There's no excuse for not exploring Rangitoto.
After living in Auckland much of my adult life it was always a shameful admission that I'd never made it up Rangitoto Island's craggy slopes. One more cry of "What? Really?" finally drove me into taking action. Even then I needed a bit of help, but my buddy Chris looked up the ferry timetable and organised our group of Sunday walkers.
Once on the ferry I felt even sillier when I discovered Rangitoto is a mere 25 minutes from downtown and only 15 minutes from Devonport, where I boarded. On this beautiful spring Sunday the ferry was crowded. Obviously nobody was put off by the idea of climbing an extinct and reasonably steep volcano.
Once at Rangitoto Wharf, we decided that there'd be plenty of time to look at the impossibly cute little baches lining the shore under the pohutukawa on our return before the last ferry at 4pm. Best to tackle the hill while our enthusiasm was high.
Winding up the DoC-maintained track was not difficult. I don't know why I had always imagined we would have to scramble over bare scoria. This was a well formed path on a steady, upward gradient. Largely shaded by trees, it was pleasant rather than arduous, although I had to admire the parents who carried young children on their shoulders or the super-fit bronzed woman of mature years who bounded past at a run.
About 45 minutes up we took a detour to the caves. I'd been told to bring a torch because it's possible to bang your head in the low parts. They were worth the extra 500m off the main track, although a boy we passed was disappointed he hadn't seen any bats.
Passing a lump of exposed rock I was surprised to feel heat radiating from it. As it's dark, the rock absorbs sunlight more than other surfaces and is perhaps why the island feels warmer than anywhere else. Apparently in summer it's more noticeable, but even on this gentle spring day I was glad I'd had the foresight to layer my clothes rather than dress too warmly.
Another 20 minutes took us, lightly panting, to the top. We were rewarded with glorious views across the harbour back to the city. With all the other tourists we took photos, ate our picnic lunch and soaked up the setting.
Wandering back down the long boardwalk we were lucky enough to see a saddleback and hear its fluting call.
We had time for a quick look at the quaint baches before our ferry left. Nobody lives on Rangitoto, as it is a public reserve, and about 34 remaining baches are seldom used. DoC owns five of them, which are being restored by the Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust.
One is now a mini-museum and its restoration won a Unesco heritage award.
Tired but immensely satisfied, we boarded a ferry for home. The dolphins that clowned around the bow on the trip back across the harbour created the perfect end to a memorable day.
Ferry timetable: Three sailings daily with extra on weekends and public holidays. Adults $27, children $13.50, family pass $67.40, plus earlybird fares. For times see the website or phone (09) 367 9111.
Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust: See rangitoto.org.
Further information: No food or water can be bought on Rangitoto. Take a picnic or buy from what is available on the ferry. Wear walking shoes, a hat and sunscreen, take a torch and extra water.