I stared at Rangitoto too many times to count from a bench in St Heliers in the east bays of Auckland. Finally I was able to take the ferry and hike to the top.
Rangitoto is the most recent volcano to erupt in the Auckland area. It was over 600 years ago, which is like yesterday in geologic time. The Auckland Museum has a terrific volcano exhibit including a lounge in St Heliers where you can experience what it might be like if a similar volcanic eruption occurred (right next to Rangitoto). Warning: it does unnerve. http://vimeo.com/29927106
You can leave from either Devonport or the Ferry Building on Quay Street at the end of Queen Street in Auckland. Fuller Ferries will sell a round trip ticket. It was extra to stop at Devonport on our return. In an attempt to control the rodent population in favor of native birds, take care and check your bags for any critters including ants and your shoes for excessive dirt or seeds. (It sounds crazy, I know. Just check. Who wants to be the jerk that brings something harmful onto Rangitoto?)
We rose early, packed a bag with cameras, water and a snack and headed to catch the 9:15 ferry. We found parking at a garage across Quay Street from the Ferry Building. Our plan was to hike to the top of Rangitoto and then take the 12:30 ferry to Devonport for lunch. There are bathrooms on the island but no other facilities. The ferry does offer food and beverages on the boat, including tea or coffee.
The day was overcast. We slathered on sunscreen just in case the sun made an appearance. It did not. I am glad as it would have been intensely hot and made the hike more challenging, although the photos would have been better.
There are a few “baches” (simple holiday houses) remaining on the island as historical landmarks, though no one can spend the night any longer. The trails are well marked and their is a tour company that will take you part of the way on a tram. We followed the signs up the trail to the summit. We ignored the offered side routes–another time. The Fullers brochure does recommend sturdy walking shoes and a torch if you want to explore lava caves.
It is more fascinating than beautiful to hike through volcanic fields of aa (dried lava flows). In some places soil has accumulated and vegetation grows. Where vegetation grows there are birds, mainly my favorite tui.
It is an arduous climb as it unrelentingly goes up. After we returned to Auckland a friend told me that she has hiked Rangitoto twice–the second time with her 80 year old mother. She told her story with humor and her mother sounds very game but she said never again! If you give yourself enough time, I believe most people, including children and those out of shape, could make it to the top. There are a series of long stairs at the very top, so it is not accessible to strollers or wheelchairs. The morning we hiked we were eclipsed at the top by a group of students from a boys college racing to the top.
There is a deck for viewing the dormant volcano’s cone, as well as a deck for appreciating the views. Like many other places around Auckland Bays, there are watch bunkers from World War II. The trail is well marked and there are numerous informational signs provided by the Department of Conservation. I used these to stop and catch my breath and take a few photos.
Sometimes the walk downhill can be harder than the hike uphill. Rangitoto’s trail is not too challenging on the way down. There are a few spots where you have to slow down and place your feet carefully.
We returned to the ferry dock in plenty of time to relax a bit before the ride to Devonport. The weather was not improving. When the ferry docked I was a bit surprised to see some people arriving. They would have just enough time to walk an hour to the summit and return before the last ferry of the day left.
We stopped at Devonport and ate lunch at one of the many restaurants just a few blocks from the ferry building. My kids mooched around town while I shopped at my favorite wool shop. Then we hopped on the ferry back to Auckland CBD. Those leave every half hour. It was $7.50 a person for the short hop (takes less than 15 minutes).
I always love the view of Auckland from the ferry. It is a beautiful city and full of good times and great memories. Especially of the Rugby World Cup. I hope one day Auckland will be able to host the America’s Cup again.