Rangitoto is Auckland’s largest and youngest volcano. It erupted out of the sea and has been the site of at least two eruptions, the last occurring about 600 years ago. These eruptions created one of Auckland’s most striking features.
The lack of soil, very little water and high temperatures has created a distinctive yet developing plant population. Colonisation by lichen, moss and algae has been followed by the establishment of over 250 species of native trees and plants including ferns and orchids and the largest pohutukawa forest in New Zealand.
Rangitoto literally means sky blood. Early European settlers speculated that its name was evidence of an eyewitness account of its eruption. But in reality the meaning is not volcanic.
Rangitoto’s full name is Te Rangi i totongia te ihu a Tama-te-kapua (the day the blood of Tama-te-kapua’s nose flowed), in memory of an ancient battle on the island between the Tainui people and their Te Arawa rivals. Tama-te-kapua, the famous captain of the Te Arawa canoe, was injured, and his people defeated, leaving the island and Tamaki Makau Rau (the Auckland area) as the territory of Tainui-descended tribes for many centuries.
According to Tama-te-kapua’s descendants, the Ngati Tai, Rangitoto came into being as the result of a legendary domestic dispute on the North Shore.
A giant couple lived with their slave on a mountain that stood where Lake Pupuke is today. The couple became so engrossed in a blazing row that they let their household fire go out. When they noticed, they cursed the fire goddess Mahuika, who called on Mataoho, the local god associated with volcanoes, to teach them a lesson. He obliged by destroying their home with the explosive eruption of Lake Pupuke, and imprisoning the couple and their slave in the triple peak of a new mountain out to sea - Rangitoto.