Spontaneous trips are often the best, aren’t they? Going somewhere without expectations makes it hard to be disappointed and easier to fall in love with a place.
Last Friday, Ahmed and I decided to rent a car and head to Raglan, a small beach town 45 kilometers away from Hamilton, where we’re living. We had been told it is a charming town with beaches considered among the country’s best, and so we wanted to visit it before Ahmed would start uni this week.
The number one reason for tourists and locals to visit Raglan is its surf breaks. They include Indicators, Whale Bay, and Manu Bay – the latter was featured in the 1966 movie The Endless Summer and in the 2010 movie Last Paradise.
That being said, even if you don’t surf there are plenty of excuses to visit this artsy town and its lovely surroundings. Here are some ideas and must-do’s if you’re planning to visit Raglan.
1. Enjoy the road from Hamilton to Raglan
Ahmed and I drove to Raglan without any stops, but on the way back we figured we’d have enough time for a D-tour and a few photo stops. It was definitely worth the extra time we spent on the road, as the farms, mountains and reserves make for a scenic route.
2. Have a locally roasted coffee
Kiwis love coffee, and Raglan roast is famous throughout the country. A visitor poll on the Raglan website in 2010 saw Raglan Roast winning with 77 votes out of 170, but we opted for The Shack (which ended third place) and truly enjoyed our cappuccinos (mine with almond milk; I loved it!) and the very friendly staff. We even thought we might come back for lunch or dinner at this place next time we visit Raglan, because the food smelt delicious!
3. Enjoy a picnic at Te Kopua Reserve
We prepared lunch at home before driving to Raglan and enjoyed a picnic at Te Kopua Reserve. Apparently, the reserve, connected to the town centre by a footbridge, is a popular spot for picnics and barbecues, and it isn’t difficult to figure why. It is an excellent spot for (safe) swimming, features a large play area for kids, and offers benches and tables in addition to public toilets and changing rooms. The peninsula is also home to a big holiday park.
4. Go for a swim
While the waters of Manu Bay may be a bit too rough for swimming, Te Kopua Reserve, Ocean Beach and Ngarunui Beach are excellent places to swim. During the summer months, lifeguards patrol these beaches for extra safety.
5. Watch the surfers at Ngarunui Beach or one of the bays
Even if you (like me) are not into surfing, it is fun to watch beginners (at Ngarunui Beach) or profs (at Manu Bay or Whale Bay) while enjoying the sun and the beach. Every year, Manu Bay holds international surfing competitions, which may be fun to attend as well.
6. See the Bridal Veil falls
About 20 kilometers south from Raglan are the Bridal Veil or Waireinga Falls, a 55-meter high plunge waterfall and popular tourist attraction. From the car park, it is an easy 10-minute walk to the top of the waterfall and another 10 minutes or so to take the stairs down and contemplate the fall as in the picture above.
7. Go for a hike
Apart from the waterfall, there are numerous short and long walking tracks in and around Raglan. On my wish list is the hike to Raglan’s Sleeping Lady, or Mount Karioi. There are two tracks, the more challenging Te Toto Track and the easier Wairake Track, but diehards walk up from one and go down on the other track, arranging transport to meet them on the other side. The summit is said to offer spectacular views of the region. Shorter and less challenging hikes include the Bryant Memorial Walk or Three Bridges Walk.
8. Look for arts and crafts
Raglan is bursting of creative and artsy people! While walking around in the centre, you will see numerous art shops and galleries. If you are into arts and crafts, make sure to check out Raglan’s Creative Market, held every second Sunday of the month. Other places to visit are the Matapihi Art Gallery and Raglan & District Museum.
Raglan is THE place to enjoy (watching) a surf and the laid-back Kiwi lifestyle. We loved it and will most likely come back for more!