If certainty is your thing, then New Zealand probably isn’t your place. The weather changes by the minute, volcanoes erupt in city parks, and the ground beneath you is frequently on the move. British settlers hoped to replicate something akin to the bucolic English countryside when they set up shop on the archipelago, but instead ended up with something far more unsettled and more interesting – a smouldering volcanic outcrop, prone to earthquakes, with a temperamental climate.
I got a glimpse of this restless environment when I caught the ferry to Rangitoto and Motutapu islands in the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland. Joined by a short land bridge, the two are a study in contrast. Rangitoto is a 600 year-old-volcano with inhospitable raw lava fields that support only the hardiest vegetation. At 20 million years, Motutapu is New Zealand’s oldest land mass, has been settled for centuries, and continues to support an active agricultural community. Roads traverse Motutapu’s rolling, pastoral terrain; a network of trails circumnavigate Rangitoto and lead up to its 850-foot summit.
My ride to the islands included weather that was warm, sunny, blustery, frigid, wet, and warm again in a span of about 20 minutes. I basked in the North Island’s subtropical sunshine as I climbed the 3-mile trail up the Rangitoto summit, only to be hit by a bone-chilling squall at the top. But I stuck around and the sky partially cleared, and I was reminded why New Zealand’s unpredictability make it such a spectacular place to visit and witness.