We just returned from a mini trip to Raglan, a laid back town on the west coast of Te Ika a Maui North Island. Raglan is known as the surfing mecca of NZ, boasting the longest, most consistent left-hand break in the world. While the kick back surf vibe is dominate, the off-wave chill outs, funky shops, and local art culture are not to be missed.
Spend the day learning to surf, browse the galleries, or kick off your shoes (legal in NZ establishments) and grab a cold brew at one of the local cafes or pubs. If you are planning some townie time, it is important to note that most businesses take Tuesday off, signs like the one below are fairly common on Mondays as well.
As for surfing….well any day with solid waves is a good day to be out there. If the surf is less than desirable, the surf shops will let you know.
However, don’t expect everyone to listen, the skate park was empty this day, while the beach was filled with surfers.
Our trip to Raglan was quick and somewhat non-eventful, but we still managed to experience a bit of its flavor. We were there for only 36 super windy hours during a time I was tapering for an ultra race (aka resting). We some missed some key activities that include paddleboarding or kayaking the harbor and climbing the iconic Karioi volcano. This gives us plenty to explore on our next visit. I actually didn’t even have an opportunity to surf…lame, I know.
However, we were still able to check out the beaches and shops and sample some yummy food. The Shack, located in the heart of downtown, claims to be ‘Raglan’s favorite cafe’, but we actually skipped it. The shabby chic decor and menu of meat, poached eggs, and things with pumpkin, just seemed like every ‘beach’ themed cafe in NZ. The pictures of the food looked lovely, so I am sure we missed out some yummies. We instead headed to Rock it Kitchen, a tiny little place in an old woolshed on the way to the beach. Their menu is small, but local and seasonal and they have quality vegetarian and vegan options, something that can be very challenging to find in a cattle and sheep farming country. The next day, I tried the Wharf Kitchen and Bar, also a bit out of the main town center, located at the Wharf (naturally). I happened to be in the area and I was hungry so it seemed like the logical choice. Their seafood chowder is ‘world famous’ and I am a sucker for ordering anything that claims this distinction. While I later learned that it received this distinction simply because a customer that travels around the world says it was best, I have to admit, it was the best I have ever had as well. Smoky fish, curry base and fresh cilantro were enough to make me stray from my typical vegetarian ways.
While the food is good, you can’t miss the beach in Raglan. The largest and most popular beach is Ngarunui, aka ‘Main Beach’. You will find kite surfers and traditional surfers occupying opposite ends of the beach with swimmers in the middle.
The views from the top of the large sand dunes overlooking the beach are stunning. Don’t miss the Māori compass stone carvings. The sea breezes have weathered these carvings, adding character to this remarkable craft.
For more intimate surfing experiences, head just a wee bit north to Manu Bay to check the famous break or Whale Bay that demands more advanced surfing skills. You get a flair for Raglan on your trip up this way…rural, organic, sustainable, simple.
I have heard many NZ towns described as ‘hippie’, but only Raglan (maybe Takaka) has truly captured the vibes of tolerance, environmental stewardship, and rejection of some of mainstream culture. It is also the first town that has recycle bins throughout the streets. Sadly, this an anomaly in NZ.
In case you were wondering about the political leanings of Raglan, see below.
One of the biggest highlights of our trip was staying in yurt. The yurt was located near a wetland just down the hill from the owner’s home. It was simple, off the grid, and absolutely stunning. Nights by candlelight were so special.
The bathroom is semi sheltered, with a compost toilet and single bamboo shower spout.
The owner’s have filled the yurt with locally produced goods such as pottery, coffee/tea, soaps/shampoos, and art…my favorite, was the drum set.
If you are looking for a carefree destination where you can kick off your shoes and chill at the beach, head west to Raglan. It is totally righteous!