When I travel to a place, I try and figure out what defines the place and what it is like to be the place. I try to walk everywhere to really get to know the area; I walk down back alleys, wander around (which is pretty much telling you that I get lost, a lot), people watch, and ask locals about where they would go, shop, eat and drink.
Auckland is calm, colourful and effortlessly charming. Blue skies stretch for miles, white sail boats float in the tint of slightly turquois waters, sandy beaches, bright green hills (think pantone 367-xgc mixed with a deeper forest green), and this sense of calm, which, in city is a new experience for me. The country’s British past is clearly evident. From driving on the left, to using words like ‘rubbish’, as well as the sight of familiar shops and brands from ‘back home’ – there’s this strangely homely feeling about Auckland.
I must admit, I wasn’t ready for New Zealand to be my first stop. I had no expectations. To figure out what it is like to be a place, I turned to Auckland’s volcanic past (plus, the word ‘volcano’, even if it is dormant, is a pretty epic word).
The ferry left the harbour at 10:30am for Rangitoto – Auckland’s youngest dormant volcano, which last erupted around 600 years ago. As you sail closer and closer to Rangitoto Island, my excitement builds. The wind blows in my hair, and I stick my hand out to the side of the ferry – tiny speckles of water hit my hand, like pins and needles. It was the perfect way to heighten my anticipation for my first volcanic hike. (I must admit it did take a second to realize this sensation was from the water and not an impending heart attack).
In just 30 minutes we are here, about to dock in Rangitoto Wharf. Woah! It’s stunning. I don’t know where to look. Every direction is equally different and equally beautiful. This is definitely a place for the senses. The long wooden and concrete walkway contrasts with the charred remains of volcanic rock, but it’s also a perfect mix of new and old, which I discovered during this adventure.
As I start my volcanic hike, I felt the rhythm of its heartbeat. Moss covered volcanic rock, as I leave the ferry, turn into a flood of lush vibrant green trees and plants. There was this mix of new and old – dark black crunchy rock meet flecks of lava red stone and fallen brown leaves, but then there’s this new sense of life. I walk uphill, towering trees arch over me, providing much needed shade in the powerful New Zealand sun, and spider webs glisten over volcanic rock. At first it feels like I’m hiking in a forest, rather than a dormant volcano. As I venture deeper down the rabbit hole, the dirt quickly becomes a supporting member of the cast, and the crumbly volcanic lava field quickly reminds me that this is a story about Rangitoto.
No music was needed for this hike. I had all the inspiration I could need. An hour in I decide to plug in. The first song Emeli Sandé – ‘Wonder’ felt appropriate. Oh wait, did that sign just say ‘lava cave’? I change direction with no hesitation.
I enter the lava cave, and yes, it’s bloody dark. Apple should maybe think about upgrading their iPhone flashlight for caving (just a suggestion). I can’t see a thing. My foot slips, but I carry on. The still of the lava cave is replaced with this surreal spotlight from above. I CAN SEE! (And take a photo).
I make my way to Rangitoto’s Summit. With heavy legs, I fumble. [Wait, that’s just because I’m clumsy and can’t walk, the heavy legs came later]. The hike changes with every step, I start to climb the stairway to the top. I’m tired but I don’t want to stop, and I didn’t until I reached the top. 259m above sea level, the view was amazing. But then there was this other path on my way down that everyone else was ignoring – it called me.
The hiking trail was replaced with a sea of uneven volcanic rock. The heat was radiating onto me, and I was sweating from every pore. I start descending. Then for about 20 minutes it switched into an uphill climb. An hour passes and I haven’t seen a single human. Along the way, I picked up one of the rocks to examine it in my hand. And I start thinking about whether you can smoke using it – how cool does a clove and volcanic rock smoked New Zealand Galouti Kebab sound?!
Anyways, I finally make it back to the regular trail and I have a choice – Rangitoto Wharf or Bay Wharf. I pick the other one. In hindsight that was probably not the smartest choice. I ended up walking for another 1 ½ hours! My legs become heavy: moving faster than my head, ahh going too fast. The Britomart farmer’s market fruit that I bought that morning ($3 huge bag of local, non-sprayed fruit from Auckland), started to feel as heavy as a small child in my backpack. It was supposed to be roughly a 2-hour roundtrip. But, for the first time in ages, I really didn’t need to have any sense of time. Although the ferry leaves at 4pm and the 5pm is the last one, and I kind of had dinner plans at 5pm, and oh fuck…
‘Dog Days Are Over’ by Florence + the Machine comes on my shuffled iTunes playlist. If Florence tells you to ‘run fast’, you should probably do just that! I MADE IT! I catch the 4pm ferry back, then a bus ride to my hostel, quick shower and then it’s time for a homemade Kiwi feast made with lots of love and great conversations – the perfect end to a perfect day in New Zealand.
Rangitoto may have been a dormant volcano, but I put my finger on its pulse and felt the rhyme of its heartbeat. The meshing of new vs. old seemed like the perfect way to describe Auckland, its history and its culture.
“I can beat the night,
I’m not afraid of thunder,
I am full of light,
I am full of wonder” (Emeli Sandé ‘Wonder’)
My 8-month adventure has officially begun.