Good food, great surf and glorious sunsets. Jeff Kavanagh
gets a taste of life in Raglan.
Sadly, we never get the chance to test the claims that the
fish and chips from the Te Kopua camp store in Raglan are as
good as those from the dairy around the corner from where
We'd heard from Judy, the owner of our holiday house, that
there's debate between locals about the merits of the two and
we arrive at the store just after seven to find a small crowd
of people patiently waiting in the golden evening light for
their orders. Our plan is to grab some greasies and drive to
the beach, a couple of minutes over the hill, to watch the
sunset. As we approach the store's hole-in-the-wall counter,
a kid of about 11 moves away, bundles wrapped in newspaper
stacked up to his chin, revealing a "Sorry, kitchen closed"
sign, and it's hard not to wonder if he's just cleaned them
The kitchen, we learn, closes at seven, so we leave with a
dried-out steak and cheese pie and a couple of cold drinks.
Any disappointment we feel doesn't last long, as my
girlfriend and I are soon sitting at a picnic table high
above the long, majestic sweep of Ngarunui Beach, watching
perfectly spaced sets of waves crash on to the black sand as
the sun falls towards the ocean.
Earlier in the day we were among the waves ourselves, trying
out our newly acquired surfing skills. Half-an-hour west of
Hamilton, and endowed with a stunning, unspoilt coastline and
some of the best point breaks in the country, Raglan has long
been popular with surfers, both local and from overseas, and
throughout the summer months its car parks are full of camper
vans and old station wagons laden with surfboards and
mattresses stuffed in the back.
Keen to give it a whirl, but reluctant to shell out $90 each
for a lesson, I was eventually convinced by my girlfriend
that getting some proper instruction would be money well
spent, and it was. After an hour's basic tuition in the art
of getting up and staying on the board in Raglan Surfing
School's corrugated-iron training hall, hidden away in native
bush above Whale Bay about 15 minutes out of the town, we
were ready to hit Ngarunui Beach to try out the real thing.
The brochure promised that 90% of learners would be able to
stand up by the end of the three-hour-long lesson, and among
our group of French, German, Swiss, Icelandic and Kiwi
novices there wasn't anyone who didn't.
We may not have got much beyond wobbling along in the white
wash on our eight and nine-foot-long boards, but the
experience was enough to have my girlfriend and I back
renting boards and wetsuits a couple of days later.
Removed from the closest surf beach by a short drive, Raglan
lies near the mouth of the Raglan harbour, its township an
easy, laid-back place with magnificent phoenix palms lining
the main street and the 107-year-old Harbour View Hotel
sitting grandly in the middle. As you'd expect in a town
synonymous with the sport, there are plenty of surf shops
with staff padding around in jandals, but also little clothes
boutiques and kiwiana stores catering to weekend visitors
from Hamilton and Auckland, as well as a few more-than-decent
cafes serving up fare as tasty and varied as you'd find in
the bigger cities.
The best of these we discover is The Shack, tucked beneath a
broad, shady veranda across the road from the pub. The week
we're in Raglan coincides with one of the worst summers the
North Island has experienced in a decade, and at least a
couple of days at the beach are interrupted by cloudbursts
and trips there for coffees and blueberry and chocolate
muffins. Besides the usual cafe staples, The Shack's menu
boasts salad nicoise, grilled calamari, and a massive roti
wrap named The Hungry Surfer, stuffed with chicken, bacon,
potato and cheese, on which we gorge ourselves.
Breakfasts and dinners we tend to prepare back at the
two-bedroom bach, which is modern and comfortable and, like
most places in Raglan, is no more than a 15-minute walk from
the town centre and a well-stocked Four Square supermarket.
On the nights that we're too lazy to cook, the Raglan West
store and some superb gurnard and chips, lies within a happy
stroll down the street.
Despite the occasional deluge, the early March weather is
generally warm and pleasant, and time spent in cafes or
lazing on the bach's own generous veranda is interspersed
with swimming and surfing and drying ourselves out on the
beach afterwards. Judy's place is equipped with kayaks and a
paddle board, and the arm of the harbour that stretches
beneath the town's single-lane bridge and past the house is
narrow and calm, sheltered by rolling hills and dormant
volcano Mt Karioi, the craggy jaws of which yawn open towards
Having had a go on the stand-up paddle board in the harbour,
which is both less challenging and exciting than riding in
the surf, we take the two-seater kayak late one day as the
tide is on its way in and the sun is setting. There's a light
breeze in our faces, but with two paddling it's easy work to
glide out under the bridge and around towards the bar at the
harbour mouth. As we do, we see two or three little pleasure
craft bobbing on the water, fishing lines taut off the sides
of the boats, angling for that evening's dinner or the next
It reminds us that we're hungry ourselves, so we turn the
kayak towards the bach. On the way back, past the camping
ground, we spy people again gathered in the late sun outside
the store, waiting for their fish and chips. We're tempted to
stop, but we're damp from the splash of the paddles and on
the verge of getting cold, so continue onwards to the bach
for a shower, something to drink, and, if the mood takes us,
a trip to the dairy down the road.