Can’t be beat: best spots for sunrises and sunsets on South Island

I’m always surprised when I meet people who say they’ve gone to New Zealand, but only visited the North Island. The South Island has so much to offer: more mountains, more beaches, fewer people, less traffic, etc. etc. One thing the South Island has that is rare to come by is sheer volume of beautiful skies. It seems everywhere you go you find either a spectacular sunrise or a breathtaking sunset. Here are a few of my favourites spots (both iconic and off the beaten track) to make the case that if you’re going to New Zealand, the South Island is a must.

Iconic: Sunset at Lake Wanaka


It’s usually pretty crowded, though less so in the winter. I watched a few sunsets here and the sky alone wasn’t the mooossst impressive, but with the mountains in the distance and the Wanaka Tree as a focal point it’s a really beautiful sight.

Iconic: Sunrise at Roy’s Peak

Climbing Roy’s Peak is a popular activity in Wanaka and I’d highly recommend doing it for the sunrise. We were on the track hiking by 4am, and it isn’t the easiest hike (I had recently sprained my lower back and my hiking partner had just had knee surgery, so we weren’t the quickest bunch). I really wish I had a photo that could do the sky justice, but my camera was glitching and I was too distracted by the sky to fix it.


The Iconic-ist of them all: Sunset at Milford Sound


I know, I know, photos of Milford Sound are a dime a dozen and many people believe it to be overrated. But if you’re lucky enough to catch Milford on a (partially) clear night, how can it not be included on this list?

Off the beaten track: Sunrises in The Catlins

I’m always surprised at how few people go to The Catlins and how little time they spend there. Possibly the best sunrise of my life was at Purakaunui Bay, where the sequence of photos above was taken. Though, Nugget Point is a popular spot too (and it’s obvious to see why):


Off the beaten track: Akaroa


Akaroa, meaning “long harbour”, is located about an hour outside of Christchurch and is a quaint town perfect for a weekend visit. It also has some lovely spots for taking sunset photos. On this evening, the colours were subtle but the shimmering water and sailboats made it all very picturesque.

Off the beaten path: Tunnel Beach


This was my favourite spot to watch a sunrise in Dunedin. In the photo above, I’m on the walk back up to the car park. You can get on top of that rock (the one with a hole in it) or go through a tunnel to get to a small, sandy beach surrounding by cliff walls.

Sunrises and sunsets on the Kaikoura Peninsula

Kaikoura has an absolutely stunning sky. Even at 4pm the horizon has a golden glimmer to it. From the peninsula I watched both the sunrise and sunset and was not disappointed. The above two photos were taking in the evening, whereas the two below are from the morning.

So there you have it! Some beautiful skies in the South Island. Obviously there’s tons and tons more – I’ve only explored the tip of the iceberg – but hopefully this can be a starting point for those looking to find something beautiful at the bottom of the world.

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