Greater Auckland sprawls across a volcanic field – home to 48 volcanic cones. All dormant, Auckland’s volcanos don’t look like the typical science fair stereotype. Instead, most are lush and green, rather than the black rugged lava you’d expect. Some are obscure and rarely visited even by locals, and then there are the ones that dominate Auckland’s skyline. Climb one of these volcanos and you’re guaranteed some pretty amazing views of the city:
I’ll start with Devonport’s Twin Peaks… Beyond its historic seaside charm, Devonport is home to the North Shore’s two most famous cones. We’re a little partial to these two because we live right in between them. Take a 10-minute walk north or west from our house and you’ll be at the top of either Mount Victoria or North Head.
- Mount Victoria
Mt. Victoria offers one of the best vista points in Auckland. It’s just at the top of Devonport’s main street, which is full of cute cafés to fuel up before the climb. I highly recommend taking the grass trail (to the right of the main car entrance) and make sure you stop and look back at the city skyline as you wind to the top. A picture of the mushrooms (you’ll see!) in front of Rangitoto is a must.
- North Head
You could spend forever exploring North Head! Three different trails circle the cone at different heights – plus there’s a final summit climb. Our favourite trail is the White Trail that goes along the very base along the water. At low tide, you can access a secret entrance behind the Navy Museum at Torpedo Bay. Go past the boat shed and pier, and follow the lava rocks to a metal gate. You can also enter this trail from Cheltenham beach – just follow the stairs up, and turn left down to the path.
North Head has a long military history – and in 1885 it was made into a fort to defend against the Russians when Britain and Russia were in a diplomatic crisis. You can still see the disappearing gun and other emplacements, but what makes North Head even more awesome is a series of (creepy!) military tunnels that you can explore.
Moving on to the volcano synonymous with Auckland…
Rangitoto is the most iconic landmark in Auckland’s skyline. It’s a huge volcanic island in the middle of the Hauraki Gulf – visible from many parts of the city, and symmetrical so it looks the same from any vantage point. It’s also the youngest volcano (last erupted 600 years ago) and has the largest pohutukawa forest in New Zealand. You can take the ferry over to the island and climb to the summit for amazing views. The walk takes about an hour, but I recommend stopping at the lava caves near the top for some extra exploring.
Rangitoto also has a really interesting history as a popular holiday destination. In the 1920s, the government started leasing public land to private citizens to cover infrastructure costs, and people began building baches (Kiwi for holiday homes) on the island. Later, the government tried to fix their mistake by ordering the baches to be removed. The few that remain are now preserved, historical buildings – and you can wander around the old communities near Rangitoto Wharf.
And now the top two city centre peaks…
- Mount Eden
Mount Eden is such a cool spot. You can no longer drive to the top, making the little climb a nice retreat from the urban environment below. It’s the highest natural point in Auckland (196 metres) – but a relatively easy walk with a rewarding, 360-degree view. Plus, its 50-metre-deep crater is really striking.
Mount Eden is also the name of the surrounding neighbourhood, which has great restaurants and cafés. We love the Garden Shed – get the burger and a craft beer on tap, and definitely ask for a table out back!
- One Tree Hill
All you need to know is that there are tons of sheep here – within city limits! They were some of the first sheep I saw when I moved to New Zealand. Just kidding… there’s actually a lot of history here too. The volcanic cone was one of the largest Maori pa sites (fortified villages) – home to 5,000 people. There’s an obelisk monument at the top of the hill as a memorial to Maori people. The Stardome Observatory – Auckland’s planetarium – is also in One Tree Hill domain.