In a testament to the power of community-led projects, Fox Glacier has re-opened a new and very special track after a 20-year hiatus, the Lake Gault Track.
Perched above the renowned Lake Matheson/Te Ara Kairaumati, Lake Gault not only has incredible expansive views of the Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, it is also recently home to New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, the rowi. Now’s the time to visit, before everyone else discovers this spectacular spot!
Lake Gault History
Although only just re-opened to the public, the Lake Gault track has a fascinating history behind it. Talking with a Fox Glacier local, the original hand-cut track could date back as early as the 1930s, as it was used to service the hydroelectric scheme located at Lake Gault. In the 1930-40’s this historical power station generated electricity for a mining dredge working the sands of Gillespies Beach in search of gold.
Fox Glacier Community Partnership
Getting an abandoned track up to scratch is no easy task! Led by the Fox Glacier Community Development Society in partnership with DOC, the revival of the Lake Gault track has been a real team effort. With the project taking over a year and the majority of work put in by local community volunteers, countless hours have been donated to regain access to this breath-taking spot.
So, what’s the new track like? At the moment it’s graded as an Intermediate level tramping track, so you’ll need your hiking boots. Currently, it’s rough, uneven and slippery with plenty of mud. But over the next little while it will be upgraded to an Easy level walking track.
To get to the start of the track, you head from the busy Lake Matheson carpark along the graded gravel path and over the swing bridge. Lake Matheson / Te Ara Kairaumati is a lovely loop track (and worth doing if you have the time), but if you’re heading straight to Lake Gault, you’ll want to head along the walk anti-clockwise until you reach the signposted turnoff.
The track begins with luxurious easy walking on a graded gravel track, before the real fun begins! The first section is a newly cut track through a spongy, mossy forest wonderland. It travels through lush, ancient podocarp forest, an excellent example of Gondwana-age forest that helped earn the region’s designation as the Te Wāhipounamu – Southwest New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area.
With an elevation change of around 200m to reach Lake Gault, the whole way is a gradual climb. It’s enough to raise the heart rate a little, but not so steep that you’ll be absolutely gasping! As you head up, you’ll cross a few little streams and the track is quite rocky and muddy. The level of difficulty will also depend on whether there’s been any recent rain. Because it can be quite slippery out there, you’ll definitely want hiking boots with decent grip. It’s not the time for your Nikes (too slippery) or your white trainers (they won’t be white for long)!
After the track starts to flatten out, you’ll pass a historic sign indicating only 10 minutes to the viewpoint. As you continue, you’ll catch glimpses of the stunning and secluded Lake Gault through the trees. But don’t stop here! If you continue just an extra few minutes, you’ll reach the lookout point.
From here there are panoramic views across the Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana. On a good day Aoraki / Mt Cook and Mt Tasman / Horo-kōau are crisply reflected on the crystal mirror surface of Lake Gault. This spot even has a thoughtfully placed bench, making it the perfect place for a relaxing snack break with breath-taking scenery.
Top tip – For incredible mirror reflections the best time to visit Lake Gault is early in the morning. By mid-morning the mountains are often shrouded in cloud and the wind can pick up limiting the reflections.
Lake Gault’s surrounds now play host to New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, the rowi. In 1995 only 160 rowi individuals clung on in a remnant population in Ōkārito forest. However, DOC’s intensive recovery programme has been so successful in boosting numbers, that these rowi outgrew their Ōkārito forest home. After careful consideration Lake Gault was selected as the first new release site, with 27 young rowi released there in December 2018. If you’re in the area at night, you might be lucky enough to hear the shrill calls of Flash, Weenie, Loveheart, Aroha, Fern or one of the other special kiwi roaming the area. And yes, local kids had some fun naming the rowi!
Lake Gault is an absolutely must-visit spot for those with a little tramping experience. With views that rival (or even top) Lake Matheson, this little gem isn’t yet on the radar for most so it’s the perfect time to visit and experience some peaceful solitude and amazing views. Thanks again to the fantastic local Fox Community for getting this track back on the map!
Lake Gault — Quick Facts
Distance: 8 km return
Time required: 3 – 5 hours
Experience level: Intermediate track, you’ll need tramping boots and to be prepared for mud and slippery, uneven terrain.