Monday 23 April 2018. Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand.
Walking from the hotel to the waterfront Auckland appears to be one large construction site. Just like central London only the buildings are newer and uglier; the harbour not distracting from decades of bad design and poor planning decisions by a variety of careless and care less councils. For 9.45 am on a work day downtown seems lifeless and deserted. There are few people about; some tourists and some who look like the street is their home. Maybe everyone is in their office or school. It is school holidays this week so perhaps everyone has fled the city. Which is precisely what I am now doing.
I arrived in Auckland late yesterday afternoon, stopping over in Singapore for two hours on an otherwise non-stop 27 hours flying from London. Mum is away in Australia until Tuesday so I have decided to take two days off from people, stay in a hotel and just be on my own. I need the space, it has been a while since I had any length of time alone, and one thing I have learned as I have aged is alone time is critical to my mental health.
What I like to do when I am on my own is walk, preferably as close to nature as possible. There is a ban on walking in the Waitakere Ranges; my favoured Auckland walking place, so I am going to walk up Rangitoto instead. There will be more on the Waitakere walking ban in a later post; when I go walking in them.
Rangitoto Island is 25 minutes from downtown Auckland via ferry. It is a dormant volcano, last erupting, when it is arose from the sea about 600 years ago. It is my favourite Auckland sight, being close to symmetrical, and now a pest free reserve. Being created by volcanic activity it is largely made of scoria, and has become, over the decades more forested. As an environment it is unique, I love the place.
I was surprised at the number of people heading over on the ferry, though discovered when we disembarked that there is now a shuttle to the top. This goes some way to explaining those on the trip who were not built for walking up hills. I was not planning on the shuttle, there are a couple of walks to be done. I had a loop planned that takes me past the old bachs (pronounced batches), along the shorefront and then a slog up to the summit, back down again past the lava caves. I had 4 ½ hours, which seemed ample time; though I only made it back with 10 minutes to spare at the end.
Once off the ferry I waited for the rest of the passengers to work out which way they were going; most taking the shuttle to the top, before heading off on my walk, nice and alone. The first part of my walk took me past a number of the old bachs, these were detailed in my last post, so I will only add one photo here. It goes without saying that as a part of Auckland’s limited history, I do love them.
There is a road that follows the shore around one side of the island, to walk it takes just over an hour. It is pretty flat, a good warm up for the climb to come.
The shore line is quite interesting, predominantly dark, rough, scoria, with tufts of grass and a few mangrove sections. Pohutakawa trees are the main flora at this level and they have taken to the rocky shore with gusto. I am surprised that anything manages to grow here at all.
All over the island, the trees and shrubs are covered with this moss like growth, it is both quite beautiful and otherworldly eerie, like something from an ancient primeval forest; where bad things happen…
All along the shore there is driftwood, both man-made and natural, some bleached white and looking like the last remains of some previously unknown deep sea monstrosity.
There was a lovely grove of large, mature pohutakawa trees as I approached McKenzie Bay, these trees are known as ‘New Zealand Christmas trees’ and flower bright red for a very short time around Christmas, a shame to not be here then.
McKenzie Bay is one of the few sandy beaches on the island, the shuttle comes here and I was surprised to find only six other people here, pleasantly surprised I should add.
It also where the path turns inland and a gentle climb to the summit begins. I found this part of the walk less interesting, it was also warm and humid and though cloudy I could feel the sun starting to burn my ridiculously feeble, turned English, skin. I liked this tree, just growing all alone out of the rock.
Soon enough the gentle climb reaches that point when things turn upward, and the steps begin. About 300, apparently. I did not count them.
At about this point the tree line changed and we entered into a different type of forest, there was more soil here, trees have obviously been growing, shedding and dying for longer. Leaving matter for newer generations to grow in. There was a lot of beech, manuka and other trees and shrub species I know nothing about. (Note to self; learn more trees!). Time for a bit of blur action.
After significant time and effort Rangitoto is now a pest free island. No rats, no mice, no stoaty/ferrety/weasely things that kill flightless birds or raid nests of unhatched eggs. This has led to a large increase in the bird population on the island, and this was made quite obvious in the amount of bird call I could hear as I slowly walked up the last flight of stairs to the crater rim track, and almost the summit.
At the summit I finally caught up with some of the other folk who had been on my ferry, as well as a bunch of people who had come on the following. It was a lot noisier up here than on the trail. There is a great 360 degree view from the top, and I was surprised that it was slightly hazy over the city.
As the island is close to the entrance to the Waitemata Harbour ( the east facing of Auckland’s two harbours. The Manukau Harbour has its entrance on the west coast) and the gateway to downtown Auckland there was a military presence on the island for some time. On the summit there is an old observation post, along with the ubiquitous trig.
There was a lot of bird life at the summit viewing area, like many people I stopped to eat the lunch I had bought before I left the city (there is no shop on the island, part of the pest management plan), this obvious attracts the more curious, and greedy of the birds.
After lunch I took the short crater rim walk back to the top of the steps. On the walk I found this building dug into the rim, I am assuming it was some sort of ammunition or dangerous good store. It was has been well visited; inside there are the names of many visitors from a wide range of countries. Germany, Brazil and France all featured heavily, along with this missive from, I am assuming, an Aucklander ‘pigz are dogz’. Got to love the locals…
Heading back down the steep track I came across a few people still struggling to the top, welcoming them with a cheery ‘you’re almost there’, and hoping they would all make it back in time for the last ferry.
I took the short detour to the Lava Caves, these were formed when the island emerged from the gulf, and are tunnels burnt through the scoria by the lava flowing down from the summit. I am sure the island is riddled with them, but these three are all that are publicly advertised. In a rare show of planning I had bought a head torch with me, though the battery was pretty flat and it was virtually useless in the short tunnels. I had a look in a couple, but was not prepared to do any crawling around on my own. Though this 10 metre tunnel was high enough to walk through.
The circular route has been blocked by a slip and the path is closed, though the slip looks quite old, no-one has had the time, money, or inclination to re-open the path. Heading back the way I came I detoured off into the forest for a short way. The forest at this level of the park is wonderful, very ‘Jurassic Park’, rocky and viney, dense and lush, old looking, yet new. It would be great to be able to stay and spend a few hours exploring more deeply. The final ferry is at 15:30, so no time for too much off-piste clambering about.
I took a more strident walk down the final section of the path, looking back up to the summit as I crossed the line between heavy and sparse vegetation.
I wanted to get back to the shore line to have a look at the bachs on the other side of the wharf from where I started my journey, though I did not get the time to see them all before I had to join the throng and make my way to the ferry to take me back to the city.
I will bring El here next time we come to Auckland.