The mystery of lights spotted off the west coast of New Zealand overnight has taken a twist with Punakaiki residents reporting a large bang and jolt.

Christchurch police received reports from Hokitika to Nelson of a light in the sky between 11pm and midnight, and Wanganui police received three calls of a bright light out at sea.

Wanganui police initially thought it was a flare but then reports came in from farther afield.

There were no reports of anything hitting the ground and a meteor is suspected.

But Les Wright, a resident of Punakaiki, a coastal settlement north of Greymouth, said he heard a rumbling sound followed by a loud thump as if something had hit the ground at about 8pm, which is about three hours before the lights were seen.

"There was one big jolt and then a smaller one. It was like an earthquake but not really," he said.

Prue Grant who lives on the beach at Punakaiki, also heard the noise.

"There was a huge bang, then a shake," she said.

Barrytown resident Sandy Passant saw red lights in the sky about 11pm. She also heard a noise at 8pm, and her partner Russell went outside to investigate but could not find anything.

"It was a very strange bang. We thought it might have been an earthquake but it was different -- just a big bang."

Canterbury University Mount John Observatory superintendent Alan Gilmore said he believed the thud was unrelated to the meteor at 11pm.

Gerry Lonie was on a fishing vessel near Hokitika and saw a meteor at 11pm.

"But there was a better one the night before -- there's been a few of them. It looked like a shooting star, it was quite a big flash but I didn't hear anything."

Constable Sean Judd, of Westport police, said he saw a light like a "very large, close up shooting star" just before 11pm. It lasted about three to four seconds before burning out.

"It was a white-green colour."