The island of Rangitoto is an iconic Auckland landmark. If you ascend one of Auckland’s tall buildings or walk up one of the many vantage points around the city, Rangitoto is often in site, its distinctive cone a reminder of New Zealand’s explosive past. Because I have family in Auckland, I’ve travelled to the region many times and have always seen Rangitoto from a distance. This time, I wanted to get closer to Auckland’s youngest volcano, so I set off to do the Rangitoto Island Summit Walk.
Unfortunately, getting to Rangitoto isn’t cheap. You’ll have to fork out $30 for the Fullers ferry from downtown Auckland to the island, and you can’t use your AT HOP card (a reusable prepay smart card for travel on trains, ferries and buses in Auckland) for the fare.There is an early ferry from Auckland that leaves at 7.30am on weekends and public holidays only that will only cost you $20, so if you want to beat the crowds and spend less then I’d recommend taking this option.
The boat, which leaves from Pier 4 at the ferry terminal, is supposed to take about 25 minutes but in reality it could take much longer. It took around 40 minutes on both my trips there and back. The earliest ferry leaves Auckland at 9.15am and the last ferry to return from Rangitoto is at 3.30pm (4pm on weekends).
Once you disembark at the Rangitoto ferry terminal, you’re free to explore! You can pay an additional $30 to take a guided tour around the island, but as I’d already paid a lot to reach the island, I decided to save a bit and set out on my own. There are several trails you can take around the island, ranging from 15 minute detours to several hour-long hikes. I took off on the summit trail, which takes about an hour one way if you don’t take any detours. There’s one you can do through some lava tunnels which adds on another 45 minutes but as I’m claustrophobic I personally decided against this one! I did walk the additional 750 metre Crater Rim Track that circles the crater, however, instead of going straight to the summit. There are some pretty great views from this little track without the crowds that you may find at the summit itself.
The walk up to the summit is quite easy. There are some uphills but they’re not too strenuous. Along the way, you’ll spot Pohutakawa trees and lava fields, with a few signposts here and there to tell you about the history of the island. Rangitoto is a dead volcano that exploded into life 600 years ago, joining its neighbour, Motutapu (which you can actually reach by walking from Rangitoto). Over the course of 200 years, Rangitoto assumed the shape that you see today. And eventually, plants and animals began to make their home on the volcanic rock.
There are around 50 volcanoes scattered around Auckland, and Rangitoto is both the youngest and the largest of them. Its summit is 260 metres above sea level and the island covers a total area of 2311 hectares. Even though it’s extinct today, scientists believe that more volcanoes could possibly emerge in the future, as Auckland sits on top of an active volcanic field.
The first human beings to set foot on the island were Māori, and they named it Ngā Rangi-i-totongia-a Tama-te-kapua, which roughly translates to ‘the day the blood of Tama-te-kapua was shed.’ Rangitoto is a shortened version of this name, meaning ‘bloody sky,’ a violent but appropriate name for a volcano. The Māori didn’t establish a permanent base on Rangitoto but fished and hunted there. It’s believed that Māori were living on Motutapu when Rangitoto emerged from the ocean, as the footprints of humans and dogs have been discovered in layers of Rangitoto’s ash that fell on Motutapu during the eruptions that created the island.
Rangitoto is also home to over 200 native plants, including the world’s largest forest of pōhutukawa trees (pōhutukawa is a species endemic to New Zealand that flowers around Christmas time). All Rangitoto’s wildlife and plant life is protected. Prior to 2011, pests such as rats, mice, feral cats and rabbits were devastating the wildlife on the island but they were successfully eradicated, leading to the regeneration of native species.
It’s well worth walking up to the summit of Rangitoto for the wildlife and scenery you’ll see along the way, but the ultimate reward comes from the outstanding panoramic views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf you get from the summit. It’s a great place to enjoy a picnic and rest up before walking back down (though the descent is easier and much faster). Make sure you pack plenty of water and food because you can’t buy anything on the island. There are benches to sit on and toilets near the ferry terminal but these are the only facilities you’ll find.
Overall I’d say that spending $30 for a return ferry trip and a spot of unguided walking is a bit of a ripoff! So I’d recommend picking a day with good weather, leaving early and allowing a full day to explore the island to get your money’s worth. It’s definitely a cool place to go with some great photo opportunities, plus you’ll be able to say you’ve set foot on the largest volcano in Auckland.
Have you visited Rangitoto? Share your experience in the comments below!