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The city of Auckland is built on a vast volcanic field, currently dormant, but by no means extinct. Not many cities could claim to be built atop such a simmering hotpot of volcanic activity.
Dozens of volcanic cones are dotted across Auckland’s isthmus. And after moving here from Christchurch in 2017, I set myself the task of exploring all 53 of them.
It took me almost two years, but it led me to some beautiful locations – as well as some rather uninspired ones. It was an incredible way to get to know my chosen home.
Every Aucklander has a volcano in their backyard and there’s never been a better time to explore them.
Here are my picks for Auckland’s top 10 volcanoes to stretch your legs during lockdown.
10. Ōrākei Basin
Hidden between Meadowbank and Remuera, Ōrākei Basin has an explosion crater that is 700m wide, with a footpath the whole way around. It’s a lovely walk – go at high tide on a weekend morning and you will find it full of life – mainly people and dogs.
It’s a serene spot that at times makes you feel like you’re a long way from the country’s biggest city rather than right in the middle of it.
9. Mt Wellington/Maungarei
This volcanic cone can be seen from all around East Auckland and beyond, which would suggest (correctly) that the views from the top are far-reaching. The unimpeded views are pretty awesome, especially of the inlet between Glendowie and Howick all the way through to the Panmure Basin.
The volcanic crater itself is one of Auckland’s best, with extremely steep sides and a perfect circular shape.
8. Panmure Basin/Kaiahiku
While not the most spectacular explosion crater of Auckland’s 53, Panmure Basin makes for a perfect walking experience. The 3.2km trail around the now tidal crater is an ideal evening stroll or distance for someone looking to get back into running (aka me every two months).
The path is largely flat, with some mild climbs, and it’s far more picturesque at high tide, so time your trip right. Plus there’s the Jubilee Bridge to cross, and the shags nesting in the pines to spot as you go.
7. Maungawhau/Mt Eden
Auckland’s biggest mainland maunga without question offers some of the best views in the city. The walk up is enjoyable and social – you’ll never have it to yourself, but just avoid the peak hours of morning and early evening for a quiet experience. It’s an easy 2km gentle climb to the summit. Stick to the sealed road and the formal paths to help protect the historic terracing which dates to the original Māori pā which once stood here. The crater is sacred and must not be entered.
6. Mt Hobson/Ohinerau
For most, Ohinerau is the grassy slope you see as you drive south along the Southern Motorway passing over Newmarket. But its views will catch you by surprise. Looking north from the top, you’ll see the city skyline, the Waitematā Harbour, the wider Hauraki Gulf, Ōrākei Basin, and the mansions of Remuera. It’s also a peaceful spot, with fewer people about than on the more popular volcanoes.
5. One Tree Hill/Maungakiekie
Maungakiekie is almost certainly the most visited volcano in Auckland. The views are great, but the location is even better – right in the midst of historic Cornwall Park. The range of footpaths makes it a great place to walk, run, cycle, take a picnic, have an icecream, spot a sheep or cow, and if you’re lucky, watch some archers do their thing. It’s probably the city’s best recreational park.
4. North Head/Maungauika
It’s the location. North Head sticks right out into the Hauraki Gulf and carefully guards the entry to the Waitematā Harbour, making it the best place in the city for boat watching, and offering unimpeded views of Rangitoto, Browns Island and the Eastern Bays. For history buffs and kids, the remains of the old gun instalments are also fascinating.
Expect to see the slopes of this maunga covered with people watching the 2021 America’s Cup.
3. Mt Māngere
This one may surprise you. If you catch Mt Māngere at sunset on a clear evening it’s quite remarkable. It feels larger than it is because there are no other hills around it, making the Manukau Harbour which reaches around it, all the more entrancing. The sharp, high crater walls make it even more dramatic and exciting to witness.
A word of warning: wear appropriate footwear. If you’re not great on your feet, the northern side of the mountain can be tricky and many, including me, have ended up with a dirt-covered bottom taking that trail.
2. Rangitoto Island
This Auckland icon would likely be on top of most people’s list. The largest volcano of the field is a day trip (made by ferry or through a kayak tour) that is simply a must-do for all who live here and visit. Being the youngest of Auckland’s volcanic cones (estimated between 600 and 800 years old), it’s definitely the rawest landscape in the volcanic field. The vegetation that has sprouted there is barely hanging on to the rugged, dark rocks that absorb the day’s heat, making the walk to the top particularly sweaty.
The island’s lava caves are not for the claustrophobic, but otherwise, a fun stop on your way to the summit. When you reach the top, be sure to navigate around the crater to take in the full 360-degree views of the Waitematā Harbour.
1. Browns Island/Motukorea
I’ll admit, there may be some bias in this one. Motukorea was the last volcano on my list, and I used this milestone to propose to my now fiancee.
But this former pig farm holds its own, and I’ve heard many others agree that it’s the best volcano in Auckland.
The island isn’t accessible by ferry, so your only options to get there are either through kayaking from St Heliers Beach, which you can do through a number of tour companies, or by private boat.
We kayaked on a still day and were overwhelmed by the views from the summit. Looking back to the city, Rangitoto will be to your right and Howick/St Heliers to your left. It’s spectacular. The double craters are remarkable and steep, and the place is just magical all around. The small beach on Browns Island’s northern side is the perfect spot for a picnic and a dip.