Rangitoto Island

The alarm went off at 08:15. Groaning, I got up and turned it off. I had not spent a restful night, Diarmuid’s phone had started to ring at 03:30 and had woken me up, but not its owner. In my fumbling to find the buzzing, I think I may have pressed the hang up button, but his mum didn’t try ringing again in any case. The next couple of hours were spent trying to get to sleep despite the door next door being constantly knocked on, opened, then closed loudly. Possibly I was successful but I think it was more of a waking doze until six or so in the morning before I finally fell into a more deep sleep.

I did not feel like going to Rangitoto Island, I only wanted to go back to bed and in a half awake talk with Diarmuid, he seemed amenable to the idea and I returned to my bed to try and get some more slumber. I was surprised when Diarmuid then proceeded to get up and have breakfast. Imagine my dismay when he then informed me that we were still catching the 09:15 ferry. “What? I thought we had decided to get a later ferry.” “No, that was just me talking before I got up.” I groaned and then got out of my bed, dressed and threw together a couple of sandwiches and filled my water bottles. Ready to go, I was waiting for Diarmuid to finish getting ready before we set off for the dock.

Thankfully, we made the ferry and I proceeded to get a breakfast of a good healthy sea wind. The ferry took around twenty minutes to make it’s way to the island. We disembarked from the rocking boat along with several other tourists including, one German man, two German women and a group of German teenagers. There were others, but the majority were definitely German.

There are several tracks on Rangitoto, but I had planned to follow the summit track to the crater with a sidetrip to some lava caves and then taking a road and coastal track back to the dock, all in all about 4-5 hours walking. We set off on the summit track ahead and quickly stopped as I put on my gaiters and organised my camera. Diarmuid soon uttered what he would repeat many, many times that day. “Take a photo of that.” I glanced at the expanse of lava rocks that he was pointing at. I couldn’t help thinking that there’d be plenty of other opportunities but figured that he was right, it was a fairly long lava flow that stretched into the distance. The camera made it’s clicks and whirrs and I put it away in it’s pouch hanging across my shoulder.

We continued along the track, overtaking people who had just overtaken us, this would happen at multiple times along the track. We then came to a display stand that was just off the track on a boardway. This explained about the various volcanic features of the island, how it was formed and if it was dead or dormant. By the by, the island’s volcano is considered dead but it is thought that Auckland has not seen its last volcano and that at some stage in the future, lava will flow and pumice and ash will fly.

The forest is quite thick on the island, surprising considering it started as a large lump of lava. The display also explained how the plantlife first started with moss and lichen before later clumps of trees began to grow which eventually joined up with each other to create the forest. The forest is of course different from our own forests in Ireland. The first thing that struck me was that it smelled differently, the trees are of course different but not so strange from our own, but the smell in the air instantly struck me as alien. We would later see palms further in the island and birdsong and chittering that sounded more like it belonged in a rainforest, but then again, I suppose most of the forests in this country are bordering on rainforests and I know that in the South Island there are some rainforests.

We eventually came to a glade where the summit track joined with the track to the lava caves. Diarmuid, who was carrying more or less his full pack for weight training, was anxious to reach the summit so we could return to get the 12:45 ferry. This hadn’t been my plan at all, something I thought he’d realised, surely he’d read the route description from the “Tramping in New Zealand” book? It would appear he had not. I said that we were going to the lava caves and started to walk off in that direction. When he’d caught up, I told him what the route that I’d planned was, that we’d go up to the summit, making the sidetrip to the caves and then making our way along the coastal track and that I didn’t think we’d be catching the 12:45 ferry.

Ten minutes later we had reached the lava caves, the German arriving just before us. We dropped our bags and I got my torch out. Taking my hat off and putting the torch on, I went into what looked like the bigger cave just after the German. Looks are deceiving, the cave only went in around 15ft before rapidly getting too small and then finishing. “Definitely too small to continue” I said to the German. He smiled in agreement. I left, a little disappointed, this isn’t exactly what I’d imagined. Back outside Diarmuid was waiting. I looked at the second cave to the left of the first one. It looked smaller, darker and distinctly wet. Ok, let’s go.

