Five-year-old Neive springs off the rough gravel path and plunges her bare feet into the soft green grass, giggling as the dewy blades tickle her feet.
Her hands spring up from her sides as she twirls and squeals with delight. Neive leads me towards a divet in the softly undulating hill and points at the ground: “That’s where the Maori put the kumera,” she says.
We’re up the top of Mount Eden, in Auckland New Zealand.
Known as Maungawhau (the hill of the Mhau tree) by the Maori, this is one of the most prominent volcanoes in all of New Zealand. Mt Eden last erupted 15,000 years ago. The Lava that flew from the base of the three overlapping scoria mounds was up to 60 metres thick.
When the volcano finally stopped erupting, the volcanic ash gave way to fertile soil. The Maori cultivated gardens and built a fortified villiage or pa on the slope until the 18th Century. Huge pits were dug into the earth to store kumera (sweet potato) in the winter.
It’s at one of these pits that Neive and I stand now. The grass around us is such a vivid green that it would be hard to imagine this was once a volcano if not for the huge crater ahead- an deep inverse cone covered in soft green grass.
Neive’s younger brother Cassias, 3, wriggles and points at the crater. “I’d like to roll down that grass,” he says.
I wonder how serious he is as American tour guide nearby explains the Maori once threw food into the crater to appease the mountain.
“It’s a long time since it’s been fed,” he jokes.
I turn to Cassias and laugh as he runs away.
These days Mount Eden is a tourist must-see in New Zealand, with spectacular 360 degree views of Auckland from the summit.
It’s an easy climb to the top of the mountain, even for little legs. From Eden Village, it will take about 20 minutes depending on the age and mood of the children. From the summit, you can see the line of other volcanoes popping up like pimples from the landscape. The last volcano to erupt here was Rangitoto, just off the coast of Auckland. It last spewed ash about 600 years ago and it’s only just beginning to take on the lush green characteristics seen on the other volcanic mountains.
If you’re in Auckland, this has to be one of the best ways to keep the kids entertained and engaged.
Getting there: Air New Zealand fly daily to Auckland from most capital cities.
Staying there: The suburb of Ponsonby has several gorgeous family homes available for rent on AirBnB with easy access to some of Auckland’s best restaurants. Try Mission Bay or the Eastern Beaches for a more relaxed coastal vibe or Brittomart for the full city-escape experience.
Playing there: Access to Mount Eden is free, simply walk up the path from the village.