It’s hard to miss Rangitoto Island when you visit Auckland. It forms part of almost every view you’ll see, its broad, volcanic shape draped gracefully along the horizon of the Hauraki Gulf. Usually with a few yachts decorating the foreground.
Taking the half-hour ferry trip from the central Auckland waterfront to Rangitoto Island and hiking the one-hour summit track is a highly-recommended day trip in Auckland and for good reason.
You may find it disconcerting to know that Auckland is built on an extensive volcanic field. The city is dotted with nearly 50 volcanoes but don’t worry they are safely dormant, unlike some of the other volcanoes in New Zealand!
The hike to the summit takes approximately one hour, depending on your level of fitness and half an hour back to the pier. There’s no rush as the trail climbs very gently at first, passing through otherworldly fields of black scoria (basaltic volcanic rock) and plunging through forest with occasional breaks in the trees to see an every increasing view of stunning Auckland surrounded by the blue, blue sea.
There are also great views of neighbouring Motutapu Island, which is not a volcano and had been inhabited by Maori people for a century or more before Rangitoto unexpected started to emerge violently from the seabed! The formation of this symmetrical shield volcano began around 700 years ago and must have been terrifying for the local population!
A number of information boards tell visitors all about the natural history of the island. Just before the summit the path skirts the side of the volcano crater and a side track allows people to walk right around the crater, which is lush with ferns and other greenery.
There is a concrete observation post that was part of Auckland’s World War II defences on the summit, as well as a large viewing platform and benches where you can sit and eat your lunch. We were amused by the scurrying brown quail, who are clearly quite comfortable with human visitors.
Birds and birdsong are a significant part of the Rangitoto experience. Being surrounded by melodious Bellbirds, raucous parrots such as the Kaka and Kakariki, and the imitative Tui is wonderful. You’ll see pretty Fantails and Silvereyes as well.
What you need to know about visiting Rangitoto Island
First and foremost it is important to understand that Rangitoto is a pest-free island. It is one of New Zealand’s many island sanctuaries where endangered native birds and other wildlife can live safe from introduced predators such as rats, stoats and cats that are a problem on the mainland.
The eradication of possums (an introduction from Australia) has allowed the regeneration of a beautiful Pohutakawa forest and the scarlet-flowered display of the ‘New Zealand Christmas Tree’ must be spectacular in December.
New Zealand’s flora and fauna are unique and special, please help to protect it and ensure New Zealanders and tourists can continue to enjoy experiences like visiting Rangitoto Island in the future. The Department of Conservation does an important job looking after the island.
Practically this means you won’t find any rubbish bins on the island and you must bring food in sealed containers, taking any leftovers or rubbish off the island when you leave.
On the subject of leaving, make sure you find out the time of the last ferry and catch it because if you don’t you’ll be spending the night out there!
What to take/wear for Rangitoto Island
The track is well graded but steep in places. Check the weather forecast before you leave home and note that it can be 10 degrees hotter on the island than on the mainland due to all the black volcanic rock. The New Zealand sun burns the skin quickly (even when it is cloudy) so…
- Good walking shoes, sun block and a sun hat are essential
- Also take a change of clothes, swimming gear and a towel if you are planning a dip at Islington Bay
- Plenty of water, snacks and lunch (there are no shops or cafes, although you can buy food and drink on the ferry)
- A jumper and waterproof jacket, depending on the time of year and conditions
Take the road train on Rangitoto Island
If you are concerned that the hike to the 260m (850ft) summit of Rangitoto might be a bit much for you, don’t worry because DOC have made this New Zealand experience super accessible.
There is a ‘road train’ – essentially a few open-sided carriages pulled by a big tractor that brings visitors to within 10 minutes walk of the crater and summit. This takes a different route to the walking track so hikers don’t see the road train once they have left the landing place.
There is a cost involved and the tour only runs twice a day so it is best to book this ahead if you think you will want to use it. The details are all on the ferry company website.
Enjoy your day on Rangitoto Island!
Natasha von Geldern
For more tips on travel in New Zealand see the following posts: