New Zealand has some awe-inspiring vistas, from the southern alps to glistening lakes, volcanos and sheep, lots of sheep, like looooooooooots of sheep. However, with a Maori name like Aotearoa, or Land of the Long White Cloud, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that those clouds lend themselves to some epic sunsets all around the country.
We’ve been to New Zealand four times now, and every time, the beautiful light shows in the sky leave me in awe of God’s creation.
Normally when we travel, we try to cover as much ground as possible in a day, so that means we’re often driving into the dark (at least, in places where we are comfortable doing so). On our last major trip to New Zealand though, our 32-day North Island road trip, we specifically set aside days with time to just sit and watch the sun setting. We also got in a decent share of stellar sunrises too I might add.
It was totally worth doing. There is nothing quite like taking the time to find a good vantage point and just sit and watch the sun slowly sinking beyond the horizon until suddenly, almost like it had been moving at a rapid pace the whole time, it disappears out of sight. It’s so calming.
So, with that said, here are my favourite sunsets from our visits to New Zealand!
Doubtful Sound is located right down the southern end of New Zealand’s South Island and it isn’t the easiest place to get to. Real Journey’s do a tour here, and the overnight one is your only chance at seeing the sunset. While the sun is setting over the ocean towards Australia, it creates some awesome reflections off the rocks, waves and, of course, clouds.
Lake Tekapo, also on New Zealand’s South Island, is a brilliant blue during the day, especially when the sun is shining straight on it. In a way, it almost feels like your eyes are playing tricks on you. At dusk though, the sun sets behind the Great Southern Alps, plunging the lake into darkness, and leaving behind the silhouettes of sleeping giants.
It’s a bit of a trek out to Cape Palliser, and I’ll admit, parts of the road made me wonder if we would make it safely, or perhaps even more important: if we would make it back afterwards! The cape is right at the south-east most point of New Zealand’s North Island and the road gently weaves around the rocky, wind-worn cliffs that make up this stretch of coastline.
The problem is, the elements are not so gentle, so there are lots of sections where the bitumen is gone, cliffs have collapsed onto the road, and even more concerning, parts of the road have collapsed into the ocean!
However, there are a surprising amount of people that live out this way and traverse the road frequently, so that should give you some confidence. Besides, we got out there and back safely!
What’s special about Cape Palliser though is that the geography of this part of the island is such that you can watch the sunset across Palliser Bay and over the mountain ranges that lie between here and the capital city of Wellington. If you are paying careful attention, and have a clear day, you can actually see past the mountains to the edges of Wellington itself.
It was pretty special to watch this sunset.
The Rolling Hills of the North Island
This sunset was actually from the top of the cliff road that leads down to Ocean Beach, just east of the city of Hastings in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. However, you’ll find rolling hills like these ones all over the North Island of New Zealand. If you are out in the late afternoon, you can get enjoy some pretty special sunsets.
This one was not expected at all. Don’t get me wrong, Napier is a beautiful city and all, but it is on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. East. It gets pretty remarkable sunrises to be sure, but I was blown away how every single evening we spent here was painted with beautiful colours in the clouds. Except for the evenings that were raining. Not so much colour then, mostly just grey.
Realistically, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise considering the sunsets at nearby Ocean Beach..
We knew Taupo had good sunsets. However, the one night we decided not to go out to the lake or up to the Waipahihi Botanical Reserve, we actually got the most vibrant sky. Sitting in the top of our AirBnB (a really cool tiny house), we had the perfect view. It was so serene watching the clouds slowly change their hue with the sun.
Where do I even start! New Plymouth is magical as the sun starts to come down. Our first visit to New Plymouth was very quick, so the second time, we spent a few days here and made sure to take in a sunset.
New Plymouth is located on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, which means the sun does go down over the ocean. However, much of the foreshore of New Plymouth is actually facing north. This means the light shines straight down the cities many western lines, like the foreshore, the train line, the main roads and so on.
New Plymouth also has a big rock right on the water’s edge, as well as a couple of islands nearby. These all make for some great light play. So much so, I just had to include some bonus photos!
The one above is Paritutu Rock, taken from Mount Moturoa Reserve.
Raglan is one of those lesser-known gems. You never really hear about it (or I don’t), but it reminds me a lot of Byron Bay in Australia. It’s got great surf, white sandy beaches, and is a pretty chilled out town.
It is also perfectly situated for glorious sunsets.
Michael Hope Lookout above Ngarunui Beach is the perfect spot to sit back, enjoy a picnic dinner, and watch the sun dancing on what looks like silky, undulating waves.
In reality, the waves are much bigger than they look from up so high.
Tauranga From The Sea
To be fair, sunsets from the sea can often be quite amazing. Some of the best ones I’ve seen though have been around New Zealand.
Tauranga is on the east coast of the North Island, so normally the sun is going to set with land views, although you can catch some great reflections across the harbour and bay. The best ones I’ve seen though have always been sailing out of the harbour with Mount Maunganui in the foreground and the city, and nearby hills silhouetted in the background.
Hot Water Beach
During the day, Hot Water Beach was a hive of activity every day we were there. Everyone was out digging, trying to find the elusive hot water – or sitting in one of the prized pools of it! As the sun began to go down though, it became a calm, tranquil place.
Of course, the sun will be setting behind the beach, but that doesn’t stop the colours coming out.
I suppose this could be different if low-tide happens to fall around sunset. If that’s the case then the hordes will likely still be there!
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is located towards the far north of the North Island of New Zealand, and as the name suggests, there are a lot of islands in this bay. You can also see it from multiple angles. Head over to Russell and you can look west across the bay towards the town of Paihia. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity to be in Russell at sunset. We have gotten pretty close though, sailing out of the Bay of Islands on a cruise ship as the sun waves goodbye.
Oamaru Bay, Coromandel
All the way up the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula are opportunities for divine sunsets, including from the town of Coromandel itself. On our trips though, the best we’ve seen was from Oamaru Bay.
From here, you are looking across the Firth of Thames towards Auckland and the islands that lie in between. Yes, you did read that correctly, the Firth of Thames can, indeed, be found in New Zealand.
It’s kind of funny. I’ve been to Auckland 5 times now, including once where I spent the night from 1 am until 6:30 am in the airport. Not the most rivetting airport at that time of the morning, I can assure you. The only thing open is the duty-free shop that you have to walk through after going through customs. Long story as to why I was there at that time of morning, but it ended with my first ever flight on a LATAM plane which was pretty cool.
Anyway. I digress. Auckland is unique because it straddles the peninsula and thus touches two oceans. Conveniently, it has bays on both sides, and there are nearby islands. It also has Sky Tower which can get you up high for sunset.
So, Auckland presents an awful lot of opportunities for sunset photographers. My favourite sunset shot of Auckland though has to be this one, sailing out on Radiance of the Seas.
There is just something about sitting on a cruise ship, feeling the bob of the waves and watching the sun sink below the horizon as you are headed off to your next destination.
I love it.
Where is your favourite sunset place in New Zealand?
This list is by no means exhaustive, these are just my favourites from our trips. So, what about you? Where in New Zealand is your favourite spot to catch the sunset? Let me know in the comments!
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