Walking the tracks and climbing to the summit of Rangitoto can feel like a race against the clock at times, knowing you have to pace yourself to catch the return Fullers ferry, and choosing which walks you can cram into a day visit.
Sometimes after I have made my way to the summit, I nip into the lava caves and then down to peaceful McKenzie Bay to look across to Takapuna. Other day trips have taken me through the bush-lined track to the iconic baches at Issie Bay, and the beach beside the causeway joining the two islands.
But now Te Haerenga Trails takes the guess work and watch-checking out of visiting the islands with their Ngai Tai guided Rangitoto Motutapu Haerenga (Journey through Sacred Islands) walks launched this summer.
James Brown, Ngai Tai ki Tamaki chairman, says the first step of the venture is running half-day and full-day tours from Rangitoto Wharf to experience the Maori perspective of the history of these land forms.
He is fostering and expanding tourism pathways on the island with the Department of Conservation, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development and iwi.
And Ngai Tai are training their young people to become guides, so they can share the authentic Maori history of the islands, and educate and entertain their visitors with tales and information about the flora and fauna.
When numbers are sufficient, visitors can travel to the island by sail and engine-powered waka, which leave from the base of the harbour bridge.
Otherwise they travel by Fullers ferries from downtown Auckland to land at the wharf on Rangitoto.
At weekends, Explore ferries drop off and pick up at Motutapu, much gentler in appearance with its farmland and native bush.
And that's where things are getting exciting as visitors can book through the DoC website to stay in the camping ground run by Te Haerenga at Motutapu's Home Bay. And that means much more time to really explore both islands. "We have capacity for 37 campers. The tents are there and they bring their food and clothes, or we can do the food for them as well. We have a hangi at the weekend," says Brown.
At the moment, campers can self-guide and enjoy the birdsong on the Motutapu's Centennial Loop, as well as the roads beside farmland and on to the causeway, but Brown has plans to add these and more walks to the sacred islands experience as the summer progresses.
Need to know
• Waka and Walk: Half-day walking tour $150, or $200 for full-day, book at tehaerenga.nz. Multi-day packages including Motutapu are in planning stages and will include the option to arrive on Motutapu with Explore ferries.
• Ferries: Ferry services from Auckland travel to both islands, depending on whether you travel with Explore to Motutapu (weekends) or Fullers to Rangitoto (daily). There are walkways on Rangitoto leading to the summit, to bays, to the caves. On Motutapu you can wander past the paddocks, through the bush or across the causeway to Rangitoto.
Donna was a guest of Te Haerenga.