28 January 2014

Auckland Anniversary Day

Yesterday was Auckland Anniversary Day, a public holiday in Auckland city and province to commemorate the arrival here in 1840 of Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson, though the events in the city today had little to do with that commemoration.

Traditionally, there is an Anniversary Day Regatta on Waitemata harbour – they have been held every year but one since 1850 – and the sparkling waters of the Waitemata are usually awash with sails and power boats. But this year, from what I saw, not a lot was happening out on the harbour, probably due to the very stiff sou’westerlies.

The Regatta, as reported by the Auckland Weekly News, February 1902
On land and close to it, however, it was a different story. Events held over the long weekend included the Auckland Seafood Festival – much as I love seafood, I didn’t attend. Paying $20 to get in and then having to pay for your food as well didn’t appeal to the Scots blood in my ancestry.

This was also the weekend of the International Buskers Festival so I checked out a few of the street venues to see what was going on. There was juggling, dancing, comedy, puppetry, mime and acrobatics by performers from Brazil, Mexico and Italy as well as some home-grown talent. Scooby Circus’s fire juggling was well done, I watched an escape artist shrug his way out of a well-fastened straitjacket, but I arrived at the end of El Jaguar’s performance so I have no idea what he was up to. His skimpy costume was enough to put me off, though!

Sometimes the spectators (left) are just as interesting as the performers - the poster was just a lucky coincidence

The main focus of the Anniversary Day festivities was on the water and around the waterfront. Activities at the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum included public sailings of their various vessels, the Ted Ashby, the Waka Haunui and the Breeze. The Royal New Zealand Navy’s pipes and drums marching band paraded up and down the waterfront a couple of times. And the Ports of Auckland opened up Captain Cook Wharf for a variety of activities.

The port’s tugs raced down the harbour, then displayed their manoeuvrability with a dizzying array of twists and turns, but the display that had me particularly fascinated was a guy who had hooked up a tube to the outlet of his jetski and was using the hydraulic power the jetski motor generated to lift himself off the water – see the photo.

Sailors dancing on stilts and men dressed as pirates - people watching was very entertaining!
There were displays of machinery – the huge machines that seem to effortlessly lift large, heavy containers, and the trucks that carry those containers. The Coastguard vessel and staff were on hand to answer questions about their role in maritime safety and protecting local waters. You could pay $69 for a helicopter ride around the harbour, and kids could have their faces painted and have fun in bouncy castles and Pink Panthers, on a Pirate Ship ride and whirling round in giant teacups.

Within the confines of Viaduct harbour, dragon boat races were held throughout the day. There were 27 races in all, short bursts of intense paddling over a 250-metre course. Men’s, women’s and mixed teams of all age groups took part, with team names like the Swashbuckler Sirens, the Waikato Treasure Chests, Jack Sparrow’s Jaffettes and the Sky Serpents. It looked like huge fun!


The inner city was absolutely buzzing with large crowds of people enjoying the holiday off work and the summer sunshine, and there were two cruise ships in town, P&O’s Dawn Princess and Silversea’s Silver Whisper, so many of their passengers were also roaming the streets enjoying the fun. A day off work, a bright sunny day, interesting things to see and do … the perfect combination!

25 January 2014

Auckland walks: Orakei Basin

It has been an absolute cracker of a day here in Auckland for the start of our Anniversary Day holiday weekend so I was out early for a long walk … and it was a long walk – just over three hours from go to whoa. I was hot and thirsty and my feet were a bit sore by the time I got home but it was simply wonderful!

I’d been meaning to check out the Orakei Basin walkway for some time but hadn’t ventured quite that far. Of course, I could have caught the train to Orakei station or a bus to various points nearby but I was determined to walk all the way which, as you can see from this map, is quite a distance for me. The basin walk itself is supposedly 4 kms so I figure my walk was around 15kms all up – no wonder my feet got a bit sore!

From home I headed down Constitution hill – a walk back UP it does your constitution the world of good! – then up through Parnell village with a slight detour off Parnell Road to photograph some streetart I’d spotted on a previous day.

