GET UP THAT VOLCANO
Exploring nature's playground
Kristin Ward and friends discover volcanoes are a natural playground.
Kids love volcanoes. It's not surprising considering they involve
the potential for great adventure – explosions, fire and of course
there's a definite link to that other preschool obsession, dinosaurs.
The good news is that dormant volcanoes can be equally as
exciting (albeit lacking in dinosaurs), and there are plenty of those
in New Zealand.
It's likely that by the end of the year there will be restrictions on
driving to the top of Auckland's volcanic cones, starting with Mt
Eden, so it might be even more of a challenge for little legs to make
it to the top to see the city in all its glory. But there's plenty on offer
to make it worth the effort.
Mt Wellington is our Auckland volcano of choice. (Aren’t we lucky
in New Zealand to be able to select our favourite volcano?)
I recently organised a morning excursion with a bunch of parents
and our preschoolers to circumnavigate Mt Wellington's crater.
About a dozen keen families turned up at the carpark meeting
place on the summit. As the parents got out of their cars I kept
hearing, “Wow! I have never been up here! Wow! What a view!”
As the children tumbled from the cars the three and four year
olds started racing each other up the steps to the ridge around the
crater. There is nothing like putting a bunch of four year old boys
together to get some dynamite exercise happening!
Parents with 18 month olds or 2 year olds took a more gingerly
approach, holding hands with unsure little ones, and counting
steps out loud. Each stair ascended was a personal achievement!
After just a couple of flights of steps we were out on the
undulating ridge that encircles the crater. My three-year-old son
has been here quite a few times, so we're now past the stage of
questions as to the likelihood the volcano will explode on us.
By the time I got to the top of the stairs I could hear his voice
shouting out suggestions to the other kids, “Let’s ambush them!”
His slightly older cousin yelled back the challenge, “I am going to be
the first to the top!”
The volcanic scoria gravel proved to be quite a challenge and
there were several unhappy children after a few tumbles, but
nothing parents couldn't fix with hugs and kisses.
I remember beaming with affection and gratitude at my friends
for coming with us and for being keen to make adventure part of
our kids’ childhoods. It is so much more fun to do this with friends.
It didn't take long for one or two fit and responsible mums
to gain on the four year olds and reach the Trig point almost
simultaneously with them. The children started having raptures
because they discovered a dead mouse mysteriously lying on the
platform of the Trig point. They all had to have a good look before
someone found a nappy wipe in their supplies and gingerly picked
up the dead rodent by the tail, throwing it into the long grass.
With that entertainment over the children begged for morning tea.
The rest of us congregated at the top and congratulated the
three and four year olds in exaggerated fashion for being such
I asked my sister in law to give an impromptu lesson to the kids
about volcanoes. “Well,” she said, “I did actually look up some fun
facts about volcanoes on Google this morning. Did you kids know
that the Auckland area has 53 volcanoes..?”
As the children sat down and tucked into their lunchboxes, the
adults chatted about the stunning 360-degree view and pointed
out various landmarks to the kids. Some of the older boys started
shifting as close to the edge of the crater as they possibly could.
A couple of parents wandered over to hover and started chatting
to the boys about the crater. The decision was made. Let’s go down!
We herded the children a bit further round the ridge of the crater to
a well-worn path down to the bottom.
What a sight! Mothers with infants in backpacks, parents holding
toddlers' hands, the odd heavily pregnant mum, ragamuffin four
year olds happily sliding down the steep slope on their bottoms.
Once at the bottom the children rock-hopped across the base of
the crater and started competing to bound up the hill and reach the
ridge up the other side.
I was so impressed with my three year old. I have not known him
to manage such a feat of muscular endurance whilst simultaneously
demonstrating endurance in the field of cheerfulness. Friends are a
My advice for this autumn is find your nearest volcano and go
straight to the top!
Although Auckland is well-endowed with volcanoes to explore,
(the most famous being Rangitoto and Mt Eden) the rest of
the North Island is well peppered too! Here are seven terrific
volcanoes to consider visiting with your budding volcanologists.
