A short break in and around Raglan's wet stuff makes a great family getaway, writes Anna King Shahab

Raglan's beaches make it a surfer's paradise. But if you're not keen on hitting the waves, there are plenty of reasons why Raglan is a great choice for a weekend away – even outside summer, as we recently discovered on a short break with the kids.

Built on the Whāingaroa harbour with several beautiful beaches within easy reach, Raglan has visitors spoilt for choice when it comes to getting on, in, or by the water. We also managed to coincide our visit with a lot of water falling from the sky – but we weren't letting that get in the way of a good time.

Having randomly bumped into friends of from back home on the main street, we grabbed takeaway coffees and drove to Ngarunui Beach to give the four kids a run around. The most family-friendly of Raglan's beaches (and patrolled by surf lifesavers in summer), it sprawls languidly, adorned in light black sand, begging to be walked along. Ngarunui is a good spot for beginner surfers and bodyboarders, while most of the surf spots around here are best left to experts: Manu Bay (made famous in the 1966 film Endless Summer), Whale Bay, and The Indicators. The latter is a stunning sight; the ocean dances like a pleated skirt, and legend has it that on a good day it's possible to ride a wave from The Indicators through Whale Bay all the way to Manu Bay. Life goals.

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Right by town, Kopua Domain is a popular spot, with sandy banks sloping into the estuary for swims – perfect after a stint at the skate park there; if we'd had wetsuits we would have been right in there but without, the water was a tad too cold. Te Kopua Bridge is a legendary spot to jump into the water, but it's vital to check the water level first.

Two watery advantages were behind our choice of accommodation. Being mid-winter, a hot spa was my non-negotiable when looking for a place to stay, and I wanted somewhere with water views, and close to town so we could roam on foot. I searched booking.com with those filters and found a sweet spot that also offered the use of kayaks. Located right on Raglan Wharf, it was perfect for launching them, too. The spa pool was a hit with the grownups and kids alike. Apparently spa sales in New Zealand soared during lockdown; I say avoid the maintenance and travel for a hot-tub experience instead.

Bridal Veil Falls, just outside of Raglan town, is a great family outing, whatever the weather. Photo / Anna King Shahab
Bridal Veil Falls, just outside of Raglan town, is a great family outing, whatever the weather. Photo / Anna King Shahab

A wet morning called for indoor time so we popped into the Raglan Museum, which offered a fascinating insight into the history of the area from early Māori settlements to the heady days of surf culture in the 50s and 60s. A bonus was seeing that a lot of the surfing collection was donated by our friend's late father and legend of the early Raglan surf scene Bob Comer, and seeing the name of another friend's father etched on the senior men's trophy for 1968. Aotearoa sure is a small place, and Raglan even smaller.

There are some great walks to be had around here – there are short and long options to reach the summit of bush-clad extinct volcano Mt Karioi, offering views on a clear to mountainous cousins including Ruapehu and Taranaki.
The weather not playing ball, we opted instead to check out Bridal Veil Falls. It was an easy 10 minutes to a dizzying view down from the top of the falls, then puddle-jumping down 200-odd steps to the bottom view. Water, water, all around – this walk put the "bathing" into forest bathing: damply refreshing.

Raglans's Rivet stocks vintage and new homewares in an old dairy factory. Photo / Anna King Shahab
Raglans's Rivet stocks vintage and new homewares in an old dairy factory. Photo / Anna King Shahab

Eat, shop, stay

For a small town, Raglan punches above its weight in delicious things to eat. A few favourites from our getaway were the beautiful and tasty Japanese-inspired dishes cooked by the Shirai family in their restaurant Ulo's, wonderfully fresh fish and chips at Raglan Fish on the wharf, and the drool-worthy lineup of flavoured hot chocolates at La La Land.

There are enough interesting shops in Raglan to make for a good day's mooching. I loved Atamira, with its large but thoughtfully curated range of clothing, jewellery and books, and the selection of vintage threads, records and artwork at Ulo's, the gallery sister to the restaurant, full of artist Kyoko Shirai's distinctive creations. In My Good Books may be tiny but it's stocked to the ceiling with secondhand literary loveliness. A walk from town along Wallis St towards the wharf yielded stops at Rivet (vintage and new homewares in an old dairy factory) and The Monster Company (collective workshop and gallery of three ceramic artists). By the landmark silo tower on the wharf, the workshop and gallery of potter Tony Sly is stacked with his covetable pieces.

Raglan Fish on the wharf. Photo / Anna King Shahab
Raglan Fish on the wharf. Photo / Anna King Shahab

We found Journey's End on booking.com. Impeccably clean with roomy bedrooms, a deck with a barbecue, spa pool, fire pit and use of kayaks and bikes, it was perfectly positioned looking out over the wharf. Host Glen provided generous breakfast supplies. A highlight was sitting in the spa with a cold beer watching the dusk's colours stroke the hills across the harbour.

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For more information, go to raglan.net.nz and waikatonz.com
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com