From the top of Parnell I turned left by the Cathedral then headed down Brighton Road to join the Hobson Bay walkway at the bottom. This is quite a short walkway, covering just a small part of the bay’s coastline – hopefully it will be extended and completed in the not too distant future.

Mangroves grow in the mud on one side of the path, which runs firstly alongside Thomas Bloodworth Park, then the Shore Road Reserve. There are good views back towards the city centre, with the Sky Tower its perpetual marker, and across the Waitemata harbour towards Mt Victoria in Devonport, North Head and Rangitoto Island – extinct volcanoes all. I had to get back on the pavement for the steep trudge up Shore Road, then turned left down Victoria Ave to rejoin the coastline walkway. Here there is a sandy beach, with lots of scallop shells, and a kingfisher flew in to perch on the end of the short jetty.

The walkway continues along a boardwalk through the mangroves and past the sports fields at St Kentigern College, before once again rejoining Shore Road. I didn’t stop but, if you were feeling thirsty or peckish at this point, you could stop off at Café Greenfingers, at Palmer’s Garden Centre, though a quick google produced some fairly average reviews. I continued across the roundabout and up the appropriately named Upland Road a short walk to the start of the Orakei Basin walkway.

Orakei Basin is the crater of one of Auckland’s 50-odd extinct volcanoes. According to Hayward’s Volcanoes of Auckland, ‘Orakei Basin is a large, 800-metre-diameter explosion crater which erupted on the side of Purewa Creek about 85,000 years ago’.

I expected the Basin walk to be entirely flat but it is, in fact, a mix of flat areas and steep bits, both paths and steps, so it provides a good cardio workout, especially if you keep up a good pace. The first part of the walk took me along a flat grassy area, where locals can unleash their dogs to give them a good run and a swim, then continued through a small area of bush to the clubhouse of the Orakei Water Ski Club, where enthusiasts were out enjoying the perfect weather, practising their twists and turns and somersaults.

The steps up the hill behind the clubhouse were steep, then I crossed the road and headed back on to the track at the other side. A short bridge crosses the Waiatarua arm of the lagoon at this point and the boardwalk continues to ‘shag tree’ – my name for an old tree that today played host to a group of shags, enjoying the early morning sunshine. That necessitated another photo stop.

More steep steps took me up and over another ridge, then down to the boardwalk that runs parallel to the railway line on the eastern side of Orakei Basin. At the end of that boardwalk, I should have stopped for a drink at the Kings Plant Barn café but I decided to keep on.

From there, I walked along Ngapipi Road – the least pleasant part of the walk as the traffic was busy, with many large trucks heading down to the container terminal. But I did spot some oystercatchers hunting for food in the mud at Whakatakataka Bay and then, where a group of old boathouses line up along the waterside of Hobson Bay, a peek between them revealed a group of shags sitting together on a railing, preening – another photo stop. 

Once I reached Tamaki Drive, I turned left and headed back towards the city, alongside the sparkling waters of the Waitemata harbour. Lots of boats were heading out from the Outboard Boating Club of Auckland’s marina to enjoy the perfect weather, and the pavement was busy with lots of other folks out walking and biking. The cool breeze was most welcome as I headed along the final straight towards home, a loooooooonnnnnng drink of water and a hot shower. It had been a splendid morning’s walk!

21 January 2014

New Zealand’s first flight

One of the daring parachutists in his rather effeminate costume
If you’re a google user, you may have noticed in October last year there was a google doodle to celebrate the 216th anniversary of the first-ever parachute jump, by French aeronaut André-Jacques Garnerin on 22 October 1797. But did you know that New Zealand’s first parachute jump was made 124 years ago today, on 21 January 1889, by American aeronaut Thomas Baldwin? And my great-great granddaddy Fred Bust helped organise it!

Baldwin’s visit to New Zealand was sponsored by William E. Akroyd, who was the husband of my great-great grandfather’s step-sister Emily. By all accounts, Akroyd and Baldwin met in England while Akroyd was on a trip ‘home’ and Akroyd subsequently arranged for his brother-in-law Fred Bust to handle the logistics of Baldwin’s visit on the ground (and in the air!) in New Zealand.

