you circle the lake, you are always close to the lake, but the dense forest means you often cannot see the water. It is definitely a forest walk, but every now and then you have opportunities of viewing the lake.
The first chance to have a peekaboo view of the water is after 10 minutes of starting the encircling, at Five Minute Beach. Here a broad tree stump provides a good spot to view the lake.
After another 45 minutes you get to Long Beach on the far side of the lake, the premier beach for bathing and lounging. Near to the end of loop around the lake, there is the last possibility to catch a glimpse of Lake Rotopounamu, and this at Ten Minute Beach.

Lake Matheson


Lake Matheson, in the middle of New Zealand’s west coast, is in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and is located a five-minute drive from Fox Glacier. The lake is famous for mirror-like reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman that are due to the dark brown water. The best chances for enjoying the perfect mountain reflection are on calm clear days, and this at dusk and dawn. Lake Matheson is surrounded by ancient native forest, but it is not so dense that the lake is out of sight all the time.
There are toilet facilities at the car park. Once you have finished the walk I am going to describe, do not miss Matheson Cafe for a bite to eat and ReflectioNZ Gifts & Gallery for having a look around just by the parking lot.

Lake Matheson Walk

As opposed to Lake Rotopounamu Track, this is usually not a tranquil walk as you share it with lots of other visitors. Due to its popularity, there is a constant coming and going. My husband and I went here twice, despite our tight schedule. We decided to return on the following day, after having experienced the lake the day before in not so god weather (early afternoon). We were lucky at the second attempt (mid-morning) as it was a very sunny day, although not favorable enough for a mountain reflection.

You have the choice between a shorter option to Jetty Viewpoint (40 min, 1km/0.6 mi return, suitable for wheelchairs) or a longer option, the lake circuit (1 1/2 h, 2.6 km/1.6 mi return).
The walks starts near Matheson Cafe just steps away from the car park. Already at this point, you enjoy a magnificient view of New Zealand's highest mountain, Mount Cook (at the right side, 3,724m/12,218 ft.) and Mount Tasman.
After crossing a clearwater stream you turn left at the crossing (do a clockwise tour because the longer you walk in this direction the better are the views ...) When you get to the Jetty Lookout after about 20 minutes and walk out onto the pontoon, it is a wonderful sight, but you have more aces up your sleeves!
First, there is a walk through the beautiful ancient forest and the picturesque western wetland
to a point called the Views of Views, named very promisingly and it does not disappoint! After a few stairs, a small clearing in the forest awaits you, big enough to frame the commanding view of mountains and lake.
A little further along the path, you find the third and last viewpoint, Reflection Island, where you have an unobstructed view of the snow-capped peaks and the lake. Unfortunately, we only made it here on our first visit to Lake Matheson, when the weather was not that ideal. But at least this picture illustrates how the scenery depends on the weather conditions.
The walk comes to an end after some more walking through forest and wetland. Now, you have earned a break to have an excellent cappuccino (Coffee in New Zealand and Australia must be the best on the planet!) or a tea and cakes at Matheson Cafe!


Just in case you do not have time to do both walks and you are wondering which one to choose, so much can be said about it. Lake Rotopounamu Track is the perfect choice for nature lovers looking for a peaceful walk around a small, forest-cradled lake with inviting beaches. If you are seeking a great panorama and if you do not mind the crowds, go for the Lake Mathewson Walk to encounter one of the most iconic postcard scenes in New Zealand!

Date of visit: November 2018

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