In I went and it was indeed small, dank and dark. But it didn’t look like it was going to instantly end and it was fun. I could feel a little claustrophobia but pressed on and to face it and see what it was like I turned off my torch. It was pitch black, but not really sinister. I couldn’t help but think of Bilbo lost in the goblin caves below the Misty Mountains. I turned my torch back on and continued, the cave now quickly got bigger and I could stand up and walk. This was fun! There were roots or lichen hanging from the ceiling and the walls were wet. The ground was muddy with slimy bits of twigs and a larger branch left by a previous explorer. I continued on a little bit and could see a light in the ceiling up ahead. I climbed up through the opening and found myself in a place not far from the track. We had in fact passed the track on our way to the other entrance.

I rushed back to the start of the cave, exhilarated. I told Diarmuid about the cave and grabbed a drink of water. I tapped the German on the shoulder and told him pointing to the cave, “That’s the one to go into!” Again he smiled. “You can even stand up in it.” “Oh,” he replied and proceeded to go into it. I asked Diarmuid if he was coming this time. He said yes and got his own torch. I grabbed my camera and went back in. I took some photos and then left before some other people arrived just behind us. The German was outside, he’d lent his torch to the German women who were coming just behind us.

Making our way back to our bags we explained to the group of German teenagers that the second cave was worth going into. They caught on and entered as well. The two women meanwhile arrived and we struck up a conversation. One asked Diarmuid if he was camping on the island. I explained, “No, weight training.” Diarmuid then proceeded to explain that we were going to walk the length of the two islands. How long would that take us? “Around seven months.” “Seven months! And my colleagues thought four weeks for a holiday was long.” They left returning to the summit track. I wanted to see where the track to the right took us, so I continued on, followed by a doubtful Diarmuid. “Let’s see how it works out.”

It worked out well. After a few minutes, I could see another cave ahead of us. It looked much bigger. I was reminded of the cave from “Prince Caspian.” There must have been something in the air because Diarmuid mentioned Narnia a minute or two later just before we went in. This cave was much bigger and we could walk in with our bags on our backs, even Diarmuid’s huge pack. There was a light up ahead that you could see from the start, but I soon realised it wasn’t the end. The cave continued on but got smaller at the end, meaning that we would have to crouch or crawl to get through. I offered to take Diarmuid’s pack from the other side but he said he could crawl through. He did and I took a picture though it didn’t come out all that great. The cave was dark after all.

We had reached the end of the lava caves track so we returned to the summit track and then made our way to the crater, just before the summit. Diarmuid was getting a bit breathless by this stage. Diarmuid read aloud the information about the crater while I watched a single-engine plane fly over it. After a few obligatory photos, we continued to the summit up the last few steps. The day was very clear and we could see for miles. I asked Diarmuid whether he wanted to continue on or try and catch the 12:45 ferry, it was now around 11:45. He suggested that we catch the ferry as we had plenty to do back in Auckland and we’d soon be going on a much longer walk. I was happy to catch the ferry, since I was tired and still hadn’t eaten. We then fast tracked it down the steps and back along the track. Again Diarmuid occasionally saying, “Take a photo of that.”

We reached the bottom of the track within 50 minutes or so and proceeded to sit down and eat some food. I sat on a wall in the shade of the tree while Diarmuid sat in the sun on a chair. A duck in the almost empty sea-water swimming pool climbed up the ramp towards me and I threw him a scrap of bread. Some smaller birds were too quick though and swiped it before the duck could reach it. I threw him a second piece and he reached it just in time. I took some photos of the duck and other curious birds. The ferry was arriving so we made our way to the jetty. After the new arrivals had gotten off, we made our way to the woman who was checking for tickets. As I was trying to find my ticket, my hat flew out of my hands and heart in my mouth I dove for it. Unfortunately the ticket collecter had also reached down to try and grab it from being blown into the sea and I collided with here. Thankfully though I had grabbed it, I apologised to her and continued to try and find my ticket. Eventually I remembered I had it in my coat pocket and handed it to her. Diarmuid was already on the top deck and I joined him, sitting in the front row just ahead of him where on the journey back I would get blasted by the sea wind combined with the speed of the boat. After a few blows from the horn the ferry set off and I got my last shot of Rangitoto Island.

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