In his book A Passion for Flight, aviation historian Errol Martyn explains this aerial phenomenon:

During the 1890s and early 1900s, touring ‘aeronauts’, often glamorising themselves with self-appointed ‘Captain’ or ‘Professor’ titles, travelled the world to entertain people with death-defying acts from large hot-air or gas-filled balloons. During an ascent the aeronaut might perform acrobatic acts on a trapeze hung underneath the balloon or parachute from it to earth, or a combination of both. Alarming as it may seem today, no harness was worn to secure the jumper to his parachute. When he leaped from his slender, swing-like rope sling suspended from the balloon, a tie would break and for the entire descent he then simply hung on by his hands to the metal ring, or hoop, to which were fixed the canopy's shroud lines.
Town and Country Journal illustration of parachutist, 19 November 1887

The hype for the New Zealand visit started the previous year. This from The Colonist newspaper, 24 April 1888:

What is to be gained by such feats as throwing oneself from a balloon five thousand from the ground? Thomas S. Baldwin, of Quincy Illinois, is the name of the young man who has done this exciting feat. He travelled for several years with a circus as a professional gymnast; then took to tight rope walking and finally to ballooning. His first jump from a balloon was made in January of this year at San Francisco. He jumped from a height of 1000 ft. This was enough to thrill 25,000 people, but it was only the modest beginning. At Syracuse, September last, he had attained an elevation of 5000 ft before he switched off on the parachute route. He says that it is a "funny thing to be performing a feat for an audience so far below you that you cannot see anything but a dark spot on the earth. When you get up so very high in a balloon, I do not think that a person is so inclined to feel dizzy as at a much less height from which he can compare the relative altitudes. But l am not subject to dizziness, My training as a circus man has got me pretty well accustomed to things which call for coolness. I do not lose my head, and do everything as coolly as if I were on the ground. The strain on the arms is usually the only thing that bothers me. I must get that stopped if I can, or else I may have to drop the business." He has received two gold medals from his fellow townsmen for the feats he has performed.

An advertisement for Baldwin's later Auckland jump,
Observer, 2 February 1889
Baldwin’s first New Zealand parachute jump was to take place in Dunedin on Saturday 19 January, followed by further jumps in Christchurch and Auckland. The Otago Daily Times published this advance report on 16 January 1889:

Professor Baldwin, the daring aeronaut, who has been creating such a sensation in Great Britain by his descents—or, more correctly speaking, flights—from a balloon, reached Dunedin yesterday. He will give an exhibition on the Caledonian grounds on Saturday afternoon [19 January], and as this is the first time the public have had an opportunity of witnessing any such performance, the aeronaut and his balloon will attract considerable attention. The professor is accompanied by Mr Farini, a famous showman—the English Barnum,—and from him we obtained some particulars of the professor and his apparatus which should be of interest. In the first place, then, Professor Baldwin has by careful calculations and observations obtained great control over both the balloon and parachute, and this enables him, unless in the case of a very strong breeze, to land within a very short distance of the place from which the ascent was made—generally not more than 40 or 50 yards, away. At first the balloons were in the habit of getting away, and on more than one occasion when an ascent was made at the Alexandra Palace, London, the balloon wandered away and was picked up in France; now it generally happens that the balloon reaches the ground within a few seconds of the parachute.
The balloon used is very light, with no paraphernalia. It is made of silk prepared with a chemical covering. It has neither car, nor ballast, nor grappling irons. Attached to it is the parachute, which is simplicity itself. It is perfectly flexible, made of thin Tussora silk, and is mushroom shaped at the top. In the centre of the top there is a hole about 2ft in diameter, by which the professor is able to balance the parachute and keep it vertical. There is just so much surface exposed as is required for the weight of a man. It is tied to the side of the balloon by a cord, which breaks on having to bear a support of more than 90 lb. As soon as the professor reaches the desired height, generally about 1000 ft, he seizes the parachute, and the balloon, freed of his weight, is seen at once to shoot higher in the air. For the smallest possible space the aeronaut appears to be motionless, and then the onlooker has to hold his breath as faster and faster for 200 ft or 300 ft he drops like a stone, the parachute being then a shapeless mass. As it distends the pace steadily decreases, and the professor is seen slowly descending, holding on to the parachute by his arms only. So gently is it managed at the finish that he appears to be floating in the air. After the descent Professor Baldwin gives a short and interesting lecture to the spectators.

