Rangitoto Island is the largest, youngest and one of the least modified of about 50 volcanic cones and craters in the Auckland volcanic field. It erupted from the sea in a series of dramatic explosions around 600 years ago, and is now extinct. It dominates the local seascape and a visit there is like stepping into another world.
Surprisingly, Rangitoto is now covered with more than 200 species of native plants and ferns. Several unique hybrids have developed and some plants behave in unusual ways on this relatively new part of New Zealand. The dominant species is the native pohutukawa tree, which displays bright crimson flowers in early summer, earning it the nickname of ‘the New Zealand Christmas tree’.
The entire island is a public reserve managed by the Department of Conservation. Walking on the island’s sharp, black lava terrain is extremely slow and difficult. Thankfully, the relatively smooth roads and tracks built by earlier prison labour remain today. The walk to the summit (two hours return) passes fascinating caves created by lava that solidified on the surface but continued to flow beneath. Bring a torch to explore these long, dark, craggy tunnels.
Some World War II structures remain on the island, as well as several 1930s baches (rudimentary holiday homes) that have been restored and protected as a snap-shot of earlier times. There are no other buildings on the island and overnight stays are not permitted, so be careful not to miss the last ferry back.
What you need to bring
– Water/drink. There are no supplies or drinking water available on the island.
– Sturdy walking shoes/boots that can cope with the island’s rugged lava surfaces.
– Sunhat and sunscreen. The heat rays reflecting off the lava can be intense.