War & Sanctuary On Rangitoto Island

20 November 2014

My visit to Rangitoto Island was an unassuming one. Other than a small square image in a brochure, I had no idea of what to expect.

I’d chosen Rangitoto instead of the five other islands off the coast of Auckland because it was only a 25-minute ferry ride from the harbour and seeing an extinct volcano had forever been in need of ticking off my to-do list.

 Rangitoto Island from the ferry

A return ticket set me back 30 dollars (guided tours cost double), and I was given the tip of purchasing water and food before departing. Rangitoto Island’s facilities stop at toilets, information stations and a kayak hut, so this is an important one to remember if you don’t want to forage through the shrubs for berries and running water.

Rangitoto is wild and unkempt; an image that reflects the adventure awaiting anyone who steps off that ferry.
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Getting To Rangitoto Island

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It was a simple exchange of money for ticket at the harbour before getting on the ferry. The ride over was far from dull. The ferry captain maintained running commentary on all the points of interest along the coast including Bean Rock Lighthouse (New Zealand’s oldest wooden lighthouse) and Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium.

The engine’s noise meant I had to choose to either sit inside and listen or stand outside to see clear views of Auckland Harbour, other islands and the approaching Rangitoto. I shifted between the two, but with no commentary on the way back, I should have spent more of the trip over inside.

 Taking our first steps onto Rangitoto Island

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Forging Ahead To Rangitoto’s Peak

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I feel for anyone who decides to trek up to Rangitoto Island's volcanic peak on a hot summer day. The path was paved with unfixed rubble, often steeply sloped and had long stretches of unshaded walking. All this coupled with the fact that for the majority of the climb up I was staring at charcoal-coloured ground with my back to the scenery, left the walk far from a leisurely stroll even in October.

There were some lookout points along the way, but with limited time before the next ferry, I saved my long gazes for the top. I had a moment, during a particularly steep section, where I wondered if the peak was really worth any more steps. If you experience a similar mental deterioration, forge ahead – I guarantee it is.

My first reward was seeing the crater. Now completely overgrown with lush forest and active birdlife, it resembled more of a valley albeit a very deep one. About 100 metres from the crater was the official top. Complete views of Auckland's city skyline, islands, coastline and harbour were complemented by an old World War II radio station with a bit of history on the outpost stationed on Rangitoto during the war.

 Auckland Harbour from the peak

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The Lava Caves

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Heading back down to the base, I figured I had enough time to take a short detour to a collection of old lava caves. The sign said fifteen minutes each way, but I figured I could do it in five. My downfall was not knowing what to look for, having never seen a lava cave before. Would there be a gaping hole in the middle of the path or would I need to push away a boulder to reveal the entrance?

With only yellow arrows to point me in the general direction, I would've gone feet first into the wrong rocky hole if not for a hiking couple walking past and informing me the caves I was looking for were further on. The first was less than 20 metres from the fake. I had to deviate from the path to the left, stepping cautiously down some rocks.

The opening was low, tight and unsigned, and although I still had doubts about if it was the right one, I ventured inside hunched over like some sordid cave dweller. After a short descent, the cave opened up and I was able to stand upright. The darkness cut off my hands before arm's length, so I employed my phone's torch to look around.

I could see why Golem found a home for himself in caves. The temperature had dropped to a refreshing level and there was a feeling of reprieve from being cut off from the world, like sitting at the bottom of the pool. I stood inside by myself for minutes, listening to the water dripping from hanging tree roots and sleuthing out the various crannies within the walls and floor.

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Cheerio Rangitoto

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I'd spent too long in the caves, so I had to skip the second one (apparently much bigger, longer and better lit) and jog part of the way back to the jetty. The limited ferry times meant that if I missed the 12:45 one I'd be stuck on Rangitoto for another two hours.

Sweaty, parched and sporting a thin film of muck on my shoes and lower jeans, I made it in time for departure. Fortunately, there were bottles of water to buy on the boat and as I sat down to watch us pull away from Rangitoto Island I felt the irritating warmth of a gathering sunburn on my cheeks. It barely mattered; I had the caves, that Auckland view and an invigorating hike to make it all worthwhile.

 


Fancy more Auckland island hopping? How To Spend A Morning In Devonport

Spending a long weekend in Auckland? How To Spend A Long Weekend In Auckland


 

Ben Stower

I love the kind of travelling that is one part strategic planning and two parts spontaneous adventure. Whether I'm exploring my local city or a small town in the middle of nowhere, I'm always hoping to find something no one else has discovered.