An advertisement for Baldwin's later Auckland jump,
Observer, 2 February 1889
Unfortunately, the events of 19 January did not go as planned, as Errol Martyn explains:

… some 5000 spectators, including those from Balclutha for whom a special train had been laid on, attended the Caledonian ground on Saturday the 19th to witness the performance. Many thousands of others, averse to being separated from their shilling entrance fee, lined the surrounding hills to look on from a "Scotsman's grandstand".
All through the afternoon and into the evening, Baldwin and Farini struggled to inflate the balloon in front of the grandstand in the face of a cold and gusty northeasterly wind. Baldwin, who said he was prepared to go up in any breeze under 10 miles an hour, hoped for a lull at about 6pm but it did not eventuate. By 7pm, despite having given a short speech to the crowd that if there were the slightest chance before dark he would go up, people began leaving the ground.
A minor disturbance occurred when a few spectators vented their annoyance upon Baldwin at the cancellation, but his friends escorted him through the stand to the safety of a waiting hansom cab.

The event was rescheduled for Monday the 21st and, by 7pm, thousands had again gathered on and round the Caledonian ground. What they were about to witness for the first time in New Zealand was described in the following day's Otago Daily Times:

Another large crowd assembled on and round about the Caledonian ground by 7 o'clock yesterday evening to see Professor Baldwin take his daring flight through the air. Within the enclosure there were not nearly so many people as on Saturday, but the hill at the rear of Smith and Fotheringham's brickworks and the Town Belt at Montecillo were packed with sightseers, who had a good view of the exhibition without going through the idle ceremony of paying a shilling.
As the advertised time for the ascent approached considerable doubt was entertained among the public as to whether the balloon would get safely away after all, rather a brisk breeze springing up just before sundown. However, Professor Baldwin continued actively superintending the inflation of his balloon, which was rather dangerously agitated by the gusts of wind every now and then.
At a few minutes before 7, Professor Baldwin mounted a form and, as before, made a short preliminary speech to the spectators. He is a well-built, lithe-limbed American, with dark complexion and moustache, good-looking, and with considerable alertness and resolution in his manner. That he is a man of wonderful pluck and iron nerve, his aerial feats amply testify. Standing up to address his patrons, attired in the orthodox silk hat and black frock coat, he looks scarcely like a man on the eve of taking such a startling journey. He might be intending to sell some town allotments, or say a few words on the political situation. A little later, divested of hat and coat, quick yet cool amid fill the bustle attending his departure, he is seen at his best.
What the professor has now to say is brief and to the point. He explains Saturday's failure in a frank and manly way. The pressure of so high a wind on the frail fabric of the balloon was not to be withstood, but had it not been for the purely accidental bursting, he himself would have been willing to make the ascent. He could control his balloon and his parachute once he got fairly away, but be could not control the elements. In spite of the wind then blowing, he would endeavour to make the ascent that evening at 7 o'clock sharp— ie, in 10 minutes' time—and he begged them all to stand back and keep quiet while the attempt was made. There would be danger again of the balloon bursting in that wind, directly it was raised off the ground, and the air pressure got underneath it; but if such an accident did happen it would not be his fault. If he could only get up he would guarantee to come down right enough.
He regretted to see a statement in that evening's paper to the effect that he had purposely ripped the balloon up on Saturday. He was not standing within yards of it at the time, and it was certainly no advantage to him at his first exhibition in a new country to tamper with the feelings of the public. If he had to stay here all the summer he would give them an ascent as promised, and he could assure them he would rather lose a leg than miss the ascent that evening.
This short speech was well received by the people, and Mr Baldwin then hurried away and began to make final preparations for his excursion, in which he was assisted by his manager, Mr Farini. The balloon was raised well off the ground, being held captive by several men, and although it swayed rather violently in the breeze the fabric kept together on this occasion. Everything being nearly completed, Professor Baldwin, who is now bareheaded and clad in a dark close-fitting vest, runs across to a bench near at hand and gives his wife a hasty parting kiss. There is nothing whatever of the theatrical element about this ceremony, which is quickly and unostentatiously performed, and is not even observed by the majority of the spectators.
Confident as the aeronaut is in the efficacy of his invention, he is probably too shrewd a man not to recognise that the wisest schemes of mice and men “gang aft aglee." He has all the assurance of safety that personal attention to his apparatus and splendid coolness and nerve can give him, but there are chances against him too. Some blunder on the part of an attendant, or some unforeseen hitch at the last moment, may wreck him before he is sufficiently clear of the earth to rely upon his parachute,—or what if away in the clouds some little thing—some very little thing—should go amiss with the parachute itself?
Professor Baldwin, no doubt, does not believe in this latter contingency, and would bet long odds against the parachute ever failing him. It is to be hoped it never will, and that the adage about the pitcher and the well will not be verified in the case of this daring man. His leave taking over, the professor bends down and disappears for some minutes within the folds of some silky looking drapery, which is held for him by Mr Fanni. This mass of limp-looking cloth is the wonderful parachute, and it may easily be guessed what Professor Baldwin is doing inside it. He is adjusting the hoop which, when the machine is expanded, will form the orifice at the top, and this orifice through which the air escapes in his descent is perhaps the most important feature about Mr Bald win's invention.
He emerges presently, and then the folded parachute is drawn up to the netting which hangs loose around the neck of the balloon. It can be seen that depending from the parachute are a number of long ropes attached to a stout hoop, which is presently passed over the aeronaut's head. In descending he will hang by both hands to this hoop. 

