Rangitoto and the Sky Tower – New Zealand Day 5

Auckland was in full triathlon mode today and the place was alive. Triathletes everywhere, most of them getting in some last minute training so the streets were full of runners and cyclists. I hadn’t run for the past 10 weeks or so due to a suspected stress fracture and wasn’t about to start running now just a few days before the big race. I wanted to check out the run course though so instead I went for an early morning walk around the course. There were loads of people out running it, I was passed by a large group of Team GB athletes that included Graham and although I wanted to run and join in with them I stuck to my guns and had an easy stroll around the flat course. It may have been completely flat but there were lots of twists and turns, some cobbled areas and at 5.3km it was a little long too.

As I came back towards the start / finish line Auckland really was triathlon central. All the roads were now closed for the start of racing, there were barriers up everywhere, the grandstands were ready, the big screens were on and it was all beginning to feel a little too real. My race was just a couple of days away and there was nothing I could do now other than rest and get ready for it. It surprised me just how many people were still out running, cycling and swimming though and some of them looked as though they were going pretty hard too. It’s hard not to think that maybe I should be out there doing something as well, but my plan had been to rest now, so rest I would. No more swimming, no more cycling and no running for me until the race itself, so instead I headed back to the hotel for breakfast with Anna and Morgan.

Ferry to Rangitoto

Ferry to Rangitoto

We then headed back down to the waterfront for an early morning ferry across to Rangitoto Island. Today was going to be a touristy day. As we sat waiting for the ferry it looked as though we had picked the right day. Until now, Auckland had been grey, windy and sometimes wet. Today was a complete contrast, the wind had dropped, the waters of the harbour were calm and blue and the sun was shining. Despite being only 8:30am it was already beginning to get hot so we slapped on some sun cream and boarded the Fuller’s boat to Rangitoto. It went via Devonport and we were amazed at the speed, efficiency and punctuality of the whole procedure. As we sped across the harbour we had some amazing views of the impressive Auckland Skyline with the SkyTower rising above the other skyscrapers. We also got a glimpse of some of the early morning races going ahead in the waters of Queens Wharf. Racing had begun and I was off to a volcanic island for some much needed R&R.

Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island is a small volcanic island not far from Auckland in the Haruki Gulf. It was formed by a series of eruptions between 550 and 600 years ago. It’s iconic cone shaped outline now stands 260m high and 5.5km wide. Both Rangitoto and neighbouring Motutapu Islands were officially declared pest-free with both islands now boasting populations of saddlebacks. This hasn’t always been the case though. Goats were once introduced to the island and were present in large numbers in the mid 19th Century but have since been eradicated. Fallow deer were present too but disappeared by the 1980’s. Wallabys were common on Rangitoto in the early 20th Centrury and the possum was introduced in 1931 and 1946. Both were eradicated through the use of poison and dogs in a campaign to rid the island of them between 1990 and 1996. Stoats, rabbits, mice, rats, cats and hedgehogs remained a problem on the island, but the Department of Conservation (DOC) managed to eradicate them beginning with the poisoning of black rats, brown rats and mice and they finally declared the island pest free in August 2011.

The island once had a permanent community of several hundred people and several small holiday homes known as ‘baches’ have been built around its shores. Some of these still exist, along with relicts of  a seawater pool, military installations and roads to the summit and around the wharf. A new wharf for the tourist visitors to the island that arrive on the twice a day ferry has also recently been completed.

They obviously want to keep the island pest free so there are strict regulations about what you can take onto the island and constant warnings whist on the ferry to check your bags for stowaways such as mice and rats! Fortunately our bags were rodent free and we were soon disembarking and heading off for a walk to the summit. As we walked off into the forests which felt more like thick jungle to us with its strange trees, palms and epiphytes hanging from every branch it felt like we were wandering into a lost world. There are virtually no streams on the island so plants rely on rainfall for moisture. It has the largest forest of pōhutukawa trees in the world and has more  than 200 species of trees and flower, including several species of orchid, as well as more than 40 types of fern. Rather than follow everyone else straight to the top, we had a little wander around the fern glen first. Morgan commented that it felt like Jurassic Park and he was half expecting to see dinosars around evey corner, and we had to agree with him. We didn’t of course but there were plenty of strange looking ferns and unusual bird calls from the trees and we saw some Monarch Butterflies too.

