As I am sure none of you know, today is the Queen’s birthday – actually not. Her real birthday is around April but each of the loyal colonies celebrates the day on a convenient day with a public holiday – Long live the Queen!
So today we decided to climb a mountain – actually not. It is a high hill – actually not, it is a volcanic island with a cone: Rangitoto. This island dominates the the Auckland seascape and is as much the emblem of the city as Table Mountain is of the “Visdorpie”.
For us getting to the top of Rangitoto involves taking two ferries (one into town and another to the island). Despite the public holiday we were up at 6:45 and on the ferry by 8:30. Mark Sainsbury joined us. The ferry journey is very short and by 9:45 we were tramping (that’s what they call hiking here) up the hill.
Rangitoto is New Zealand’s most recent volcano. It started erupting in about 1200 and finished about 1400 – each eruption spewing out another layer of lava. The island is remarkably symmetrical and looks exactly the same from any vantage point in Auckland. From a distance is looks black whereas all the neighbouring islands look verdant and inviting. Rangitoto looks stark and ominous, so when we decided to climb it I pictured miles of sun burnt rock with not a spot of vegetation. There are indeed massive fields of scoria which are barren except for patches of lichen and moss. But there are also beautiful and well-established forests, especially near the summit. The walk is fairly gentle to begin with but near the summit the going gets tougher. We spent just half an hour on the summit before we split up and I walked back down to the ferry to see off Jules who had to go back home to attend a choir practice.
As an aside, Karen and I mumbled about how amazing it is to put one’s daughter on a series of ferries, unaccompanied (and she would need to walk about 3 kms from the terminal to our house) and she would need to spend about two hours alone in the centre of the city between ferries, and not worrying about whether she will make it home in one piece.
While I was rushing down the mountain the other three were browsing around lava caves (which form when the crust of lava solidifies but the lava under the surface is still liquid and flows away).
Then there was the hike to meet up with the other three and that took place in a most beautiful place called Islington Bay Wharf – a tranquil little bay between the islands of Rangitoto and Motutapu. I absorbed the beauty of the place for about 20 minutes while waiting for the others and thought that all this visual simplicity and soul stirring beauty is adding days to my lifespan. It is just so peaceful and centring to look at scenes like this.
But the tranquillity evaporated with the sound of four galloping feet belonging to Mark and Etienne. We briefly crossed over to Motutapu and then turned for home to catch the last ferry off the island. Having walked 18kms we were exhausted and happy to be off our feet.
But, just like Jules, we had a long wait between ferries so Mark gallantly led us up Queen Street (how appropriate) to an alley where we found the Belgian Beer Café. I thought I was dead and in heaven. There is nothing better after a long day’s walking than a tankard of Belgian Wit bier (wheat bear) with its spicy, aromatic flavours. We had time on our hands so we had some supper too which was equally brilliant: spicy meatballs, Caesar salad, pomme frites, and a burger for Et. We still had time so I allowed Mark to force down a dark, Belgian beer before we headed for the ferry, then home for one of the most enjoyable hot showers in memory – and I am sure my entire family was as relieved as me.
A very memorable day and I am pleased we ticked that one off the list. We need to go back in summer to spend a night or two in some of the Baches which can be found on the eastern shores.