Over the river and up the hill in Palmerston North, the Stairway of Tāne is situated in the suburb known to its friendly locals as Summerhill and honours Tāne Mahuta – the god of the forest who brought the world from darkness into the light. As part of the Māori creation story, Tane had a pivotal role in separating heaven and earth by forcing apart Papatūānuku, Mother Earth, and Ranginui, Father Sky to let light into the world. The Stairway of Tāne or Te Arapiki a Tāne opened in 2018 and instantly became a popular recreational spot tucked away in a new residential area above Palmerston North city. With sweeping panoramic views of Palmerston North and the Manawatū River, you’ll have the added bonus of a rather hilly morning workout to this sunrise session because of the 222 steps involved to complete the walk down to the riverbanks and back up.
Voted New Zealand’s most beautiful town over a dozen times, Feilding is the heart of rural New Zealand. A great part of this region’s farming heritage and history, Feilding oozes small town charm filled with many charming buildings that have been restored and preserved over time, friendly locals and a down to earth lifestyle.
The first livestock sale in Feilding was in May 1880 and is still held at the same site today – at the centre of town off of Manchester Square. Manchester Square is a good base point to find some unique sunrise shots with the iconic Feilding clock tower and beautiful streetscape as your backdrop.
And if you’re sunrise hunting on a Friday, make sure you grab breakfast at one of the local cafes before popping into the legendary Feilding Saleyards for an action-packed morning in the fascinating world of livestock auction. There’s also the popular Feilding Farmers’ Market every Friday morning to enjoy some post-sunrise delights.
The Manawatū River Pathway is a super accessible, city sunrise mission you can catch on foot or by bike. With many access points within Palmerston North city, this one-way 10km pathway offers a variety of sunrise spots for the urban explorer. With scenic winding river views and plenty of wide-open spaces you can pick a favourite spot to settle in and catch the first glorious rays of the morning sun.
Walking through Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge to chase that sunrise is definitely worth an early morning wake-up call. Depending on the time of year you go, sunrise means a 5am start or a 7am start so plan wisely. Although State Highway Three is officially closed and no longer runs through this great divide, you can still access the fantastic trails and walking tracks at the Manawatū Gorge. Here you’ll wander through an enchanting forest of ancient native bush, nīkau palms and evergreen ferns with plenty of lookout points along the way to catch the rising sun – the White Horse Rapids lookout is particularly sweet spot to soak in the first light of day. Starting from the Ashhurst end car park, you can opt for the 4.1km Tawa Loop Track and greet the 6m-tall sculpture of Māori warrior Whātonga at the top before you descend back down. Or for those wanting to make the most out of this sunrise mission, continue on along the one-way track towards Te Āpiti Lookout for some panoramic views of the towering giants of Te Āpiti Windfarm.
This sunrise mission requires an overnight hike (aka ‘tramp’ in kiwi speak) for those seeking a bit of outdoor adventure. Located in Northern Manawatū in Ruahine Forest Park, the Rangiwahia Hut Track is an intermediate level tramp through a scenic wonderland of pristine native bush, a picturesque arched wooden bridge, waterfalls and tussock tops.
The walk to the hut takes approximately 1.5-3 hours, depending on your fitness level. You’ll need to pre-purchase hut tickets from a Department of Conservation office or the Palmerston North City i-SITE who will be able to give you more info about the walk to help you prepare your journey and basic hut etiquette. The serviced 12-bunk hut includes water, heating and cooking facilities but you’ll need to take your own portable cooking stoves.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to a rather spectacular sunset once you arrive at the hut, some out of this world stargazing and of course, an extraordinary sunrise on what feels like the top of the world.