There’s a beatnik vibe to the coastal North Island town of Raglan that wouldn’t seem out of place in 1950s California. Surfers from across New Zealand flock to its world-class point break, whilst others come to admire the nearby Bridal Veil Falls.
Black volcanic sands hint at a turbulent underbelly in Raglan, but today the reliable left-hand breaks of Manu Bay ensure a surfing community that brings an easy-going energy. A number of friendly surf schools welcome beginners of all ages, but this town offers you more than just swell-hunting. Enjoy our top recommendations of things to do in Raglan.
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Raglan’s black sands are the giveaway that New Zealand’s geothermal magic tricks aren’t too far away. An hour’s drive south to Kawhia is where you’ll find them. Park up at Ocean Beach at low tide, then negotiate the dunes before finding a spot of sand to dig for your gold. It won’t take long before you’ll have your own hot water spa – with a tranquil view to match.
If surfing isn’t quite your thing and you’d rather spend more time floating on top of the water – rather than immersed in it – Raglan’s kayaking and paddleboarding scene is just as popular. This nimble seafaring option allows you to explore Raglan’s limestone nooks and crannies. The friendly certified pros at Bow Street Jetty offer one and two-hour sessions for newbies. There’s also a three-hour guided tour of Raglan’s pancake rock formations that include a coffee and pastry break.
Held over three days every Labour Day weekend – the fourth Monday in October – Raglan Arts weekend is the town’s favourite way to showcase its creative and bohemian nature. Described as an “open studio artist trail”, the event is completely free. Featuring both emerging and established Kiwi artists, you’ll find them present alongside their work and happy to answer questions and give insight into their work. If you’re a bit early then fret not, preview exhibitions usually run for three weeks beforehand.
On the way to the Wainui Nature Reserve, you’ll pass Rock-It Kitchen. This family-friendly converted woolshed serves up local, organic cuisine as well as top Raglan Roast coffee overlooking the verdant hillside – it’s no wonder that it is a favourite among the locals. Come for breakfast, where the Irish potato cakes with pork belly, poached eggs and spiced paprika hollandaise will make it well worth your while.
Located just 5km (3mi) west of town, Ngarunui is the ultimate go-to for novice surfers. The beach is incredibly safe and well patrolled by local lifesaving guards in the high summer season. If you’re only just starting to delve into this epic water sport, you’ll have your pick of reputable surf schools in Raglan – your instructor will have you riding waves in no time.
Manu Bay is located 8km (5mi) west of Raglan town and is highly regarded for its long peeling left-hand break – believed to be some of the longest rides in the world and is one of Raglan’s premier surfing spots for more advanced surfers. Whale Bay is just a little further down; another left-hander that’s a little softer than Manu – but watch out for the big rock in the middle. Ruapuke is 20 minutes out of town and offers powerful barrels when it’s working; the scenic drive and craggy cliffs that give the area an awe-inspiring sense of ruggedness will make the trip worth it.
The Wainui Reserve is a 140ha (350ac) farm park that connects to Ngarunui Beach. Stroll from the centre of town and past the river into this bush reserve – dotted with wildflowers and pampas grass. You’ll often spot paragliders swooping overhead. After an hour of walking, you’ll end up on the beach: bring a picnic and enjoys the views across the Tasman Sea. Come at sunset to watch the sky turn a dramatic shade of orange and pink.
Mount Karioi is an ancient volcano just 8km (5mi) southwest of Raglan that is believed to be more than two million years old. There are two hiking routes up to its summit: the steep but incredibly scenic Mt Karioi Track, which takes approximately three-and-a-half hours to climb; or the shorter Wairake Track, a two to three-hour meander past the nearby farmlands. Intermediate-advanced cyclists can also try their hand at the Mt Karioi loop track – conveniently starting at the Raglan town centre before setting off to the summit and back into town again.
As the summer sun sets over the Raglan Harbour, the Wahine Moe takes its passengers through a pleasant charter tour of the waterways. The seasonal catamaran cruises – operated by Raglan Boat Charter – depart from the Raglan Wharf off Wallis Street and cruise past ancient limestone formations as the crew recount their seafaring tales and provide insight into the town’s history.
Alexis James contributed additional reporting to this article.
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