Tokatoka Peak – Kaipara District
For those in Northland, ascending Tokatoka Peak makes a terrific
little trip. This is an outlandishly-shaped peak which is actually the
heavily eroded plug of an ancient volcano. It only takes 20 mins
to ascend, but it is definitely very steep. A good level of fitness is
required, and this is not for the faint-hearted! Take great care with
kids to supervise them as they climb – the steps can be muddy
and slippery. Spectacular 360-degree views over the surrounding
area (Wairoa River and farmland) wait for you at the summit!
Whakaari (White Island) – Bay of Plenty
White Island, 49 km off the coast of Whakatane, is New Zealand’s
most active cone volcano. It has been in a near-continuous state
of smoking since 1769 when it was named by James Cook (the first
European to sight the island). Walking on White Island has been
likened to walking on the moon. Its harsh acidic environment
allows no vegetation growth at all. Visitors speak very highly of
the fascinating tours that allow visitors onto the privately-owned
reserve island. It is easily accessible by authorised commercial
tourist operators. Weather permitting, a luxury motor launch
leaves Whakatane daily for a six-hour day trip. Families are
welcome, however a recommended minimum age is 8 years old.
Children under 4 years are not permitted. A good standard of
walking fitness is required. www.whiteisland.co.nz
Mt Maunganui – Bay of Plenty
Known by locals as simply 'The Mount', this extinct volcano is
situated in the town of Mount Maunganui, at the eastern entrance
to Tauranga Harbour. The Mount is more a climb for older children
and teenagers than little ones. This spectacular climb takes
approximately 50 mins to an hour to get to the top. It is a well-
maintained, beautiful track with stunning views the whole way
up. Highly recommended! www.trampingtracks.co.nz/tauranga-
Mt Haszard and Waimangu Volcanic Valley – south of Rotorua
If your family lives in the central North Island, or you have decided
to holiday in Rotorua, make sure you take the time to visit the
wonderland that is the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Although this
is a commercial operation the pricing is reasonable. The site offers
steaming volcanic crater lakes, amazing colours, and stunning views.
There are multiple options for self-guided walks past excitingly
named volcanic features such as Southern Crater, Echo Crater, Frying
Pan Lake, Inferno Crater and Bird's Nest Terrace. The walking is easy
and there are options suitable for little children’s endurance levels.
Bring your camera! www.waimangu.co.nz
Mt. Ruapehu – Tongariro National Park
In summer this famous skiing mountain can be a fabulous place
to introduce your teens to tramping! There is a 10 KM or 7 KM
option, depending on the starting point. This is not a climb for
little children. A brilliant rock-hopping climb to the heart of an
active volcano, there is no marked track. Alpine experience is
required as well as appropriate equipment such as crampons
as there is snow and ice year-round at the top. Trekkers must be
prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions as is the case
on all high mountains. If you are a novice and feel nervous of
alpine walking, this does not have to be consigned to the 'too
hard basket'. Local guides take daily trips to the top of Ruapehu
to see the world-famous Crater Lake. If you are keen to give your
teens a great sense of achievement, pack the scroggin and put
this volcano in the diary! www.nationalpark.co.nz
Mt Tongagiro and Mt Ngauruhoe – Tongariro National Park
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a spectacular day trek that
ascends the flanks of the majestic Tongariro volcano. It has been
named as on of the top ten day treks in the world! Definitely more
of a trip for families with teenagers who have good endurance.
Many who complete the 19.4-kilometre journey will tell you the
climbs can be steep and the weather unpredictable, though
worth it in every aspect... Golden tussock-covered hills, moon-
like expanses of red volcanic rock and strange aqua blue crater
lakes await like jewels at the top of the mountain. If you have fit,
inexhaustible teenagers with you, take on the extra challenge
of the scree covered slopes up the perfectly cone-shaped
Ngauruhoe. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing will be a highlight
in your scrapbook of awesome family memories.