An insiders’ guide to Auckland’s volcanoes
Forget the City of Sails, Auckland was once very much the City of Volcanoes. It has a long history of volcanic activity that has shaped the mounded hills and troughs of the Auckland that we know and love today.
A short history of Auckland’s volcanic activity
Somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000 years ago, volcanoes started appearing in the area that would become known as Auckland. Some of the oldest are Onepoto Domain and Pupuke, and the oldest within the city are most likely Albert Park and the Domain.
In total, there have been 48 active volcanoes in and around Auckland city in that time, all of which are within 20 kilometres of the city centre. Fortunately, the volcanic field is now dormant, with only a 0.001 per cent chance of an eruption in any given year, according to the Auckland City Council.
Here are three of the most notable dormant volcanoes in the region that each make for a popular Auckland tourist attraction.
Rangitoto Island casts an impressive silhouette against the harbour skyline, and has its roots as both the largest and most recent volcanic eruption in Auckland.
It erupted just 600 years ago, and according to Te Ara, Rangitoto expelled as much lava in one volcanic event as all other volcanoes combined. Translated, the name means ‘sky blood’.
Today, Rangitoto Island is a popular attraction you can visit for hiking and Auckland sightseeing trips. It is home to New Zealand’s largest pohutukawa forest, as well as more than 150 species of native trees and plants.
In 2009, the Department of Conservation began work to eradicate the seven pest species on the island. On August 27 2011, Rangitoto was officially declared as pest-free, which is why you can now hear saddlebacks around the summit, and see tuis, tomtits, whiteheads, bellbirds and other fantastic species around the island, making for an ideal Auckland birding spot.
To most Aucklanders, Mt Eden is a family friendly domain, with some challenging walks due to its steep incline.
While it is both of those things, it is also the tallest volcano in the Auckland area at 196 metres tall, and has three beautiful overlapping cones at the top. You can even look down into the crater, which is about 50 metres deep.
Mt Eden is also known as Maungawhau, and last erupted 15,000 years ago. In some places, the lava flow was 60 metres thick.
If you’re going on a tour in Auckland and visit Mt Eden, be sure to look out for the native bush life, which is still in abundance on the old lava flow at the Almorah Road section. Here you will find bush such as whau, karaka, pigeonwood, kohekohe, mahoe, puriri, titoki, karamu and rangiora.
The domain itself is protected from damage by the Historical Places Act as an archaeological site.
Affectionately known simply as ‘the Waitaks’ to locals, the ranges here are the result of volcanic activity millions of years ago, dating back much further than the relatively recent volcanoes of Auckland city.
This began in the Miocene period, which was roughly 15 to 22 million years ago. The Waitakere Ranges were initially under water, but when the Pacific and Australia tectonic plates collided, it resulted in the massive Waitakere volcano rising from the ocean. Now deeply eroded, the remnants of this volcano create some of the most beautiful landscapes in New Zealand, making for unforgettable day tours from Auckland.
Only 40 minutes from Auckland city, the Waitakere Ranges offer 16,000 hectares of native rainforest and coastlines, with more than 250 kilometres of walking tracks and enchanting features such as the Karekare Falls. It’s where you will find regenerated kauri trees, nikau palms, and New Zealand’s iconic silver fern.
Find out why Auckland’s beaches are the best in the world
From black sand surf beaches to pristine golden bays with crystal clear water, the greater Auckland region is home to three harbours and hundreds of kilometres of spectacular coastline, covering a range of diverse landscapes.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet white sand beach to stroll along, an exciting surfing adventure, an unforgettable hiking trip, or a world-class bird watching experience, this stunning piece of paradise in the southern hemisphere is the perfect beachside holiday destination. And as a local eco tour company, we know all the region’s best kept secrets.
Here’s why we think Auckland’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world…
The sheer diversity
There is a huge variety of choices in the greater Auckland region, from the stunning white sand beaches right on the city’s doorstep to the dramatic sea cliffs on the West Coast.
Within easy reach of Auckland, Whatipu, at the entrance of Manukau Harbour, is a spectacular scenic reserve at the Waitakere Ranges, with native bush, black sand, caves, cliffs and marshland covering the untamed landscape. It is the perfect place for a relaxed day of sightseeing and walking, with interesting history and outstanding views along the way.
If you’d rather a bit more of a lively atmosphere, the contrasting Long Bay, with its stunning white sand beach, lush parkland and fantastic walking trails, is home to a thriving local community – popular with local and visiting families. It is home to 28 hectares of community parks and protected heritage sites, with magnificent views across the Hauraki Gulf.
Auckland has some of the world’s most amazing beaches, and Habitat Tours will give you a first-hand taste of what can be found across the region.
The forest meets the sea
Just 40 minutes from Auckland city centre, the incredible Waitakere Ranges cover a stunning 16,000 hectares (39,000 acres) of rainforests and coastline, and it is the ideal setting for an unforgettable day tour. Within the spectacular region, there are 250 kilometres of walking and hiking trails with breathtaking views of unspoilt beaches as well as an open sea that separates New Zealand from Australia. The area is a surfer’s paradise, with pounding waters rolling onto the iron ore-rich black sand. Being an area of such outstanding natural beauty, you might even catch some filming underway. The Piano and Xena: Warrior Princess are just two examples of some of the many productions that have taken advantage of the beautiful filming location.
The spectacular wildlife
From rare birds to giant marine animals, Auckland’s beaches and waters are home to an abundance of wildlife. The stunning peninsula, vibrant farmland, long, sandy beaches and majestic Pacific Ocean at Tawharanui Regional Park are perfect for picnics, walking and swimming, but above all else, the area is a utopia for bird watching. The park is home to a protected breeding area of very rare New Zealand dotterel birds, with an ecology trail beginning on the beach, continuing onto farmland and then into a valley with a native forest. At night, the skies offer some world-class stargazing opportunities, and you might even see the famous but secretive nocturnal kiwi in its natural habitat.
Besides endemic and rare birds, the bays and harbours across the vast stretch of greater Auckland coastline are lucky enough to be visited by beautiful sea creatures, including bottlenose and common dolphins, and the particularly magnificent orca.
The amazing islands
There are 47 stunning islands dotting the Hauraki Gulf, which stretches between Auckland, Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier Island. The islands can be reached by ferry and make fantastic day tours packed with hiking, bird watching and unforgettable sightseeing. The volcanic Rangitoto Island is home to the world’s largest pohutakawa forest and visitors can see the black lava caves while climbing to the summit.
For wine lovers, Waiheke is an absolute must – known as the island of wine, because of its many wineries and vineyards. There are plenty of tasting and tour opportunities on the island, along with beautiful beaches and scenic cycling and walking trails.
Leave the world behind for a truly incredible experience on Great Barrier Island, a sanctuary of untouched wilderness, with wonderful native forests, pristine sea coves, quiet beaches and peaceful walking trails.
The Department of Conservation, Auckland Council and volunteers have put an enormous effort into the conservation and restoration of the region’s spectacular islands. The projects have been particularly successful on Tiritiri Matangi, Motutapu and Motuihe, with the reintroduction of native wildlife.
The best ways to explore Auckland and its beautiful surrounding beaches and landscapes is with a local who knows all the secrets and hidden gems of the region. Habitat Tours offers intimate eco day tours and bird watching tours with passionate expert guides.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist