Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | January 6, 2009

Tryst with Volcano

Volcanism is the reason for most of New Zealand’s geographical feature, the Auckland museum has an entire section devoted to volcanoes. It is one of the best places I have visited where volcanoes are discussed through interactive menus, live shows, photographs, models coupled with stereophonic audio-visual and three dimensional effects. Volcanoes are widely talked about, read and visited in New Zealand. Auckland city itself is created by nearly 50 volcanic eruptions and the park next to our place is one of the first such eruptions. New Zealand’s (as well as Auckland’s) volcanic history is one of the most interesting reads unlike high school Geography.

Visit to the Rangitoto Island was my closest tryst with an already erupted volcano and it was breathtaking. It would be of historical significance to mention here that Rangitoto is the most recent and the largest (2311 hectares) of the 50 volcanoes in Auckland. It was formed by a series of eruptions between 600 and 700 years ago. From the Auckland harbor and any of the prominent beaches of Auckland, the island is clearly visible with its enigmatic aplomb. It is hauntingly attractive and we gave in to its magnetic attraction today.

We took a ferry ride to Rangitoto and it took us 45 minutes to reach there from Auckland. Information booklets told us, that Rangitoto Island is uninhabited and thus you would not find any place to buy food or water, you cannot stay in the island and you cannot throw any rubbish there. As our ferry touched the Rangitoto wharf, we could sense that despite being just 45 minutes away from city life, we have reached a place, which is so distinctly different. Surrounded by water and beautiful scenery, we were at a very recent volcanic eruption zone and we did not know what to expect. To me 600-700 years means a long time back but a visit to the island showed that it is nothing in historical context.

Lava Tracks

Lava Tracks

The walk / trek to the Island summit was supposed to be of two and half hours uphill. Though the naturally adventurous Kiwis finds it easy but I would not consider it a mean feat especially since one has to walk through path ways which are made up of molten lava (they are not well laid out roads) and thus you need hunting boots. However, we would have given it a shot but considering that my knee is not the best in business, thanks to an old injury and we had older people traveling with us we opted for a ride on a tractor driven carriage up the summit. The driver of the carriage, the tour guide, was aware of the island history and his commentary along the way was worth paying for. Initially while I was feeling a bit bad not to have walked up the terrain, but because of the commentary I felt more learned.

Lava Fields

Lava Field

As we moved on the carriage, we saw dense forests with very weird looking trees, ferns. There were hardly any flower bearing trees barring some that are called “Christmas flower” locally. These are called such since the flowers are red and they bloom during this time of the year. Orchids bearing flowers were visible too. Apparently, more than 200 species of trees and flowers thrive on the island, including several species of orchid, as well as more than 40 types of fern.

Dense Forest

Dense Forest

The roads are all made up of rocks, which are actually molten lava. Seeing them, I could imagine a sea of lava was flowing and suddenly solidifying to form rocks. Our guide informed us that this place underneath is still very warm and thus there aren’t any ponds on the island. Rainwater is instantly soaked in by the warm earth and thus very rare species of plantations grow here. You would not see birds in the island since there are no fruit bearing trees. Insects do inhabit the island. If you touch the ground, you could still feel the heat.

Vegetation

Vegetation amidst rocks

It is a weird feeling to be in a dense forest where there are no dangerous animals, snakes (NZ does not have snakes at all!), birds, and people (other than tourists). Somehow, it is little scary too, because of the lava fields. If you have read a little about how volcanoes erupt all of a sudden from under the sea or you have seen some videos or photographs, the rock paths look intimidating. The island is all trees and lava fields.
Interesting shape taken by Lava

Interesting shape taken by Lava

These lava fields sometimes have taken amazing natural shapes too. While on the island, I was finding it so hard to believe that one fine day some thing as huge as a mass of land came out from under the ocean. Apparently, all these rocks are rich in different kinds of minerals and the trees that are growing here (absolutely naturally) have been found to be useful for pharmaceutical purposes. The tour guide showed us some plants, which are used by tribal people for coloring clothes, and some which are used as antiseptic. I did not need to be a botanist to find out that each and every tree is so different from each other and since they have grown in between the lava fields, it looks all the more contrasting.

Apparently, it takes thousands of years for an erupted volcano to become a normal land. During the late 1800s and early 1900’s, there have been times when man tried settling here – through illegal means of sudden encroachment. Many people even brought animals from nearby islands and spread them in Rangitoto. This created growth of some animals in most unnatural environment of the island. These attempts of encroachment, made the Government take all efforts with strict laws to protect the sanctity of this place. The Government felt that these attempts would have destroyed the ecological balance of this island when it is still not completely suitable for human / animal inhabitance.

Those attempts were completely restricted from 1937 onwards. This Department of Conservation under the Government of NZ ensures that the island is protected and is allowed to thrive naturally without any illegal human interventions. Thus, there are no animals here now, other than the insects, which grow naturally. In fact, Government took all successful efforts to eradicate all others that were brought in by human beings.

View from the summit

View from the summit

This is the primary reason why there are only four ferries running from Auckland during the day and there are no restaurants or hotels. There aren’t any museums either. Some small houses built by those who encroached the island in the early 1900’s remain intact within the island though. Of course, nobody stays there any longer.

Despite the Government’s intent, you would not feel however that you have entered a prohibited area (like we have in India with notice boards such as “don’t touch flowers”, “don’t throw rubbish” etc). There aren’t any notices and boards to instruct (or prohibit you). In a very dignified way, nobody is entertained with anything other than enjoyment of the natural spectacle of the island.

During the start of our tour as we introduced ourselves to each other and the guide, he informed us politely that he would feel tremendously proud if we don’t through any rubbish around the island, since there is no garbage collection from here and if we don’t smoke for environmental purposes!

Though we took the carriage (along with 50 other people at that time), we did trek to the top of the summit. Ours was a 45 minutes walk up the hill after the carriage stopped. The view from the summit is breathtaking to say the least.

We came down the summit partly walking down the lava fields and partly riding the carriage. We also saw the crater, which is now full of trees but bears the scary signs of an eruption. It is a huge crater. Imagining that some years back, it was erupting fire was shocking.

Stepping and visiting Rangitoto was like visiting a different world that is still at its nascent stage of growth – 600 or 700 years of age is nothing it seemed. The island being largest, youngest and one of the least modified volcanic cones in the world, represents an attempt by people in preserving nature at all costs. It is surprising that it is so near to city yet so untouched by anything that city life offers.

This is the first time I saw a place where trees, insects, sea and rocks are at peace. There aren’t any things to disturb them – not even birds. Yes, sometime we land up there as we did today to break their monotony but they must be wishing us to leave every moment. I hope God grants them their wish most times and let the conservationists do their job with utmost diligence.

I ended up taking more than hundred photographs in a matter of three hours!

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Responses

  1. Over there at Auckland you are very happy. Right? I am glad that you are feeling so happy over there. I wish you a very happy life at Auckland and many more adventures. I am looking forward to many more accounts of your adventures at Auckland. I might never have the financial strength to visit Auckland. But I do not think I need that. Because I am already visiting several places of Auckland almost every week.

  2. Your pictures r amazing really. Am readin ur stuff after such a long time :-)) I went to ‘the kid’ and saw that uve moved here. u r making me wanna visit newzealand tan 🙂 am a big sucker for natural beauty…i hope i get to visit someday 🙂 btw ive moved too….just felt like writing again..check it out if u have time…ive only just started

  3. Enjoyed reading the travelogue, and also the photographs. But I think this post would be more complete with a picture of the boat that took you there and another of the tractor with your guide.


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