Baldwin performing in England, Illustrated London News, 13 September 1888
There is a great shouting of orders now, and the excitement among the spectators is very great. "Lift her up," cries Professor Baldwin, “but hold her," and as the struggling balloon rides a few yards above the ground he is seen to have taken his position immediately below her, and to be surrounded by a confusing array of ropes. An excited shout by Mr Farini to some assistant to "Leave go of that rope" shows that it is a critical moment, and then, before the spectators well realise it, balloon and balloonist, are away.
She mounts swiftly and smoothly like a bird released, the professor sitting apparently upon some small bar with outstretched hands, in much the attitude of a driver handling a team of horses. Spontaneous cheering and applause break from the crowd at the ascent, but it is only matter of seconds before the bold aeronaut is out of ear shot. The ascent is made from the leeward side of the stand, and the wind being from the north-east, the balloon is driven at once in the direction of Caversham. In consequence of this wind which is taking him rapidly away from the spectators, Professor Baldwin does not go to anything like the height he has sometimes reached. He goes so high, however, that he and his balloon look very small objects indeed against the clear sky. About 1000ft would perhaps be the height and it has taken an incredibly short space of time for him to reach it. Before his movements become indistinguishable with the naked eye he has flexed his leg and has his foot into a loop of rope that is hanging within reach.
Suddenly there is an unmistakable movement in the diminutive figure aloft, and the next instant the folded parachute and its inventor have left the balloon which turns upside down and floats aimlessly about in the empyrean for awhile. The parachute retains its limp appearance, and at the end of the long ropes that depend from it is the figure of the falling balloonist. He is holding on with his arms raised above his head, and his whole form is perfectly rigid feet together and frame erect. He comes down in that fashion as straight as a stone and in a standing posture for neatly half his journey, and then the onlookers draw a sudden breath of relief, for the air has caught the parachute, and it has expanded into umbrella shape. The aeronaut's fall is instantly checked, and from that point he descends steadily with a gentle swaying motion that soon brings him apparently among the rooftops of South Dunedin. Here he swings himself into a sitting posture, evidently steering the parachute towards a safe alighting place, and finally comes easily to earth in a vacant section off the Cargill road, near the Railway Workshops Hotel.
Ten minutes later the professor was again at the Caledonian ground and, accompanied by Mr Farini, appeared in the front of the stand, receiving quite an ovation. He then gave a short address as announced, claiming (of course with perfect truth) to have made the first descent of the kind that had ever been attempted in New Zealand. The parachute, of which he was the originator, required, he explained, two feet of surface to every pound weight of the object attached to it. The orifice at the top was 18in or 20in in diameter, and this, by allowing the compressed air in the parachute to escape, formed a kind of column of air, down which he slid. As regarded the long drop before the parachute expanded, that was merely a bit of sensationalism he introduced. How soon the parachute expanded depended upon the size of the hoop he placed in the orifice at the top. He could, if he desired it, make the parachute expand directly after leaving the balloon. Mr Farini, who followed with a few words, added some further information as to the way in which Professor Baldwin had perfected his invention, and remarked that having solved the difficulty, there had yet remained the necessity of finding a plucky fellow to jump from the balloon and test the truth of the theory. That man they had found in Professor Baldwin.—(Loud applause.)

