Rangitoto Summit Track

Rangitoto Summit Track - Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Summit Track

Rangitoto Island


55 Rankers Reviews

50 Face-to-Face

Your Nature Guide

Marios Gavalas's avatar

Marios Gavalas

Author And Researcher

Nau mai, haere mai

Nau mai, haere mai

I'm Marios, delivering the best of Aotearoa's nature walks to your device.

I've personally walked hundreds of New Zealand's tracks and spent months in libraries uncovering interesting information on New Zealand/Aotearoa. And you'll find a slice of that research on this page - enjoy!


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Rangitoto Island
The jetty on Rangitoto Island
Sunset with Rangitoto Island in the distance
Bach, Rangitoto


7 km return | 2 hours return

Rangitoto is the landmark of the Auckland metropolitan area, dwarfing the city’s skyline with impressive majesty. Its attenuated curve and unmistakable volcanic form provide a stunning backdrop to views in the Auckland Region. It also serves as a reminder of the restless forces beneath the city rendering its immortality and fragility.

The conical peak rises to 259 metres and its primeval landscape of bare scoria rock, slowly being enveloped with an assemblage of hardy vegetation, provides the walker with a unique atmosphere. Relics of permanent settlement such as baches, shipwrecks and fortifications impart a human dimension to the experiences gained on Rangitoto’s shores.


Fullers run daily ferries to Rangitoto Wharf. Visit www.fullers.co.nz or phone (09) 367 9111 for timetable information.


From Rangitoto wharf, continue for 2 minutes past the information shelter to the signpost for the Summit Track. This scoria path is a sanitised version of the scoria fields either side, with hardy pohutukawa sprouting from cracks in the frothy substrate.

Several stopping points are furnished with benches and interpretation panels. Views stretch out towards the City.

After around 45 minutes is the 30-minute return detour to the lava caves. Take care following the yellow topped green marker posts over the lava field, as these lead to the lava caves, one of which is possible to crawl through. Take a torch. And a hard hat if you have one! It’s really easy to scrape your noggin and the scoria is totally unforgiving.

Back on the main track there’s a 15-minute option to circumnavigate the crater.

Or just head left up the wooden steps to the viewing platform at the summit (259m)

Return via the same track, although there are other options for a descent.
ain track, passing the junction with Wilson’s Park Track, there is a boardwalk with interpretive panels on the geology. The track takes 40 minutes to descend to the wharf and is wide and well formed through scoria fields.


The City of Auckland lies directly above a hot spot, a large pool of molten rock, which periodically spawns a smaller bubble of magma. Through convection this rises towards the earth’s surface, eventually working its way through the crust to disgorge its contents as a volcano. Rangitoto is the most recent addition to the Auckland Volcanic Field. The earliest volcanoes erupted around 100,000-140,000 years ago and in between periods of relative quiescence, other phases of intense vulcanism have occurred. Of Auckland’s 48 volcanoes 32 have appeared in the last 30,000 years.

Rangitoto stands as the proud aristocrat of all Auckland’s volcanoes. It is larger than all the others combined and the only one to have erupted through sea water. Around 600 years ago the initial rumblings were superseded by an explosive outpouring of ash, which buried the nearby Maori settlement on Motutapu. The fluid magma which followed flowed easily, building up the attenuated curves so distinctive of Rangitoto. The shape is known as a shield volcano.

Occasionally scoria cones formed nipples on the summit, which were buried beneath subsequent blankets of ash and collapsed. Today’s profile is a scoria cone ringed with the remnants of since destroyed examples. When lava cooled at the conclusion of the last eruption it sank onto the vent and formed the moat-like collar around the summit.

The lava caves were originally discovered by Mr W. Wilson in 1912. They were formed when liquefied lava cooled on its outer surface, while a molten river within the hardened outer shell drained away to leave the cavity. These curious geological features have an eerie quietness, far removed from the fiery volcanic processes which formed them. Where there is now a spooky emptiness to the tunnels was once a river of fire, flowing with the power of an unstoppable juggernaught. These are a memorable diversion from the overground features.


Kidney ferns are sprinkled throughout the shaded forest floor. Their luminescent green adorns the trackside ground, providing a unique and surreal atmosphere to the walk.

