Rangitoto, Sunday 19 February 2012
On my way back from the Bay of Islands, in the car with Ian and Muchmore, I hit on what I thought was a superb plan to get me over to the Coromandel Peninsular, and then down towards Rotorua and Napier. Except that my superb plan had one minor flaw. The ferry that I was intending to take on Monday morning, from Auckland to Coromandel Town, had stopped running on Mondays two weeks prior. I could book myself onto the Tuesday sailing, which indeed I did, but this left me with an extra day in Auckland. What to do, what to do?
It was Twitter that came to the rescue. My darling Pa asked his lovely boss, whose soon-to-be-ex-wife is a Kiwi, what’s good for a day in Auckland. ‘Rangitoto’ came the response.
No, it’s not some cruel and unusual form of Maori torture, it’s a comparatively young volcanic island just across the water from Auckland. By comparatively young, I mean that it was formed by an eruption around 1400 CE. By just across the water, I mean about 20 minutes by boat. You can pay to go on an organised tour of the island, or you can do what I did: disembark from the ferry, pay a trip spend a quick penny, apply more sunscreen, and head off into odd mixture of verdant bush and desolate lava flows.
When the island first formed it was simply dense black lava fields and a volcanic cone. There was no natural water source and no vegetation. The black lava fields absorbed a great deal of heat from the sun, and retained it. They still do. Rangitoto is a hot place. However, lichen and moss spores were carried over on the wind from the mainland — and likely by birds too — and they began to propagate on the lava fields. When they died and decayed, the humus that they created allowed for other seeds to slowly take root. The lava fields are now home to a host of ferns and plants, including mangroves. Yes, really: mangroves. Those swamp-dwelling, water-loving trees cover the arid black lava fields. It’s an eerie sight.
I tramped my way to the top of the, probably now extinct, volcanic cone, stopping periodically to marvel at some mangroves or ooh and ahh at the spectacular views. And to drink some water and get back my breath. It was warm out there. The paths are well-marked, there’s plenty of information scattered along the route, and you bump into other visitors with great frequency, but there’s still something rather intrepid about setting off into bushland to climb a volcano, extinct or not.
The views from the top made it worth it, too. When Captain Cook arrived in 1789, he must have thought that he’d discovered some kind of paradise. The lush green vegetation leading to sandy beaches and sparkling blue seas really are picture postcard perfect. And the flotilla of sail boats constantly tilting at the wind do nothing to detract from the beauty.
You can descend from the top of the rim the way that you came, or you can return via one of two paths running around the eastern or western sides of the island. I was standing at the fork in the path, trying to determine whether left or right would bring me back to the wharf in time for the last sailing of the day, when I was joined by a German young lady pondering the exact same conundrum. The timings on the signs weren’t entirely accurate and they differed considerably from those on our maps. We decided that if we were going to be marooned on a volcanic island we might as well be so in company, so threw in our lots together and opted to take the MacKenzie Beach path back to the wharf.
This took us along the shoreline, past the lighthouse, the currently-abandoned bird colonies, and some of the baches. I suppose that the best way to describe a bach is a wooden-framed, tin-roofed building that’s something between a beach hut and a bungalow. Once upon a time, they were inhabited by the small group of people who lived on Rangitoto. Now, there are no permanent residents, but a few people do use them as holiday retreats. When you can land your boat right by your front door, why wouldn’t you?
Jeez it was warm.
Back at the wharf, Reka — for that was her name, she also happens to be studying for a PhD in applied linguistics from the University of Wellington but comes from Hamburg — and I found a patch of shade and shared our lunch. Nothing more exciting than fruit, crisps, chocolate covered cranberries, and yoghurt, but we really felt as if we’d earned it. Mind you, seeing as it was The Collective’s passionfruit yoghurt, it was fairly special.
The ferry home passed without incident. But then, most of us were too exhausted to move more than entirely necessary after all that walking. But the views made it worthwhile.