“Family-friendly” holiday activities should not involve the possibility of explosion, death, or hot sharp rocks. But this is New Zealand, the nation that came up with bungy jumping and zorbing. So why wouldn’t walking up Auckland’s most recently-erupted volcano be an acceptable addition to the list?
Anyone can hike up a volcano. Rangitoto is pretty tame as far as volcanoes go.
As we disembarked the ferry, a group of joggers were dashing up the path before I even had my boots on. Fitness enthusiasts intimidate me sometimes. I was looking at the unending uphill path, wondering how many of them were bionic.
I felt a lot better when I saw families and their children disembarking as well. Anyone can hike up Rangitoto. Even someone like me, who loves walking, but hates inclines. Good news: despite being the youngest volcano in Auckland’s explosive scene, Rangitoto is unlikely to erupt again.
The first (and last) part of the hike is the hottest. Down near the base, the sharp volcanic rocks haven’t yet been broken down into fertile soil, and not much grows.
Further up towards the crater, the trees have taken over and are making ample use of the rich volcanic soil. The forest is dense and lush, covering almost all the island except for the few hiking paths.
Thomas Kirk, a botanist in the 1870’s described the plant life as being,
…laden with glossy foliage of the greatest luxuriance, with flowers of deeper and brighter tints than produced in ordinary conditions.
The plant life on Rangitoto was some of the most unique I’d ever seen, from perfectly punctured plants, to leaves that roll up in the heat to prevent sunburn.
I was not expecting how green everything would be when we reached the crater. There is one single massive fern growing in the cone that sticks out like a sore thumb. The whole crater is a symmetrical 60m wide and 20m deep, and that one tree looks so out of place.
There is another path that goes all the way around the crater when you get there. Take it to see views from all around the island.
During World War Two, Rangitoto Island was a military base. Given the panoramic views of Auckland and the harbour, it makes sense why. Fortunately, those stationed here never had to react to any danger.
During the hike down, you can enter what seems to have been the generator room. Now hollowed out, it is super creepy and claustrophobic.
An off-shoot from the main track takes you through caves and tubes created by the lava when Rangitoto last erupted. The day was beginning to heat up, it was a relief to step into their cool dampness.
Halfway back down the slope, we had a chat with one of the most intrepid retirees I have ever met. She was in her 70’s and had already climbed Mt. Taranaki that summer. We chatted with her for a while as she took a break to rest her knees, enjoying her morning tea in a camping mug.
We received a bit of advice from her I have used on all my my hikes ever since: walk heels first downhill to prevent skidding out or tripping (also easier on the joints).
The sun was at its highest as we boarded the ferry to return to Auckland. I do not envy anyone hiking up Rangitoto during the afternoon, the black volcanic rocks put out so much extra heat.
I do recommend not sitting on top of the boat on the way back to the island. You will bake in the sun, and you will get sunburnt.
How To Get There
- Fullers runs the ferry to and from the island, many times a day. Regular fares are $30 round trip, but the early-bird sail is $20.
What to Bring
- Food and water. There is nowhere to make any purchases, and no drinking water. It gets hot, and you’re walking uphill, so bring more than you think you’ll need.
- Sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses. That New Zealand sun is intense, and you often don’t realise you’re burnt until its too late. We escaped the hike without sunburn, but spent the ferry ride back on the unshaded top of the boat and copped an awful burn.
- Good shoes. You don’t need hiking boots (although I wore mine to break them in), but the lava rocks near the base can be a bit sharp, so don’t wear anything flimsy.
- Don’t bring your dog! The DOC has worked hard to make Rangitoto pest-free, so no outside animals are allowed on the island
How to Keep it Budget
- Take the early bird trip! You’ll save ten bucks, miss most of the crowds, and not have to hike up a giant hill in the heat of the day. Everybody wins!
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