The kidney fern is a filmy fern with a delicate kidney-shaped lobed frond. The intense green is best demonstrated after periods of rain. Here on Rangitoto it forms a dense community, carpeting the forest floor with a luxuriant assemblage of fragile tissue-like foliage

Despite the apparent inhospitality of the Rangitoto landscape over 250 species of flowering plant and native trees and 40 species of fern inhabit the jagged crevices of the scoria surface. Numerous lichens, mosses, liverworts are the first agents of soils formation. They draw moisture for the underground reservoirs of water, filtered through the haphazard rocky surface inhibiting stream formation. The dark surface of the scoria holds more heat and nurtures ideal habitats for the humidity, moisture loving colonisers, whose embryonic soils provide sustenance for crevice plants such as Peperomia and Psilotum nudum.

Once small communities of leaf bearing plants are established, the litter produced is sufficient for seedlings of native shrubs and trees to propagate, and coastal forests similar to those on the mainland flourish. Some unusual hybridisation has occurred on Rangitoto, the most notable between pohutukawa and tree rata, forming a variation in leaf characteristics. Rangitoto exhibits some large pohutukawa forests, especially around the coastal rim. As the roots delve between the rock crevices to exploit the sub surface moisture, the growing tree sheds leaf litter for soil formation and provides shade for a succession of koromiko, mingiminigi and puka. Pohutukawa is thus a nursery species, engendering the formation of forest islands, which eventually link to form fully fledged forests.

The vegetation assemblages on Rangitoto are particularly notable because all stages of forest development from colonisation of bare scoria to flourishing forest are exhibited.

Polynesian History

The beginnings of it Maori name are unsure. Some say Rangitoto means “Sky reaching”, while earlier Maori translate it as “red” or “bloody sky”. This suggests early migrants from Polynesia may have seen it during one of its eruptions, shining like a Gargantuan beacon lighting Waitemata shores.

Another theory suggests Rangitoto is a shortened form of “Te Rangi-I-totonga-a-Tama-te-Kapua”, which translated means “the days bleeding of Tama te Kapua.” This notable captain of the Arawa waka is said to have done battle in Islington Bay.

Various mythological explanations have been conferred upon the island. One tells of Pupuke Moana, a mountain which rose from the site of present day Lake Pupuke. The mountain was cast by a demi-god to its present site in a mighty show of strength.

Another story refers to the family of giants named the Children of the Fire Gods. After a quarrel their father became angry and cursed the fire god Mahuika. In revenge, she retaliated with a ferocious earthquake, turning the giants to stone and sinking them into the ground. This formed Lake Pupuke and meanwhile Rangitoto rose form the ground.

Early Maori use of Rangitoto was as a burial place, lookout in times of war and parrot reserve. However the harshness of the environment, with little freshwater, cultivable soil and sharp edges on the scoria precluded any settlement of the island, with nearby Motutapu being more hospitable.

European History

On 17th January 1854 Rangitoto was sold to he Crown for £15 by chief Ngatai of Ngatipaoa.

Rangitoto was set aside as a Recreation Reserve in 1890 by Devonport Borough Council and soon after Aucklanders sailed across and picnicked on the shore. It soon became apparent a landing wharf was necessary and work was completed in 1897. At the same time The “Pioneer Track” to the summit was opened providing incentive for more visitors.

By the 1920s Rangitoto was gaining popularity as a weekend sojourn and the pioneer baches were beginning to sprout.

Despite donations from ferry tolls and bach rates, the income was insufficient for the construction of a proposed road to the summit. In 1925 the use of convict labour was approved and construction commenced. Work progressed following the western shoreline and then traversed the island to Islington Bay, with a direct access from the Rangitoto Wharf to the summit. The tracks today follow the hard graft of the prison labourers.

Islington Bay was originally named Oruawharu Bay. The name Drunken Bay was later conferred as in the days of sail, crews would often rest there to sober up before the outward bound journey. It was named Islington Bay after Lord Islington, Governor of New Zealand.

From the early 1920s baches sprung up, pieced together with the usual motley of discarded building materials and healthy doses of ingenuity. The resulting edifices were models of functionalism and eloquently adapted to their environment. By 1935 52 baches were strung along the foreshore of Islington Bay, and today they still exude the nostalgic charm of yesteryear. By 1937 there were 121 buildings on the island.

