Let the Cheesy LOTR References Begin!

One of the things I enjoyed most at the Auckland Museum on Day One was the volcano exhibit. Specifically, Earthquake House. They had a small house set up with its living room “sliding glass doors” (actually a screen) looking out onto the bay and Rangitoto Island.

Rangitoto is the youngest of metro Auckland’s 60-odd volcanoes. Yes, they’re pretty much all over the place. Seattle and San Francisco have nothing on Auckland when it comes to a large metropolis sitting pretty on a big bowl of seething magma.

At Earthquake House, every 12 minutes the floor shakes, the lights flicker and then die while you can watch, from the comfort of a leather sofa, the bay waters roil and steam and then rise up in a deadly tsunami while a thick cloud of deadly choking ash hurtles toward you.

When I was at Earthquake House, there were half a dozen boys around the age of five with their moms also in attendance. As the black cloud of ash swallowed our screen and the lights went out, one of the little boys intoned somberly: “That’s the end of us.”

Indeed.

Having given myself over to the idea that I was sitting (and walking and sleeping) on one of the world’s biggest and most active volcanic fields, I knew what I had to do… I had to go to Rangitoto itself.

Day Two: I packed my gritty PBJ sandwich and an apple and set out for the harbor ferry. Great timing: as I booked my return ticket, I learned that Rangitoto was closing the following day and would be closed to all humans for the next ten days while the government undertook “pest eradication” measures. Turns out that the island, which is uninhabited by humans, attracts rats, mice, cats and, if the guy I bought my ticket from is to be believed, possums and wallabies, that gorge on the endangered and often unique flora of the island.

(Later, mentioning this to Elsbeth, one of several super-friendly folks staffing the tourist information center, I was told “there are no wallabies in New Zealand! They’re in Australia.” I stand corrected.)

It’s just 25 minutes by ferry from downtown Auckland to the island.

(Photo from ferry of Auckland skyline)

Auckland is just like Seattle: clean, friendly, seismically-active and with a big pointy thing in the middle! That would be the Sky Tower, actually the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. In the foreground of the photo, that lump is another volcano, the much-eroded and quarried North Head.

Rangitoto itself is just 600 years old and a classic cone shape, albeit not quite as pretty as, say, Mt. Fuji. Here it is on the approach:

(Photo of volcano)

And this is the Bean Rock lighthouse, which is now fully automated but at one time was operated by lighthouse keepers who worked ten day shifts. And in the background, look! Another volcano! These things are everywhere in Auckland, like past-expiration candy at a dollar store!

(Lighthouse photo)

Once off the boat, I headed up the summit trail, relentlessly uphill but not difficult. At least I thought so. There were a couple dancers from the Starlight Express tour currently playing Auckland huffing and puffing behind me and muttering about the climb. That did make me a bit gleeful. After living in Colorado at 8500 feet, when I hike at sea level it’s such a delight to find oxygen there when you need it. Aah.

After an hour of uphill without a rest, I was rewarded with a view of Auckland from the summit:

(Photo from summit. Duh.)

I took the crater rim walk (pleasant but not exciting) and then headed for the Lava Tunnels Trail.

When they say tunnels, they mean it. I had brought my headlamp, because I am dorkily prepared like that, but the Starlight people and a Japanese girl on her own didn’t and were using the flashes from their cameras and mobile phones to light their way. I waited till they were gone and then headed in.

(Photo of cave entrance)

“The Way is shut. It was made by the Dead, and the Dead keep it. The Way is shut.” One of the tunnel entrances.

(And if you think this blog is going to be full of cheesy Lord of the Rings references, you’d better believe it.)

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