In today’s world, where thousands of travellers circle the globe daily in airplanes and, not so long ago, Felix Baumgartner astounded us all with his record-breaking jump from 38,969.3 metres up in the stratosphere, it’s difficult to get excited about Baldwin’s parachute jump. But there has to be a first time for everything and I’m sure those Dunedin folks back in 1889 were equally astounded to witness New Zealand’s first official human flight.

14 January 2014

It’s a sign: New Zealand

If reader numbers on my earlier blogs are anything to go by – see It’s a sign: Peru and It’s a sign: Cambodia – we all love a good sign so I figured it was time to share some of those I’ve spotted on my wanders around the streets of Auckland.

Let’s start with something environmental. New Zealand is very proud of its clean, green image, though the reality isn’t always as clean and green as is portrayed, but we do try hard. Signs like these can be found on or around most of the grids into our big street drains, reminding people that any rubbish they throw down these drains will, ultimately, pollute all our waterways, including our two beautiful harbours (the Waitemata and the Manukau) and our two oceans (the Pacific on the eastern side, and the Tasman Sea, to the west).

I’m not sure what to say about this, but I simply had to photograph it. Setting aside the sexual innuendo, this is exactly how I used to eat this type of biscuit when I was a kid – with one little extra. I’d twist the two parts carefully so they’d separate, then lick the icing off, then dunk the remaining biscuits in milk just long enough to soften them but not so long that they’d get too soft and fall into the milk – that was the tricky bit – getting the timing right!

I found this on the side of some bench seating next to a grassy area in the Britomart precinct. I haven’t seen any cats in the vicinity (not even cougars!) but it’s nice to see the sign makers had a sense of humour.

I love this one! It’s child size, and I did look around to find a child to persuade to stand here but it was early morning and there were none. It’s a neat idea and can be found down by Auckland harbour, at Silo Park.

While the previous sign was definitely child-friendly, this most certainly is not. I think the intention was probably to warn motorists to take care as children are often to found playing in this area but, to me, this says: ‘Kids are dangerous. If you see a kid on a bike, be afraid.’ However, as I’m not particularly child-friendly, that may just be my warped interpretation!

Strictly speaking, this is a sculpture rather than a sign. It was made by New Zealand artist Paul Hartigan in 1997 and is part of the University of Auckland’s extensive art collection. It is currently to be found in a corridor of the Arts 2 building and can be seen from Grafton Road – at least, when its neon-tubes are switched on, it can. So, does this art speak to you?

This metallic sign is set into the concrete of the pavement outside Thai restaurant Monsoon Poon in downtown Auckland. I googled to try to find out whether this is the English translation of the restaurant’s name but no luck and, judging by many of the reviews I read, it’s not necessarily the opinion of the diners either, though that could be what the restaurant owners are hoping.

Well, are you? 

10 January 2014

Day trip to Rangitoto

We caught the 9.15 ferry from downtown Auckland, armed with sunscreen and sunhats, drinks and lunch (there are no shops on the island, so you need to come prepared), sturdy walking shoes (or, in my case, sandals) and cameras. And the camera came out early as the huge cruise ship Celebrity Solstice was docked at Princess Wharf, the clouds were very pretty and the sea an incredible blue.