Following damming reports in the early 1930s by Auckland City Council and Waitemata County Council, the presence of the baches became precarious as it was judged the unique natural features of Rangitoto were being eroded and threatened. Despite protest from the Rangitoto Island Protection League, composed of bach owners and island residents, a Government decision in 1938 forbade any more building permits, prohibited sale or transfer of existing premises and gave residents a 20 year notice to evacuate the island with their dwellings.

In 1956 the benefits of the residents was acknowledged. The control of introduced pests, protection of the rare biota from thieves and their guardianship of the island was finally appreciated. Existing residents were granted residency on the island for the rest of their natural lives. In 1968 the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park Board took control of Rangitoto. Guardian ship has now been passed to the Department of Conservation.

During World War 2, neighbouring Motutapu became the scene of fervent activity. A Fire Command Post was built on the summit of Rangitoto, from where the overall command of coastal defences in Auckland were organised. At the Controlled Mine Base the navy rigged a chain of mines which could be detonated to defend the approach to Auckland harbour. A wharf near the base was constructed for the Americans, who spearheaded the defensive operations and the legacy of this intervention remains in the naming of Yankee Wharf.


Feature Value Info


DOC Auckland

Central government organisation


North IslandAuckland RegionAuckland


  • Walking
  • Free


Showing 13 reviews of 52.

Raphaele's avatar


Ranking: 10/10

Best thing to do in Auckland, impressive landscape and great views. I'd recommend taking the coastal walkway and make your way back via summit road, lava caves and the summit (in that order) to avoid most of the crowds.

Reviewed over 3 years ago

C J B's avatar


New Zealand

Ranking: 10/10

Auckland best stop, walk suitable for most.
Toilets at base, 50min direct walk to top, but plenty places to stop: rock outcrops, lava caves, infographics to learn how plants came to be on a volcano without soil. Summit itself looks out to Coromandel, Waiheke and the City. Explore the secrets of the crater during the World wars. We encountered the protected saddleback bird. Incredible.

For saving money in the city: Total cost ~$55
We camped at Panmure wharf reserve, a free for all vehicle site not listed with Rankers. Toilets 24/7. Booking for the 7:30 early bird Ferry, we scored at $23pp. A 6am wake up was more than enough time to organise picnic food (you'll need it) and get to downtown parking, a 1 min walk to terminal with a saturday cost of $10 for the 7.5 hours used.

Reviewed about 4 years ago

Andreas Zedelius's avatar

Andreas Zedelius


Ranking: 9/10

DOC walk around the island was really great, lava caves were impressive.

Reviewed almost 5 years ago and experienced in January 2017

Alex Hah's avatar

Alex Hah


Ranking: 7/10

We took the early morning ferry to Rangitoto Island, which was good to avoid some of the crowds later in the day. Track goes mainly through bush, with a great view at the top.

Reviewed almost 6 years ago and experienced in January 2017

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Ian Hammond's avatar

Ian Hammond

New Zealand

Ranking: 9/10

Walk to the summit and around the base. Best views and beautiful.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in January 2017

Patricia Trigo's avatar

Patricia Trigo


Ranking: 10/10

Very easy walk. An amazing landscape, where you could also see lava caves! During the sailing you could see the skyline of Auckland.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in October 2016

Leonie Brabers's avatar

Leonie Brabers


Ranking: 8/10

We did the summit walk uphill. It was a nice climb with gorgeous views on surrounding islands.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in November 2016

Soeren Buchheister's avatar

Soeren Buchheister


Ranking: 9/10

Volcanic Island you can visit by taking a boat. See the skyline of Auckland and do the two hour walk to the summit of the volcano.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in November 2016

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Marc Perales's avatar

Marc Perales

New Zealand

Ranking: 8/10

Really great walk (2 hours), up a volcano. Really amazing lava caves.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in November 2016

Mikael Thyselius's avatar

Mikael Thyselius


Ranking: 8/10

Rather pricey ferry but no guide needed. Amazing view of Auckland. Not too hard to walk up, allow a few hours.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Erika Tarant's avatar

Erika Tarant


Ranking: 10/10

Amazing views, both on the way up and along the way. I loved it.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Leonie's avatar



Ranking: 7/10

Lovely hike to the top of the island. Reward is an amazing view - 360 degree including Auckland.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Thomas Le Buzulier's avatar

Thomas Le Buzulier


Ranking: 8/10

Very nice track.

Reviewed almost 6 years ago and experienced in March 2016

DOC Managed

Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍

Cymen Crick's avatar

Cymen Crick

Rankers Owner