The secrets of Rangitoto Island

Here are a couple of little-known facts about Auckland’s fabulous volcano island which will make your visit even more interesting.

Maori Legend

According to Maori legends, a giant couple once lived on a tall mountain. The pair were ‘tupua’ (meaning demon, but not demonic per se), and children of the Fire Gods. The couple started arguing and did not notice that their fire had burned down and gone out.

Enraged at their loss of flame, they cursed Mahuika, the fire goddess. Mahuika was greatly displeased at the unfair cursing and asked Mataoho, the god of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, to teach the couple a lesson. In response, Mataoho caused a mighty eruption that destroyed the couple’s home, with such force that a hole was ripped out of the land and Lake Pupuke was formed. The couple were left stranded, imprisoned on a mountain peak out to sea, unable to return to the mainland. This peak was Rangitoto and legend has it that the mist that often surrounds the island is the tears of the couple, mourning for their lost home.

The name (which means Bloody Sky) has nothing to do with the islands hot heated nature, but is actually a shortened version of the name Ngā Rangi-i-totongia-a Tama-te-kapua which means ‘The day of the bleeding of Tama-te kapua’. Tama-te Kapua was a Maori captain who was viciously wounded on the island, and the bleeding skies refers to his blood, not the volcanoes lava bombs.


The island is home to many astounding sites, sure to delight any adventurous souls. A multitude of shipwrecks can be seen at Wreck Bay, in the north of the island.  The bay is home to at least thirteen ships, most of which were purposefully wrecked in this ship graveyard. Sadly, there is no evidence to suggest the wrecks were caused by an epic pirate battle.  But for pirate lovers young and old, who want to use their imagination, some wrecks can be seen at low tide and surely have the ghosts of pirate captains still aboard. To see the rest of the sunken treasures, you will need to don some scuba gear and snorkelling equipment. The area has great marine life, so shipwrecks aside, the bay makes an awesome dive spot. There are other great spots for swimming and snorkelling all over the island, so be sure to take your togs.

Flora and Fauna

Rangitoto has a lot of extraordinary flora and fauna, with lovely kidney fern groves and the largest forest of pohutakawa in the world to stroll through. There is also a wide variety of wildlife and birds, such as bellbirds to see. With many lovely long and short walks and stunning wildlife, make sure you do at least one saunter about the island. There is a great walk to the summit that takes two hours (one hour there, one hour back) from the wharf, as well as a number of coastal walks and forest hikes. Pick a length of time you want to walk and you’re sure to find something to suit you.

The island has only recently become pest free, it is now safe from rats, mice, possums, feral cats and other harmful pests. This has led to the re-introduction of many species, so it is vital the island remains pest free. So carefully check everything you take before you get to the island for pests.