Rangitoto Island, aka “Auckland’s most iconic island”
Rangitoto’s name has been translated to mean “the day the blood of Tamatekapua was shed,” relating to a major Maori battle at Islington Bay about 1350. – Rangitoto.org
Congratulations, colonists, on using the correct name! Here’s another thing they’re getting right: despite being inhabited once NZ was colonized, and even being the site of a prison at one time, the 700-year-old volcanic island is now a “recreational reserve” with no new homes erected since the 1930s. Only a few families are left owning bach homes (vacation homes) on the island, and there is no food and only one public toilet facility. Everyone must ferry on during the day and ferry off by 5 p.m., which is exactly what I did with two friends one weekend during my month-long stay in Auckland.
According to NewZealand.com, Rangitoto Island is “Auckland’s most iconic island,” so clearly a trip was in order while I was staying in the city. To make the excursion even better, I went with two other Mount Holyoke College alums: Lauren Darby (’09) and Megan Couture (FP ’11). As I’m class of ’07, that made for a nice hop-skip-and-a-jump mix of ages and experiences, which we enjoyed exploring just as much as the island during our day together.
Mount Holyoke College was the first all women’s college in the United States, and is part of the Seven Sisters, a group of the first seven women’s colleges, known as the “female Ivys,” comprised of Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley. The traditional Ivy League schools at the time were for men only, so enterprising young women, like MHC founder Mary Lyon, created their own schools for females. Five of the colleges are still single-sex institutions. MoHos, as Mount Holyoke women are sometimes called, like to think we still embody that enterprising spirit today, with the conversation between the three of us revealing quite a few over-achieving similarities. One unique commonality was that Megan had originally come to New Zealand on a Fulbright Fellowship, Darby had just finished applying for a Fulbright, and I’m in the process of exploring my Fulbright options, all of us unrelated to each other.
Advice about the Fulbright and countless other matters were offered back and forth as we hiked, nearly unchecked, for almost five hours that day. Rangitoto is beautiful as advertised, and despite the fear of dehydration by the end of the day (really, DO carry a lot of water with you, as you’ll need it), we were enthralled by the changing landscape over the course of the day.
When we first got off the ferry, we went to the small museum to learn about the prison (they had once cleared a space of land big enough to be a tennis court; no mean feat when dealing with the glass-sharp, rocky,a volcanic soil) and the bach community (there was a concrete-bottomed salt water pool that would fill or drain with the tide) that was once there.
From there, we made a quick stop at the one set of mixed-gender toilets on the island, before heading up on the path to the top of the volcanic crater. We decided to do the Summit Track, the steeper, straight-to-the-top hike (about an hour’s walk), even though there is a longer, gentler winding path, as from the viewpoint, we wanted to try to half-circumnavigate the island that day.
On the way to the top, there’s a side-tramp to a set of lava caves waiting to be explored. We were directed by some other hikers to the middle cave, which took you along a short, underground path, so you could come back out near a little picnicking spot. While I recommend being careful at this point, as any exposed flesh is sure to be nicked by the sharp volcanic rocks, it was worth crawling through the opening before standing up fully inside the pitch-black cave. My headlamp, of course, died as we got there, but thank goodness for cell phone flashlights (aka torches). We made our way through the somewhat damp cave, feeling less claustrophobic than I would have otherwise thought, and did a bit of bouldering to emerge from the cave on the other side, feeling relieved and triumphant to have experienced and escaped the earth’s clutches.
After a quick rest and bite of lunch, we continued on to the top, which did have a spectacular panoramic view of Auckland on one side and other islands/the ocean on the other sides.
Photos were taken, sunscreen reapplied (I cannot stress this enough, people; WEAR THE DAMN SUNSCREEN), the map was checked, and the route chosen: a 2.5-3.5 hour hike down and around a section of the island that took us through part of the famed “largest Pohutukawa forest in the world” (http://www.rangitoto.org/), down onto volcanic rock, through part of what I would have called a marsh, and spit us out at various inlets along the way, before meandering its way back to the ferry. The only real constant in the terrain, besides stunning natural beauty, was the dust from the volcanic rock, which seemed to coat the very air we breathed. Though I had brought along two large bottles of water, I probably could have gone through another two liters by the time we were finished (and for you asthmatics, I did use my inhaler once, just FYI).
We took the Summit Road to Islington Bay Road, which led us to Islington Bay Wharf. From there, we could have gone across to the second island, Motutapu Island (which, from the glimpse of the pristine grounds from across the bay, looked like a manicured golf course that had been turned into a sheep farm), but we were concerned about the time, so we continued on to Yankee Wharf, and then took the Coastal Track back.
Reaching the ferry about 40 minutes before it was due to arrive, we kicked off our shoes and put our swollen, aching feet into the water (advice: wear thick-soled hiking boots; volcanic rock makes the bottoms of your feet ache). A gelato ice cream at the ferry terminal when we got back to Auckland rounded out the day, which was quite close to perfect.