Rangitoto Island offers much more than a walk to the summit, as Danielle Wright finds out.

In its heyday, Rangitoto was a thriving summer community with 140 baches spread over three communities at Rangitoto Wharf, Islington Bay and McKenzie Bay.

Judging by the packed Fullers' ferry the day I went there, its appeal is still strong, partly due to the sense of nostalgia Kiwis feel for the time when buying a home by the sea was an everyman's dream.

The island's first baches were cobbled together from whatever materials were handy, but later professionally built baches took over.

While life was always basic on the island, locals found a way to make cakes, scones and roast meals on Sundays. Community activities included swimming races and Saturday night dances.

Most of our fellow boat passengers head off to scale the summit of the 600-year-old volcano, but we take the less-trodden path to McKenzie Bay through a landscape of rugged lava crops, lush native bush and sandy coves. On the way are some of the island's quaint and beautifully preserved baches.

Their restoration make it easy to imagine how holidays must have been back then - vintage teacups perch correctly in front of lace curtains and crocheted pillow-cases dot the retro lounge suite of the first bach off the boat, number 38.

We're privy to the inside of this beautiful building, not much bigger than a modern car garage or shed, because it's spring cleaning day for the Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust.

Around a dozen volunteers are dusting and repairing before their annual Christmas lunch barbecue on the island. Their efforts have already paid off with the bach winning the 2008 Unesco Heritage Award.

We pass around a dozen baches along the way, each with its own distinct character, before getting to the stony path leading through mangroves to Flax Pt. Hundreds of large black scoria rocks give the spot an other-worldly feel, set off by the emerald green water lapping their edges. Locals used to go "hunting for booty" around these rocks, often lucky to find treasures left by visiting American naval officers.

We reach Flax Pt after about a 45-minute walk and it's the first place hospitable enough for our picnic, even though it's next to the largest black back gull colony in New Zealand.

Knowing there are no shops on the island, we had earlier stopped at Devonport's Pyrenees Deli to pick up a selection of pates, dips, rolls and cakes all wrapped up in a straw picnic bag. We eat admiring the view across to Devonport and the CBD.

The charm of Rangitoto Island is in its complexity, and the bach owners who spent weeks here in such basic conditions reflect this country's pioneering spirit. With such a sentimental history, there are enough different experiences here to fill a week's worth of day trips. Just don't expect white sandy beaches and easily accessible picnic spots.

* Fullers' ferries take passengers twice daily to Rangitoto Island from Auckland City, via Devonport. It's a 25-minute trip, with adult fares starting at $26.

* Pick up a picnic basket full of mouth-watering delights from Pyrenees Deli, near the Devonport Wharf at 87A Vauxhall Rd.

* Become a Facebook friend of Rangitoto Island to hear about events such as the Auckland Heritage Festival's Rangitoto Island bach tour and cream scone tea.

* We chose to turn left from Rangitoto Wharf but if you decide to turn right you will be taken past a controlled mine base and Yankee Wharf to end up in Islington Bay (or Izzy Bay as the locals call it) and from there, on to the Motutapu Causeway.