The spirals of blue light were also seen in South Auckland, prompting Facebook user Mee Joy to share her photo.
But the rare phenomenon may have been man-made.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, the New Plymouth Astronomical Society explained that the spiral was most likely caused by a “fuel dump” or “exhaust plume” from a SpaceX rocket launch.
“Similar effects have been seen before and SpaceX’s Globalstar 2 FM15 would probably have passed over New Zealand around that time,” it added.
SpaceX, the company founded by tech billionaire Elon Musk, launched a new satellite – Globalstar FM15 – from Cape Canaveral in Florida in the early hours of Sunday.
Like other SpaceX ventures, the launch vehicle supporting the mission – Falcon 9 – returned to Earth shortly after launch and successfully landed on the drone ship, which is stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.
Online news provider Spaceflight Now reported that the launch was the third Falcon 9 rocket flight in 36 hours, the fastest three-mission sequence by a commercial launch company in history.
Globalstar FM15 is now in low Earth orbit.
This isn’t the first time stargazers have been treated to such a sight.
A similar spiral was observed in the Pacific Ocean on June 18 last year, according to the New Zealand Herald.
That spiral, which was brighter in some parts of the Pacific, was seen in places like Fiji, Samoa, New Caledonia and the small island of Tokelau.
It was later explained that the spiral came from the release of gas from a Chinese rocket.