Day 3 – Dance on a Volcano

On Monday morning, as Auckland’s office workers raced to get downtown, it was time for me to leave the concrete jungle and go exploring.  The Auckland area is home to several dozen volcanoes, so I thought it would be fun to explore one that has been set aside as a nature preserve.

The passenger ferry from Pier 3 takes visitors on a 25-minute journey across the Hauraki Gulf to Rangitoto Island.  Rangitoto is the youngest volcano in the area – it was formed by two eruptions approximately 550 – 600 years ago.  It is young enough that the local Maori people would have borne witness to a great mass of dark ash and fire-red liquid rock rising out of the harbour.  Rangitoto has the distinctive profile of a shield volcano.  Since the lava was not very viscous, it spread out in sheets across a wide area instead of piling up into a tall cone.  The summit stands some 260 metres above sea level, but the island is about five kilometres across in each direction (with much more volume submerged in the gulf).

Rangitoto Island, Hauraki Gulf

The island is currently uninhabited by humans – it now provides a refuge for scores of birds and plants.  The New Zealand Department of Conservation has worked hard in recent years to eradicate predators on the island.  As I walked around the various hiking trails, I saw plenty of baited traps but not a single one had a ‘customer’.  The traps use chicken eggs as the bait, since stoats and rats have historically preyed on the flightless bird population on the island.  From what I have read the eradication process has been very successful, to the extent that Rangitoto and neighbouring Motutapu Island were declared pest-free in 2011.

There are a number of interesting things to check out on Rangitoto.  A little bit below the eastern summit, if you explore some of the less-traveled trails you will find a series of caves.  These caves were formed by lava tubes during the last eruption, and some are big enough to crawl into.  You can even walk through one of the tubes if you crouch in certain spots, but bring a flashlight because the tunnel is at least 50 metres long.

From the summit trail, you can see the remnants of a few gun batteries and lookout towers erected by the USA during World War II.  The summit itself is an excellent place to stop and pull your lunch out of your backpack – there are park benches and panoramic views in all directions.  After lunch I descended to the west coast, where I had the dark grey sands of McKenzie Beach all to myself.  A trail loops back around the shoreline to the ferry quay, passing a few other (rougher) beaches and a seagull colony.

Song of the Day: “Dance on a Volcano” by Genesis

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