Friday, February 01, 2008

Rangitoto, New Zealand: Baby Land

New Zealand is a whole bunch of islands, formed from volcanic eruptions. And 30 minutes by ferry ride east of Auckland City is Rangitoto, the very newest of these islands. Its volcano erupted just 600 years ago, and almost all the vegetation on the island is less than 200 years old.

New Zealand is a whole bunch of islands, formed from volcanic eruptions. And 30 minutes by ferry ride east of Auckland City is Rangitoto, the very newest of these islands. Its volcano erupted just 600 years ago, and almost all the vegetation on the island is less than 200 years old.

I couldn't pass up the chance to walk on such new land, and hike up to the summit for a look around. So I took the first ferry out, 9:15 AM, along with a lot of other people. I noticed many of them slathering on the sun block and found myself worrying a bit: "Shouldn't I be doing the same thing?" Coming from Chicago in the winter, it's not as if my skin is tanned and ready to withstand the hot, bright New Zealand summer sun....well, I had sunglasses (really poor quality sunglasses in fact, that are too tight and give me a headache if I wear them for too long - silly me) and a Wallabies rugby cap, gifted to me by Vanessa of Quest while I was in Sydney. I figured I would be OK.

We arrived at the pier and disembarked. Rangitoto is not a tourist haven. There are no shops, no food or drinkable water available. Whatever you plan to consume, you bring with you. I had a decent size bottle of water and a bag of nuts and raisins. Now, while Rangitoto is not developed, it is also not empty. The shoreline is dotted with tiny little "Bach" houses. When I first saw references to the "Bach" community on websites, I thought to myself: "Weird. They can't even get their webpages spell-checked," certain that they meant to write "Beach". Nope. "Bach" is short for "bachelor" -- apparently several decades ago it was very common for single men to build these tiny little shacks near beautiful spots to crash while away for the weekend to enjoy the surf, etc. George, my eco-guide to Waitekere, pointed out some of the same in the Waitekere Ranges.

OK, off the boat and on to my hike. Of course, for those who were not ready willing or able to walk to the summit, you could hop on a trailer that was pulled by a tractor. Not for me! was a hard climb. At first relatively flat, walking along a bulldozed trail cut out of what is clearly new land - mostly just low brush, a few trees, and lots of black, volcanic rock. And lots of sun. I was very glad for my cap, but worried about my ears and neck. I kept turning the cap for maximum coverage against the position of the sun.

And then the ascent grew steeper. I was hiking in some new New Balance 857s, which are great running shoes but not great hiking shoes. Not enough support in the sole or in the uppers. I ended up with blisters on several toes, mostly from the downhill climb. But I managed to get to the summit in about 45 minutes -- the trail markers estimated 1 hour to climb and I was impressed. That is the amount of time someone in pretty good shape would climb the summit. For most out of shape Americans, it could be well more than that. And I was amazed to see (as I descended from the summit, and passed people who were way behind me) a whole bunch of people trying to climb wearing only flip-flops! Many of them made eye contact with me and others coming down with clear questions in their eyes and on their lips: "How much further?"

Well, the summit was excellent. Fantastic view all around, could see all the way back to Auckland City and the Sky Tower (from which insane, adrenalin junkies jump) and into the volcano's crater. I was a bit disappointed there - it was covered with vegetation like everything else. I was hoping for more of a volcanic/lunar kind of landscape. Ah well...I took the Crater Rim Walk and was about half-way around - and actually having climbed up off the trail for a better view into the crater, when I heard a boy yelling with increasing hysteria and tears: "Daddy? Daddy? DADDY!"

I hurried back down to the trail and found little Sam, perhaps 8 years old, alone on the trail and very upset. He was from some town in New Zealand that I could barely understand, something along the lines of "Wallabangadanga". His dad and other brother had gotten ahead of him, and his mom and younger brother were behind. Pretty clearly, he'd turned down the crater trail, while his dad and brother went on up to the summit. So I walked him around to the summit, trying to calm him down.

We get to the summit and he says "There's my dad!" but his Dad doesn't notice him and doesn't seem to even notice that Sam is not with him. Sam finally walks over to his dad and his brother. I kept my distance but listened. "Hey Sam, what's wrong? Did you fall down? Were you yelling back there? What? You got lost? Oh, well, you're here now." More tears and pathetic sounds from Sam. "Well, I won't lose you again," with a laugh and clap on the shoulder. His dad sounded like a real loser. Not only did he actually not notice that he had lost his middle son, but he basically made fun of the boy and expressed no real concern about what had happened. Sam could definitely have fallen off the side of hill, if he got really upset and panicked. Poor kid (in the blue shirt). So the message of the day was: Can't trust your dad, and total strangers seem to care more about you.

On the way down, I visited the lava caves. They were small and very dark, but I made my way through one of them, following some young boys with inadequate flashlights. I also went off the path and found another cave, which was really a big hole in the ground and from there, who knows? I did not climb down to look around. But I did come across some very interesting and beautiful and fragile growths on the bare volcanic rock. It looked very much like white coral, growing into the air.

Before heading back to the ferry, I stopped at the Kidney Fern Glen, which was a wonderfully peaceful and lush area, very different from the open volcanic areas.

All in all, a really nice way to spend the morning.

Here is the link to all my Rangitoto photos.

I am very sorry that I don't have the time to explain each one, but hopefully you can still enjoy them.


1 comment:

Michael said...

Hey, knock off these cools trips to cool places... Wow, I am a rock lover and that cave stuff would have had my head lamp out in a second running into the tunnel to check out the long dark cold interior. As for that father, you should have given him a pop to his forehead as if he had forgotten he could have a V8. I hiked alot with my dad as a child; loved it. But statying together and knowing where each other were was 1#. Some people. Thanks for sharing Steven.