Wanderings on a Volcano: Rangitoto

Sat out in the Hauraki Gulf lies the imposing, and picturesque, Rangitoto volcano. A shield volcano, Rangitoto was created by a series of eruptions creating new land, the most recent of which was just 600 years ago.

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This island has become a pest free haven for birds and flora, including the beautiful pōhutukawa trees also known as New Zealand Christmas trees due to their bright red flowering around December. Visible from many points in and around Auckland the volcano is a reminder of the volcanic field that Auckland is built on, but also makes for an enticing day trip. With ferries daily from Auckland centre the trip is a leisurely one and leaving the city by boat arguably creates the best skyline views…

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Following the half hour cruise across to the volcano we hopped off and headed straight up to the Summit track. The landscape was of course very volcanic with rough lava fields and dusty volcanic rock on the track, but among the black, the island is covered with trees and flowers. The Summit track is not a difficult walk, although steep toward the end, and should take around an hour. Near the top there is an off shoot track heading to the Lava caves. These tunnel-like cave systems were created by the rapid cooling of the lava and you can tunnel though around 50m and pop out the other side. We decided poking my head into the main chamber was enough though, as to make it all the way though does include some tight squeezes (take a torch if you’re keen!).

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Taking the final steep to the rim of the crater we came across our first New Zealand Tui. These iridescent black and white birds are relatively common but you are more likely to hear them than see them. They are the largest of New Zealand’s honeyeaters and are rarely seen on the ground. Their distinctive call varies from songbird-like whistles to clicks, cackles and creaks. Although sounding on paper a bit of a mess this makes for a wonderful melody, and this particular Tui we came across was putting on quite a show.

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At the crater rim the views were fantastic looking a huge sunken bowl the old neck of the volcano is full of forest, but looking out the views back to Auckland, North Shore and even our own little area in Mellons Bay were fantastic. You could even see as far as the Coromandel Peninsula and all the islands dotted throughout the gulf, like Waiheke and browns. We spent some time taking in the views and enjoying the sunshine on the summit boardwalk before heading down.

Rather than take the same route back to the base of the volcano we decided to take the West track down to McKenzie Bay. The track itself is not so interesting, although still great views on the way down, but at the bottom McKenzie bay is a little hidden gem. Out on the rocks away from the beach is the McKenzie Bay light house and the bay itself is rugged and covered in black sand and small volcanic pebbles. These pebbles can sometimes float, because of the quick solidification of the lava they are full of voids left by volatiles trapped in the molten lava as it cooled and in some cases this makes them light enough to float. The bay is perfect for a little break and a rest for the feet but soon it was time to continue back toward the ferry.

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The coastal track takes you around the west edge of the island back to the ferry and along the way passes numerous pretty bays, lava fields, and Flax point which has great views back at the city. The final stretch of path takes you past some of the bach’s on the island.

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Picturesque family holiday homes with private bays and surrounded by forest, an isolated but idyllic getaway from the city. Seeing the ferry in the distance we had to break into a bit of a run and literally hopped on board as they were trying to remove the walkway! Not the relaxing end to our visit we had hoped for but an extra bit of challenge to add to our day.

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We worked out we had walked about 10km on our day trip to the island, the sore legs were well worth it and hopefully we will be back to circumnavigate the east side of the volcano next.

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