Exploring the NZ islands: Rangitoto and Waiheke

North-facing shore of Waiheke, New Zealand. October 2017
Upon arriving to Auckland, clearing in, and proceeding to a marina to finish the boat delivery between Fiji and Westhaven, I did some exploring of the nearby islands.

View of the Auckland approach, reef formations stretching in all directions.
Auckland’s landscape is defined by volcanoes, both on the hilly shores and in the form of volcanic islands. I visited the youngest of them, Rangitoto. Its perfectly symmetrical shape is clearly seen when approaching the city by water.

It’s possible to get to Rangitoto by boat, ferry, or kayak. Whichever you choose, make sure you do not bring any pests to the island’s fragile microbiosphere. Clean your shoes from soil because it may contain tiny seeds, eggs, or microorganisms. Make sure the vessel you bring ashore does not have any stowaways. Check your luggage for ants, skinks, rodents etc. This is the only way to keep the islands clear from non-indigenous invasive species. You’ll see a lot of informative signs about pests, and will see means of pest-control all around the island.

If you are taking a kayak, there is a bit of planning to do beforehand. This is the busiest passage in Auckland, and you will need to communicate with both Coast Guard and port authorities. There is a work-around though, and it is to book a trip with a kayaking company who would do that kind of communication for you. Kayak companies will not rent you any kayaks if they suspect you will be going to the islands without pre-arranging the trip. Talk to Fergs Kayaks in advance, an adventurer-friendly place run by Ian Ferguson who is a Olympic gold winner.

When you have done that, you can enjoy an awesome kayaking trip, that will take you from 1 to 2 hours in each direction, depending on wind, waves, traffic, and physical abilities. On the day I was there, gale force winds were reported to be rolling in in the afternoon, but I did not notice much in the lee of the bay. The frequent rain clouds may create some local gusts though.

Leaving the kayak on the dock, you can walk to the summit. The island consists of rugged lava, which is very hard to walk on without shredding shoes to pieces, and the lush almost impenetrable vegetation that manages to grow on top of it. Your best bet is to keep to the tracks that start by the ferry dock. They are well-looked after and would be good for trail running. I brought a 90 liter backpack with about 20 kg weight to do a fast-paced up-hill walking workout. Very nice after keeping my legs still in the boat of a week!

View from the volcano
The tracks will lead you to the top of the volcano, with 360-degree views of the surroundings - you'll recognize both Auckland's skyline and all the islands and peninsulas in the vicinity. The crater itself is lined with vegetation. Manuka predominates on the bottom, and fills the air with an enchanting sweet fragrance. The volcano is dormant, but there are no guarantees that it will not wake up at any time.

Volcano crater, as seen from the brim

You can choose to walk around the brim, visit some other interesting spots with unique plants, and explore lava caves in the vicinity. Bring your own torch – the caves are unexpectedly large, quite dark, and very beautiful inside.

There are a few ferries a day going back to the mainland. The island does not have any shops, eateries or places to stay, so you’d have to camp if you want to spend a night here for some reason – otherwise a half a day is quite plenty for Rangitoto. Bring a lot of water, it’s very dry here.

While Rangitoto shows off wild beauty and mostly lack of civilization, Waiheke Island is quite the opposite. Densely populated, it is home to numerous vinyeards, eateries, bars, luxurious B&Bs and hotels, and an eclectic art scene. While Rangitoto invites you for an adventure, Waiheke is all about pleasant experience tourism and sophisticated environments. 

Onetangi beach

Flowers and trees at the beach
This island is visited daily by crowds of tourists, who are mostly here for the wine tasting. There are however a few beautiful beaches ready for wave and kite surfers, and a tiny bit of trekking. The westernmost part of the island is the most populated, so a trip towards the northern side (for example, Onetangi beach which you can see on the photos) is advised.

Brave surfer in the chilly October waters
View of Eastern Onetangi Beach from the lush hilltops that surround it
Weather changes fast, make sure you anchor wisely

VIew from the lush volcanic hills surrounding the Northern beaches - on the way to the vineyards.
The vineyards have a steady production of premium wines, that are not exported, and mostly consumed by the tourists that visit Waiheke. Most of the vineyards have a "cellar door" where it's possible to taste the different wines; usually the vineyard will have a tasting set, or sometimes two - a regular and a premium. Some of the places will have a full-blown wine menu, and all serve food, everything from bar plates to very sophisticated wine pairings. Most of the grapevines are quite young, which is different to the Old World. There is a variety of grapes grown there, and there are several exciting blends produced.

The view from Mudbrick Vinyard, the most famous of them all - according to Lonely Planet, this place is one of the top ones to visit in Auckland.
Waiheke was a civilized contrast to my other adventures, like being in a tiny well-groomed fairy-tale land. It is most definitely beautiful, but as I mentioned earlier – it is not a place for daring adventures, but rather for enjoying wine, art, fine food, and the views. Not too bad to rest from the sailing though. I was under the effect of such land sickness that I thought there was an earthquake when I woke up after a short nap!

There are much more photos of the islands on Instagram, see my profile: @adrenalenaadventures