We then headed off towards the summit. Morgan particularly wanted to see the lava caves so that was our first aim, although we did stop off en route to find a couple of geocaches. These were our first caches in the southern hemisphere and it took a little bit of thinking to work out which way was east as the sun was of course in the North, not the South. We found them though and continued on our way to the lava caves.

Once at the lava caves we realised that we didn’t have a torch, or at least not one that worked! The caves are of course fairly dark, but Morgan and I decided to give them a go anyway and started scrambling through into the darkness. Despite the lack of light and the 50m long cave we managed to scramble through with just a few banged heads and emerged back out into the strong sunlight of the forest.

Morgan had been flagging on the climb to the lava caves and after a bit of lunch it was now very hot and we didn’t have huge amounts of time left before the 12:45 ferry left the island. We decided that I would rush up to the summit to take a look whilst Anna and Morgan walked back down the hill towards the wharf. It was only a short 10 minute fast walk to the summit where I was greeted with amazing 360 degree views of the Haruki Gulf. I took a few photos and then rushed back down the hill where I met with Anna and Morgan with just a few minutes to spare. We jumped back on the ferry and headed towards Auckland.

Haruki Gulf Panorama

Haruki Gulf Panorama

The few hours we spent on Rangitoto Island were just what I needed. I remember at one point thinking to myself that I hadn’t thought about the impending race for at least 5 minutes, probably the longest time without it being on my mind for weeks. A short break from the madness of the triathlon world was good for the soul and good to remind myself that it was just a race and not at all important in the grand scheme of things. I had made it this far and now all I had to do was enjoy it.

Once back to the hubub of Auckland, the Women’s Elite race was underway. The streets were full of spectators, the big screen was showing the action and the air was full of the sound of cheering and commentary. This was a world class event, going out to a huge worldwide audience and we were a part of it. This was serious racing in a cool city and it was great to be at the centre of the action. We met my parents for lunch, watched some of the racing and then headed off to be tourists once again at the Sky Tower. Morgan had started developing a thing for Kiwis and wanted his photo taken with some.

The Sky Tower

SkyTower at Night

SkyTower at Night

The Auckland Sky Tower is a 328m tall observation and telecommunications tower than dominates the Auckland skyline. It towers majestically above all of the skyscrapers in Aucklands CBD yet surprisingly has a very small footprint. Until 2005 it was the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere and offers breathtaking views for up to 80 kilometres in every direction from its glass observation deck. The upper portion of the tower contains two restaurants and a cafe — including New Zealand’s only revolving restaurant.  The main observation level at 186 m is completely glass fronted and has 38 mm thick glass sections of flooring giving a view straight to the ground. The tower also features the ‘SkyJump’, a 192-metre jump from the observation deck and the SkyWalk, a cabled walk around the Sky Deck.

Entry isn’t cheap but as it’s such an iconic building in Auckland we thought that we really should go to the top for a look. The five of use, Me, Anna, Morgan and my parents bought tickets and boarded the glass-fronted elevator to the observation deck. Anna isn’t a great fan of heights and didn’t really enjoy the elevator. Once on the observation deck she left the elevator but didn’t venture far from the wall as she tried to compose herself. The rest of us wandered around admiring the views of Auckland.

Far below the streets of Auckland were still closed and we could see the minute dots of triathletes racing around between the blue ITU barriers. We could also see out hotels, the tops of skyscrapers and the Auckland Harbour and Harbour Bridge. Beyond that were views and out across the Haruki Gulf and to Rangitoto Island where we had been that morning. We saw some people jump from the SkyJump, but I don’t think seeing them whizz past really helped Anna’s frame of mind. They stopped one girl right in front of us outside the glass of the observation deck, before once again letting her fall towards the landing deck.

We had planned to have a coffee and cake in the cafe but as we descended the stairs to the cafe it all become too much for Anna. She couldn’t move and ended up sitting down on the stairs and started crying! Clearly this wasn’t much fun for her and it was time for us all to leave.  We guided her back to the elevator and took the short ride back down to earth. We then took a look through the souvenir shop where Morgan bought a cuddly Kiwi before heading back to our hotel for takeaway pizzas for dinner… Only $4.90 for a large pizza from Pizzahut… Bargain, that works out at about £2.50 for  a pizza that would cost close to £10 in the UK.

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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