The direct ferry ride only takes about 25 minutes so Rangitoto is the perfect distance from the city for a family day out and the perfect destination for those interested in the geology, those wanting to explore the many hiking tracks or check out the native wildlife, or those who simply want to enjoy a day away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Rangitoto Island is the youngest and largest of the Auckland region’s 50-odd volcanoes, having formed by eruption about 600 years ago. Rest assured, it is now dormant (!), but it still provides a fascinating glimpse into the geology of a volcano. For those interested in such things, the hiking tracks give up close and personal glimpses of old lava flows, large heaps of scoria and, at the top, the summit crater.

The island became a Public Domain way back in 1890, with the first wharf and track to the summit being built in 1897. Prisoners from Auckland’s Mt Eden prison were used to build some of the roads in the 1920s and 30s and, nowadays, those roads and the well-maintained series of walking tracks mean that visitors can choose to tackle the summit path for awesome views of Auckland city and the Hauraki Gulf, or simply spend the whole day exploring this fascinating island.

The trek to the summit takes about an hour – it is family friendly (we saw one family wheeling and carrying a baby buggy all the way to the top – just a little mad!) but, be warned, the final part of the ascent is quite steep, though easy enough to negotiate. Those who are less mobile can pay to join the Rangitoto Volcanic Explorer tour, which takes you round the island seated on a 4WD road-train, of open-air carriages pulled behind tractors, though you still have to walk up a long series of 300 wooden boardwalk steps to get to the summit.

Of course, we joined the walkers heading for the summit – you’ve gotta do it at least once! The walk takes you through lava fields and native forest and, as you climb, there are frequent opportunities to stop for photographs of the ever-more-awesome views – the perfect excuse to catch your breath and take a drink. The 360-degree views from the summit are spectacular, ranging from the rugged horizons of the Waitakere Ranges in the west across the central city and the beautiful islands of the Hauraki Gulf to the Hunua Ranges in the south. 

We came back down the alternative boardwalk route, then made our way along the unsealed road to the Rangitoto Wharf. It was a long walk but we were entertained by tuis warbling, by more fantails than I’ve ever seen in one day before fluttering back and forth across our path, and by wrens flitting in and out of the bushes. On the summit, I also saw my very first saddleback – sadly, it was too quick for a photo.

Rangitoto is home to the world’s largest pohutukawa forest, as well as trees that are a strange hybrid of pohutukawa and northern rata. The lava outcrops seem inhospitable but, over time, they are gradually colonised by lichen and ferns, followed by shrubs and bushes, then eventually the trees. The island is home to more than 200 species of native plant, including 40 different types of fern and several species of orchid.

Back down at the wharf, we tucked hungrily into our well-earned lunch and rested a while, before taking the track west along the coastline. These days no one lives permanently on the island but, in the early 20th century, a small community of people lived in the baches (a New Zealand word for a simple holiday house) that line parts of the shoreline. In the 1970s and 80s, a large number of the old baches were demolished but, these days, those that remain are registered as Historic Areas with the New Zealand Historic Conservation Trust, and many are still used as holiday homes by the descendants of the original owners.

The Trust has done a great job of researching the families who have lived in the bach communities over the years, collecting over 50 oral histories and more than 300 photographs. At the empty sites of those baches that were knocked down there are signboards telling the histories of the places and their people. They provide wonderful glimpses of Kiwi history.

The bach nearest Rangitoto Wharf, Bach 38, has been restored to its original condition, complete with all the fixtures and fittings you would have found in a bach dating from the '30s or '40s. The bach was built in 1927 for Walter Pooley, the first caretaker on the island and then-owner of the shop and tearooms (since closed).

We relaxed some more on the benches of the information kiosk near the wharf, before joining the hordes of tourists boarding the ferry for the breezy voyage back in to the city. We were weary but content, having enjoyed the strenuous exercise, the refreshing sea air, and the entertaining birdlife. It was a most excellent day out!

Acknowledgement: Much of the historical information in this blog came from a brochure provided by the Rangitoto IslandHistoric Conservation Trust, whose objective is to ‘find ways to retain the bach communities much as they exist now and make them available for public use’. Together with the Department of Conservation, they are working to restore, preserve and maintain the baches, and have compiled an impressive archive of material about the Rangitoto community. They are making a noteworthy and commendable contribution to maintaining Auckland’s heritage.