Seaside Raglan Is New Zealand’s Answer To Byron Bay
It's as beautiful as it is laid back.
Over the last four decades, Byron Bay has grown from sleepy industrial town-slash-hippy enclave into one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations, with close to 2.2 million people visiting each year.
Locals often speak of a time when they didn’t have to share a wave with hoards of backpackers; a time when Byron more closely resembled Raglan, a town on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
In-the-know Kiwis have been flocking to Raglan to catch a wave for years now. Nestled below Mount Karioi and surrounded by tidal estuaries, it is as beautiful as it is laid back. And, despite the odd seasonal influx, with a permanent population of roughly 3000 Raglan, remains an authentic and quirky little surf town.
Raglan is home to one of the world’s most famous left-hand surf breaks, Manu Bay, which featured in the cult ‘60s surf movie The Endless Summer. Equally impressive are the swells at Whale Bay and Indicators, and, if you hang around town long enough you may be let in on one of the locals’ top-secret surf spots.
But you don’t have to be the next Kelly Slater to catch a wave at Raglan, either; Raglan Surf School offers lessons at the tamer Ngaruni or Ocean Beach, starting at $83 (NZD89) per person. Patrolled during the summer, it’s also a popular place to have a dip or just bliss out with a good book.
To stay in the know, switch the radio dial over to 98.1 Raglan Local Radio when you roll into town to get all the local surf reports.
Get back to nature
You only have to drive a little way out of Auckland to be reminded of New Zealand’s jaw-dropping geography, and Raglan does not disappoint on this front. You can walk along the famed black sand shore of Ngaruni, head to the spectacular Waireinga/Bridal Veil Falls, or wander along Te Toto Gorge Track.
The natural world is what Raglan does best and, whether you want to go kayaking along the limestone coast, paddle-boarding on the harbor, or horse-back riding along the beach, there is plenty of ways to get back in touch with mother nature.
Eat, drink, repeat
Raglan isn’t just for adventurers. In fact, one of the best things to do there is to do nothing at all. The perfect town to hit “stop” in for a few days, Raglan has grown just enough that you can find a really good cup of coffee with little fuss.
The Shack is a go-to for locals and travellers looking for a caffeine hit and a bite to eat. With free-range eggs and meat plus lots of locally sourced produce, it would easily compete with any of (gasp!) Melbourne’s best cafes. You can also try out the famed Raglan Roast at their hole-in-the-wall storefront on Volcom Lane, which serves up some of the best brew in NZ.
For something a bit fancier, Rock It Kitchen on the edge of town is brilliant. The pub grub at the Harbour View Hotel hits the spot, while The Wharf Kitchen and Bar and Orca Restaurant and Bar have great menus and killer water views.
But nothing can really beat the evening walk along the shoreline to Raglan Fish, an unpretentious eatery that sits at the end of the wharf and serves up the best fish and chips in town (or, as many locals insist, in NZ!).
Bunker down in a bache
While the town is bustling in summer, there is no bad time to visit Raglan. The humidity of the North Island means winters aren’t as cold as in other parts of the country, and the low cloud that rolls over the town in the mornings and evenings is a sight to behold.
There are a couple of camping grounds and a holiday park if you’re travelling on the cheap, but NZ also has a great tradition of “baches” (no frills holiday homes and shacks), and there are heaps of affordable options if you want to bunker down for a few days and soak up this little slice of heaven.
How to get to Raglan
(Lead image: anja)