Just a pleasant 25 minute ferry ride from Auckland city lies the beautiful and unique Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto is actually the youngest of the area’s many volcanic islands, sprouting from the sea just about 600 years ago. The island now has an amazing landscape, including beautiful lush areas, very interesting lava caves, and a summit with stunning views. Views of the city and the island’s iconic cone are also stunning from the boat, and we enjoyed taking in both during our trip in December.
The ferry timetable on a Wednesday was a little bit sporadic, but we decided the best way to work it with our schedule was to take the first ferry to the island at 9:15am and make sure we caught the first ferry leaving the island at 12:45pm. The ticket office was very easy to find at the ferry terminal, and we were glad to be some of the first people to board the boat because it meant nabbing the much coveted seats outside. The view of the Auckland skyline was absolutely stunning as we pulled away from the shore, and the sea breezes were much appreciated in the high heat! Our plan was to do the hour long hike to the volcano summit, have a look around, hit the lava caves on the way down, and be back on the ferry by 12:45pm.
The first part of this plan was a little bit easier said than done. I had worn regular sneakers on this trip after reading that the hike wasn’t too strenuous, but I simply cannot stress this enough- wear hiking boots if you have them! My sneakers were no match for the slippery, rocky dirt and I dearly missed the traction my boots would have provided. The walk is steep in some spots, but overall not very difficult, and the views are great at every turn. Even without the best footwear for the job, we still made it to the summit faster than the signs estimated we would. There is a great little deck area up there with tons of benches and many other people were unpacking picnic lunches, which in hindsight was a great idea.
Figuring it would take less time to go down than it did to go up, we decided that we had plenty of time to detour to the lava caves, which is roughly a fifteen to twenty minute deviation from the main trail. The caves are definitely worth the extra time it takes to see them, especially if you bring a flashlight and a little bit of nerve! Some of them are more like open holes while others involve crawling and twisting. A group of young boys exploring the same time we were there were super excited to stumble upon a geocache, but upon glancing at our watches we realized we didn’t have time to stick around. If we missed the 12:45pm ferry, it was another two hours until the next one and we didn’t want to have to rearrange our afternoon plans.
So we had to hustle- and I mean, really hustle- to get back to the main trail and then down to the ferry dock in time. We actually ended up sprinting down part of the trail, the downhill momentum causing me to go faster than I thought I could, catching up to another couple who were also sprinting to make the ferry! All of us collapsed on the dock at once, breathless but pleased that we had about four minutes to spare!
If you want to have a more relaxing time on Rangitoto Island, you can- there is no need to rush! The volcanic landscape is so interesting that it will definitely be worth your time. Packing a lunch to eat at the top would be a great asset to a longer visit, as would a leisurely exploration of the caves. However if you want to make the most of a shorter visit that is possible too, and maybe even without a race to the finish. Be sure you have proper footwear, it will help you make it to the summit in an efficient amount of time. You can even skip the hike and take a little tram if you would prefer. After taking in the views from the top, head out to the caves right away. While it seems tempting to relax in the dark, cool, quiet lava caves, don’t linger too long if you have a boat to catch!