Thursday, 24 June 2010

Rangitoto Island: Sleeping Volcano

By far the largest—and youngest— in the Auckland volcanic region, Rangitoto sits at the gateway to the city and is visible from any position high enough. It’s a classic shield-shaped volcano where the lava pouring out built up into an island, high and steep in the centre, low and flat at the edges, and circular in shape.

It is said to have erupted around 600 years ago, which is not long in volcanic terms. Motutapu is its immediate island neighbour, separated only by a few metres of causeway, but is not volcanic—it was there a long time before.

Rangitoto is a cliché of sorts in Auckland, an oft-photographed icon, yet so few tourists or locals visit its shores. That is a day trip very much worth doing: a short ferry ride from the city deposits you at a solitary wharf, and a couple of hours walking (or a ride on the tractor wagon if you want to cheat) will get you to the top, where you will be rewarded with a fantastic 360° view of the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, and the city of Auckland, which, though huge, is distinctly reduced by viewing it from the summit of a mountain.

Due to its young nature, there is no real soil on the island—merely decomposed debris lodged in the cracks between the lava. Hence the forest too is young, and sparse in places. There are even fields of bare volcanic rock that make you think you’re on another planet. Also, there are caves in the lava on the flanks of the hill as it becomes steeper towards the top: created by air bubbles in liquid rock which then solidified, leaving these irregular open spaces.

Ships pass by in the Rangitoto Channel to Auckland’s container wharves, and on summer evenings the cruise ships leave town by the same route, all lit up like Christmas trees, and dwarfed by the 260-metre volcano.

Always there, always brooding, often with a cloud darkening its top in otherwise clear skies—it is difficult to describe what Rangitoto means to a local who’s grown up in its shadow. A marvel of nature, definitely. A sleeping threat, perhaps. A symbol of home, for sure.

In case you missed it last year, here's my video of a visit there...

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