The best sunset experiences in New Zealand
If you’re not inclined to get up when it’s still dark outside, you’d be hard pressed to see New Zealand’s natural landscapes any better than at sunset.
Golden hour and the gradual painting of the Earth in glorious warm colors make even mediocre landscapes magical. So you can imagine the effect on world famous natural beauties such as our west coast beaches and Milford Sound.
Here is a selection of experiences that will take your sunset experience to the next level.
Kayaking in Rangitoto, Auckland
Kayak from St Heliers to Rangitoto Island as the sun sets over the Waitakere Ranges, slowly turning Waitematā Harbor from blue to brilliant pink. Upon reaching Rangitoto, you will hike for about an hour to the top, where you will have the downtown skyline presented before you becoming sunset hues. Back at the water’s edge, you’ll savor a classic Kiwi BBQ dinner before heading back to the mainland under the stars. The tour costs from $163 per person, including dinner and refreshments.
To see: aucklandseakayaks.co.nz
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Cruise around the port of Raglan
As famous for its sunsets as it is for its exceptional waves, Raglan is one of the best spots you can find to listen to the evening spectacle of the sun. And it’s even more magical when you feast on fish and chips on a comfortable catamaran. Departing approximately one hour before sunset during daylight saving time, the Wahinemoe Sunset Cruise will take you on an ultra-relaxed tour of Whāingaroa (Raglan Harbour) – a conservation area home to a bird sanctuary and knotty limestone formations. Departing from Raglan Wharf, the 90-minute cruise costs $65 per adult and $45 for children under 13.
To see: raglanboatcharters.co.nz
Have a drink at the top of the Remarkables
Fly over Lake Wakatipu just in time to enjoy a glass of bubbles or beer as the setting sun glistens off the snow atop the Remarkables. You’ll also get stunning views of Coronet and Cecil peaks and the Crown Range before landing on the Remarkables to toast the end of a remarkable day with arguably the best view in town. If you’re considering proposing, arranging it should guarantee you a “yes.” The Remarkables Sundown Scenic Helicopter Tour departs daily at 5 p.m. and costs between $195 and $215 per adult and $195 per child ages 0-11.
To see: glaciersouthernlakes.co.nz
Hike to Milford Sound Lookout
Discover what Rudyard Kipling dubbed “the eighth wonder of the world” at a time when most visitors have left. The 10-minute (400-meter) Milford Sound Lookout Track will take you to sublime views of Miter Peak towering over the glacier-carved fjord as its daytime deep blue gives way to sunset hues. Just be sure to remember a torch for the return to the parking lot.
To see: doc.govt.nz
Soak up the sun – and stars – from a hot pool
Watch the sun set over ultra-blue Lake Tekapo from the comfort of a warm pool. Filled with fresh alpine water, Tekapo Springs’ three pools – which range between 36.5 and 38.5 degrees Celsius – offer different perspectives on their classic Mackenzie Country surroundings: the vast clear lake, seasonally snow-capped golden mountains and the pine forest. Stick around after dark for a stargazing session, and you’ll also get a guided tour of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Preserve. It costs $29 per adult, $25 per senior, and $17 per child ages 3-15 to visit the hot pools. Families of two adults and two to three children pay $89. The two-hour “Dip in the Stars” tour costs from $99.
To see: tekaposprings.co.nz
Kayaking with fur seals, Kaikōura
Watch native fur seals hunt octopus for dinner as the sun sets over the snow-capped Seaward Kaikōura Range on a late afternoon sea kayaking tour. The cute, long-whiskered creatures are naturally curious and likely to dive under your kayak and usually show themselves off as you explore the waterways used by early Maori and whalers. Dusky dolphins, blue penguins and albatrosses are some of the other wildlife that might decide to grace you with their presence. Three- to three-and-a-half-hour tours run between September and June in 2022 and cost $130 per adult and $75 per child 12 and under.
To see: kaikourakayaks.nz
Visit a high country resort, Queenstown
Explore the high country station of Welcome Rock by jeep at golden hour, watching the setting sun blaze up the tufts of grass and the Eyre Mountains. Fourth-generation farmer Tom O’Brien’s family has lived on the land since 1911, turning some 1,000 acres into a conservation alliance when he was a young boy. Like his ancestors, O’Brien considers himself a kaitiaki, or guardian of the land, and happily fills guests in on the area’s history during sunset (or sunrise) jeep tours. If you’re lucky, you might be able to sit next to one of his dogs. Tours cost $350 per jeep, seating up to five people.
To see: welcomerock.co.nz
Fly to Coromandel for dinner
Fancy a quick trip to Coromandel but can’t cope with the long drive? Consider booking a scenic flight for you and a special someone. Air Auckland’s dinner and sunset flight will see you take off from Ardmore Airport and cross the ocean to Coromandel Township, where you’ll taste wine and dine at Pepper Tree Restaurant, renowned for its fresh seafood and modern New Zealand-style cuisine. Do your best to put a table in the yard or on the veranda if it’s a warm evening, or next to the open fire if it’s the opposite. You will have time to stroll after dinner through the historic city center before your return flight at sunset. The three-hour experience will set you back $419.
To see: airauckland.com
Giant pancakes and vents, Punakaiki
Sunsets on the west coast are spectacular and when combined with the bizarre looking blowholes and rocks are simply sublime. Ideally, sunset will coincide with high tide as you head to Pancake Rocks, layers of limestone that look like piles of breakfast goodies. You’ll see the sea surging through the caverns and exploding through the vents, giving the scene – and your photos – heightened sense of drama. It’s especially impressive when the weather is wild – and there’s nothing like a few sunset-hued storm clouds to add interest to your photos.