Rangitoto

During our NZ trip we took a day trip to hike Rangitoto…

Rangitoto is an island volcano in the Hauraki Gulf, visible from almost everywhere in Auckland. It is probably the most recognizable symbol of our city, even though it looks slightly different depending on which bay you’re viewing it from.

There were people on the neighboring islands during Rangitoto’s last explosion – Maori people – and their footsteps (and their dogs’ footsteps) through the ash fall can be seen on Motutapu. This was the most recent (but surely not last) eruption in Auckland’s volcanic history, the island rising from the sea about 600 years ago. We sit atop a hot spot, and 49 volcanoes can be counted in the city, all extinct, but we are told the next eruption could come up anywhere, without regard for the people who have built ports and towers and homes here.

By the way, Rangtitoto means “bloody sky” in Maori, but the name apparently derives from the name “Te Rangi i totongia a Tamatekapua” – the day the blood of Tamatekapua was shed – referring to the injury of a chief during a battle fought on the island.

Rangitoto is a quick 30 minute ferry ride from the city and our boat was full of people from near and far. Some of them looked like they were planning an expedition, others looked like they had just shuffled over from the beach. The hike is not difficult, 45 minutes up a nicely maintained path with a steady, easy slope followed by 15 minutes of hard slog up the cone of the volcano, but nobody is going to have much fun doing it in flip flops. A tractor-train took a few people on a drive around the island and to the point where they could walk up stairs for 15 minutes to reach the summit, but most people took the main path.

From a distance Rangitoto is dark green but up close it reveals itself to be a strange landscape of trees growing directly out of lava rock. The lava from this volcano didn’t flow in thick viscous ribbons like you see on videos of Hawaii’s Kilauea – this lava is craggy and rough and blasted. It took a long time for anything to grow on its slopes, but slowly a few hardy species got a foothold and now the upper slopes are quite forested, although the lower parts have much more lava than trees.

The bush is quiet – only a few birds can eke out an existence here – most visibly delightful little fantails and beautiful tuis. I stopped several times to try to capture the crazy tui song on video (as well as the many, many times I paused to take photos of views, plants, myself, hubby, more views…)

We didn’t linger too long at the top – hubby didn’t care to hang out with so many people – so we took the round-the-crater trail and made a quick detour into an old army bunker (looking out for the enemy was always a favorite use for Auckland’s summits) and then headed back down to a quiet clearing to eat lunch – or rather that was the plan, until we heard then saw where the school group (that had arrived on a charter boat an hour after we arrived) had decided to have lunch…

On to the lava caves, we declared! Lunch can wait. The trail is a 40 minute detour that takes you to a small lava cave and then through a much larger one. I wasn’t so sure about going into a cave but we had torches (flashlights) with us and hubby went ahead to scout… and convinced me it was worth it. Half way through the pitch dark cave the ceiling had long ago given way, opening to the forest and creating a natural skylight.

The cave was not very long, the footing wasn’t too tricky and the dripping water wasn’t too gross, and I didn’t even remember to think about or look for giant cave wetas (thank goodness – they may be quite harmless, but palm sized insects with spiky legs that might be sitting on cave walls are just not my thing!) We got some cool photos, including proof that I had really gone in, and then backtracked to the clearing to have lunch and listen to the tui calls.

At this point a decision had to be made – hoof it quickly back down to the wharf and get the early boat home, or continue with our plan to walk down the long road to the lighthouse and beach and then around the island and back to the wharf to get the last boat home. We decided to stay and do the long walk, and with some quick calculations realized we had better get moving. First we had to get back up to the crater (that hard 15 minute slog again which I almost couldn’t manage!) and then find our way down the stairs and boardwalk to the road, at which point we had a one hour walk to McKenzie Bay and the lighthouse, then an hour and a half to the wharf.

I had heard a tourist call this the “scenic route” while looking at her map, quite mistakenly. The road was wide and fairly smooth but made of lava rock, with lava rock on both sides most of the way down and far less shade than the main trail. In other words, there wasn’t much to see (especially going uphill) and it was hot! Thankfully the clouds were cooperating, giving us relief in the most unshaded parts, and we were walking downhill, but at quite a pace. I reassured hubby that I would catch up with him if I stopped to take photos so we could keep on track time wise.

We were thrilled to see the lighthouse and the bay after only 45 minutes, but sadly there was no chance I was going to have time for a swim.

We used the long drops (ugh! yuck – I had forgotten just how bad they smelled! but the only real bathrooms on the island were back at the wharf) rested a bit and had a snack, reassured that there was another couple at the beach who weren’t looking panicked that they had an hour and a half walk back to a ferry that would leave in less than two hours. We spent the next hour just far enough behind them that we couldn’t tell they were still ahead of us… and with no view of how far we had to go as we rounded the east side of the island back to the wharf.

The last section of the walk was fun though because we were walking on flat ground, we could see my part of Auckland –  the North Shore (and the Sky Tower moving between North Head and Mt Victoria as we made progress back to the wharf), and there were baches (bachs?) to look at and photograph.

This one looked abandoned until we noticed made-up beds inside (peering through the windows). There was a rainwater cistern, a dunny (a long drop), an outdoor kitchen and a dining area, all very makeshift… many of the baches had an extra structure or two – a sleepover or a boathouse or shed, and they all sat facing the awesome views of Auckland. They usually have cute, funny names too. Some were gone now, but remembered with plaques. In the early days lots of people built baches on Rangitoto, but now that it was a protected public reserve managed by the Dept of Conservation the only baches that are allowed are the ones already there. Nothing has been allowed to be built on the island since 1937, so the people who own these baches are very lucky to have had them passed down. Some of them were occupied, some had washing on the line, we saw one family getting off the last boat of the day with their groceries. I have a set of bach pictures here.

(The rest of my pictures are here, if you haven’t seen enough… There are some pretty gorgeous views I didn’t have space for here)

For all our rush, it turned out that we had plenty of time. We made the 90 minute walk in about 60, and spent our last 45 minutes on the island resting our aching feet and watching people go by at the wharf. We were on the lookout for anyone who might miss the last boat but it seemed like everyone had taken the warnings seriously and made it on. We ended up the day with an ice cold beer for hubby and a chocolate bar for me. A lovely day!

Jo:)

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