We did it – we actually climbed the entire volcano, despite the fact that it took us about two hours to climb up and a third hour to come down – it was around 6 miles round trip.
We started to hike up the vehicle road, which is wide and basically packed gravel. The base of the mountain is grazing land littered with huge boulders (spewed from the last eruption?) and sheep are kept on the land, to provide a fire-prevention zone. There were a few very cute baby sheep who haven’t yet been shorn, and lots of parent sheep who are already in their summer coats.
Hike hike hike, up up up, through the grazing area and then into the forest, with giant ponga (tree ferns), evergreens, and indigenous trees. Tons of birds, especially the indigo blue tui with white chevron stripes on the shoulder of each wing – lots of bird calls, and flittering wings all around. Stupendous views of the bay and the harbour, because we were ascending on the southwest side of the volcano. Up the road, then up the gravelly stairs, and we were there, up on the summit, with 360 degree views – gorgeous, amazing, stunning!!!!! We couldn’t find a crater or anything, but I supposed over time the original caldera would be filled in. I believe the last eruption is estimated to have been about 1200 years ago, so that might be why the summit was a large open area instead of a dent or hole.
At any rate, we wandered around admiring the various views (and the tombolo really is a faux tombolo), the length of the beach on the ocean side, watching freighters come in, and just enjoying being on top of the volcano. This was a Maori pa, a settlement or fortification, and the mountain still belongs to the Maori people, as does a neighboring island in the inner harbour. (There was a layer of shell in the ground, maybe two inches under the top layer of soil – I’m guessing the Maori created sort of a midden by tossing clam shells down the hill from wherever they were living.)
And then it was time to head back down. Somehow we ended up on a different track that took us round the other side of the mountain, meaning the side facing the ocean. And instead of having numerous switchbacks the way the other trail did, we seemed to circle round and round the mountain, on a narrow gravel path, which were on narrow ledges and sheer cliffs and the occasional overhanging cliffs and protruding boulders overhead. Plus we were still walking on tiny gravel covered packed earth, so there was the occasional skid from one or the other of us. I don’t really know how to explain it, other than to say that you need to remember that scene in “North by Northwest” – Cary Grant and Eva St. James are trying to get away from the villains by running around the presidential faces on Mt. Rushmore – there are drops and cliffs and barely enough room for their feet – that’s what the hike down was like, with strong ocean winds swirling around us. It was one of the hairier hikes I’ve been on, the kind where the vertigo kicks in and the occasional panic attack, mixed in with “Why couldn’t I have been born a bird?” and “We climbed this volcano why???”
Somehow we made it down the narrow ledges and cliffs and into the grazing pastures again, and we walked down the rest of the volcano. And rewarded ourselves with some gelato, for quick energy and a cool down. And a more relaxing afternoon.
Because we were freedom camping, and didn’t drive much the previous day, we noticed that our internal power meter was down in the danger zone. Despite periodically running the engine, the charge just wasn’t holding. A quick call to the rental company reconfirmed the fact that yes, we just didn’t drive around enough – so we’re currently in the holiday park at the base of volcano Mount Maunganui, with electricity and nearby showers, and cute bunny families hopping around.