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The low, conical shape of Rangitoto, 10km northeast of the city centre, is a familiar sight to every Aucklander. Yet few set foot on the island, missing out on a freakish land of fractured black lava with the world’s largest pohutukawa forest clinging precariously to its crevices. Alongside lies the older, and geologically quite distinct, island of Motutapu or “sacred island”, linked to Rangitoto by a narrow causeway.
A day-trip is enough to get a feel for Rangitoto, make the obligatory hike to the summit (from where there are magnificent views of the city and Hauraki Gulf) and tackle a few trails, but longer stays are possible if you pitch your tent at the primitive campsite at Home Bay on Motutapu.
Rangitoto is Auckland’s youngest and largest volcano. Molten magma probably pushed its way through the bed of the Hauraki Gulf around six hundred years ago – watched by Motutapu Maori, who apparently called the island “blood red sky” after the spectacle that accompanied its creation.
The government purchased Rangitoto for £15 in 1854, putting it to use as a military lookout point and a work camp for prisoners. From the 1890s, areas were leased for camping and unauthorized baches were cobbled together on the sites. Over 100 baches had sprouted by the late 1930s when legislation stopped any new construction. In recent years, the cultural value of this unique set of 1920s and 1930s houses has been appreciated and the finest examples of the remaining 34 are being preserved for posterity, their corrugated-iron chimneys and cast-off veranda-railing fenceposts capturing the Kiwi make-do spirit.