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Pohutukawa flowers. Photo: J Gardiner.
Pohutukawa flowers

Rangitoto is a taonga (treasure) with many special places. National reserves like Rangitoto protect natural, historic and cultural heritage for all New Zealanders, and help safeguard the biodiversity of the planet.

The tangata whenua of Rangitoto have a spiritual, cultural and historical relationship with their taonga.

Rangitoto's name is derived from the phrase "Te Rangi i totongia a Tamatekapua" - the day the blood of Tamatekapua was shed. Tamatekapua was chief of the Arawa canoe which arrived about 1350 and was engaged in (and lost) a major battle with the Tainui at Islington Bay.

Day visitors are welcome, and can explore the island via a network of tracks and roads. Rangitoto is joined to Motutapu Island by a causeway.

New Rangitoto wharf

Artist's impression of the new Rangitoto Wharf.
 Artist's impression of the new Rangitoto Wharf

A new wharf for Rangitoto is expected to be completed by August 2014. The new $5.5m wharf will have a lifespan of at least 100 years and is designed to be usable in all sailable weather, and by more vessels at once, thanks to its double landing design. Currently ferries are forced to travel further on to Islington Bay Wharf in adverse weather.

View a flyover animation of the new Rangitoto Wharf on YouTube.

Volcanic origins

The island emerged from the sea in a series of fiery volcanic explosions. Lava cooled and hardened into a cone which would have looked quite different from the scrub-covered cinder cone today rising 259 metres above the sea.

Further eruptions sent red hot lava flows down the sides of the volcano, forming the black basaltic rock which makes up 95 per cent of this roughly circular, island, five kilometres across. Ash from the eruptions engulfed neighbouring Motutapu Island and the Maori settlements there.

Bare lava fields, lava caves, pillars and tunnels and different types of lava flows are all obvious features of the island's volcanic landscape.

The summit can be reached in a two hour return walk from Rangitoto Wharf. A loop track around the crater rim gives fine views of the extinct crater and Hauraki Gulf.

'Scientists look at risk of Rangitoto eruption' article (11 February 2014) on TV3 website

Diverse history

Inside of Bach 38, now a museum run by the Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust.
Inside of Bach 38, now a museum run by the Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust

Maori use of the island appears to have been limited compared with neighbouring Motutapu and Motukorea (Browns Island). Rangitoto was used by early Maori as a commanding lookout in times of war and as a parrot reserve, or rahui-kaka. There are ancient Maori burial caves on the island, the resting place for bones brought across from Motutapu Island.

The Crown purchased Rangitoto in 1854. It was designated a public domain in 1890 and became a popular destination for picnickers. During the 1920s and 1930s prisoners built handpacked roads and trails, some of which are now used as walk-ways on the island. They also constructed the stone walls around the landings and a swimming pool.

Bach sites were leased to help pay for island developments. Some of these baches will be preserved as historic buildings. During World War II there were extensive defence installations on the island, including a fire command post on the summit.

Watch a video about the Rangitoto baches by AUT student Kylie Newman.
Listen to radio programme about the Rangitoto baches on Radio NZ National

Restoration project

Rangitoto is now a pest-free island thanks to the successful removal of all pest mammals from both Rangitoto and Motutapu islands. The project removed the seven remaining mammalian pests - feral cats, rabbits, stoats, hedgehogs, Norway rats, ship rats and mice - from Rangitoto and Motutapu islands. This built on the successful removal of possums and wallabies from the islands in the 1990s, and the reforestation of parts of Motutapu.

This is a significant milestone in the Auckland District Office's ambitious and exciting programme to restore these iconic islands in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. The restoration of these islands protects the world's largest pohutukawa forest, and provides a 3,800 ha environment that can now support some of New Zealand's most loved wildlife, including takahe and tieke/saddleback, released on Motutapu in August 2011 marking the official pest-free status of the islands.

Since then re-introductions have included tuturuatu/shore plover, two freshwater species - red fin bullies (fish) and koura (crayfish), tieke/saddleback and popokatea/whiteheads. Native species have also self-introduced including the kakariki and pateke/brown teal.


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