Auckland: New Zealand's city of 50 volcanoes

Auckland (CNN)Sprawling between both coasts of the North Island, New Zealand's largest city is known as the "city of sails" for the yachts that occupy its harbors.

But Auckland could just as easily be dubbed the "city of lava" for the approximately 50 volcanoes dotted around its landscape.
That's right. Fifty(ish).
    Though many have been quarried away or are too low to easily spy, volcanic cones still punctuate the skyline.
    Historically, the cones provided natural defenses for the terraced "pa" -- or fortified villages -- of local Maori.
    The Auckland Volcanic Field is dormant rather than extinct, with scientists estimating there's a 0.1% chance of an eruption in any one year. There's no way of predicting exactly where that might occur but none of the existing volcanoes are expected to erupt again.
    So, in the extremely unlikely event that the next eruption occurs when you're visiting one of the Auckland volcanoes listed below, chances are it won't be directly beneath you. Phew.
    Meantime, here are some volcanic starting points for exploring the city and its landscape.

    Rangitoto

    Rangitoto is Auckland's landmark volcano. A low, graceful island cone, it can be seen rising out of the waters of the Hauraki Gulf from many of the city's vantage points.
    Visitors can clamber up lava fields and through the world's largest Pohutukawa forest to reach the 259-meter-high (850 feet) crater in an hour on foot, or be driven from the island's wharf to the final 15-minute summit climb. There are a variety of other walks on the island, tunnels and caves to explore and views of the Gulf and back to the city.
    While there you can have a look at the 38 remaining "baches" -- holiday cottages -- erected on the island before new building was banned in 1937. In the 1990s, the simple structures were recognized as time-capsules of early Kiwi leisure-time and protected.
    Rangitoto is an easy day-trip, with frequent ferries making the 25-minute crossing from the central city, or you could make it more challenging and take a kayak.
    Visitors to Rangitoto can walk through fields of solidified lava.

    North Head/Maungauika and Mount Victoria/Takarunga

    Looking back towards the city from Rangitoto, the first two volcanic cones are North Head (Maori name Maungauika) and Mount Victoria (Takarunga) in the North Shore suburb of Devonport.
    North Head marks the entrance to Auckland's inner harbor. It has been an important coastal defense site -- initially for New Zealand's indigenous Maori and from the 1800s for the country's defense forces.
    On the northern side of North Head you can stroll along the golden sands of languid Cheltenham Beach, where Rangitoto provides a picture-perfect backdrop for swimmers. If you make it to the beach's northern end, Chateaubriant serves tasty French-inspired treats or you can go for the traditional Kiwi option and order a hokey-pokey ice cream from the local "dairy" or corner store.
    Alternatively, you can turn from North Head towards Mount Victoria and wander through Devonport village, which lies between the two. The area is full of small eateries and shops and is also home to the oldest purpose-built cinema in the Southern Hemisphere, the Vic.
    Like North Head, Mount Victoria is the site of a former Maori pa (fortified village) and also has military installations and sweeping views.
    North Head has historically been used as a defensive site at the entrance to Auckland's inner harbor.

    Pukekawa

    The Auckland War Memorial Museum sits opposite North Head, atop the Pukekawa volcanic cone.
    The building was opened in 1929 after a competition to design a building merging Auckland's museum and a war memorial to World War I dead.
    Commemorations continue to this day, with the museum a focus of activities on Anzac Day every April 25, with thousands attending a dawn service.
    The building itself has been substantially renovated over the past two decades, with a seven-story extension in 2006 adding a bronze dome to the neo-classical façade of the 1920s.
    As well as a permanent collection, the museum has regularly changing exhibitions and it's also a great place to delve into Maori culture, with two Maori galleries, cultural performances and tours.
    The museum is on the edge of Pukekawa's old explosion crater, which is now filled with sports fields, amid the leafy Auckland Domain. The city's oldest park, the Domain, is crisscrossed with walking tracks and also contains a sculpture trail and winter gardens.
    From here it's an easy stroll to the boutiques and galleries of Parnell or a short bus-ride to the Newmarket shopping district or central city.
    The Auckland War Memorial Museum stands on the edge of the Pukekawa crater.

    Maungakiekie / One Tree Hill

    Maungakiekie, or One Tree Hill, is the largest volcanic cone on Auckland's mainland by area and historic site of a large Maori pa, extensive terracing from which is still visible.
    European settlers named it One Tree Hill in the 1800s due to the solitary native tree at its summit. A settler, however, chopped the tree down and a radiata pine eventually replaced it.
    In the 1990s that was in turn cut by a Maori rights activist in protest at the government's Treaty of Waitangi settlement policy.
    New trees have been planted on One Tree Hill after a 2014 treaty settlement.
    In 2014, Maungakiekie was one of 14 landmark volcanoes -- or "maunga" -- returned to local tribes after a settlement with the Crown. Two years later, a grove of nine native trees was planted on the hill and it is expected that eventually one tree will be selected to remain.
    Meantime, what is most visible from around the city is an obelisk with the bronze figure of a Maori warrior at its base.
    The monument was erected in the 1940s to pay tribute to the Maori people, at the bequest of prominent English settler Sir John Logan Campbell.
    Logan Campbell also donated neighboring Cornwall Park to the public and the two combined make the biggest parkland in Auckland City. It's a slice of rural New Zealand, with roaming livestock and paddocks -- but being in the country's biggest metropolis there's also a pavilion-style cafe and a bistro.
    You can also visit Auckland's oldest surviving timber home -- Acacia Cottage (built 1841) -- or the Stardome Observatory planetarium.
    CNN Map

    Maungawhau / Mount Eden

    Nearby Maungawhau, or Mount Eden, is Auckland's highest natural point.
    From the summit you can stare down into its steep 50-meter-deep crater or get a 360-degree view of the city's sprawling suburbs.
    Ngati Whatua Orakei are a hapu (sub-tribe) in Auckland who offer daily guided walks of the mountain and explain its importance to the Maori people.
    There are also 5.5 acres of landscaped gardens -- Eden Garden -- on one side of the cone while, at its base, the suburb of Mount Eden has cafes, specialty shops and a village vibe.
    To continue the volcanic theme, visit Molten, which regularly features on local best restaurant lists.
    Maungawhau's crater is 50 meters deep.

    Mangere Mountain

    Further out of the central city and handy to the airport, Mangere Mountain is some 30,000 years old.
    Standing at 106 meters, it has three craters and the Auckland volcanic field's only "tholoid" -- a lava plug that forms a dome in the middle of one of its craters.
    The volcano and its surrounds were settled by an iwi (Maori tribe) 700 years ago and became home to around 4,000 people.
    Some of their direct descendants are guides at the Mangere Mountain Education Center and can take groups to the top of the volcano and help them interpret the landscape to learn how it was formed and how people used to live.
    Visitors also have the opportunity to participate in traditional activities in context -- for example seeing how food was grown and stored on the mountain, then planting a seedling and preparing a hangi (a meal steamed underground).
    It is possible to climb the volcano without a guide as well, with signposting explaining the significance of some sites.
    Visitors to Mangere Mountain can engage in traditional Maori practices such as preparing a "hangi."