Raglan, Best Surfing Town in NZ?

Raglan wasn’t on my radar, in fact I had never even heard of it. Jono, Nick and I wanted to try our hand at surfing and Jono had heard that Raglan was a good place to do it. Nick is a new addition to our squad, Jono’s mate from back in Vancouver. We were also joined by Stevie for the first couple of nights before he went back to his construction job in Auckland.

Raglan itself is a sleepy surfing town, about fifty kilometres to the west of Hamilton. Its population is small at 2,700, but nearby Ngarunui Beach, sometimes called Ocean Beach, Main Beach or Wainui Beach (just to keep things simple),  has great surf and so it attracts people from all over. Palm trees line its main street, and the all wooden Harbour View Hotel gives it a nice focal point in the centre of town. The surrounding countryside, hilly and covered in thick bush is, as usual, beautiful (I’m going to have to find more adjectives to describe the New Zealand countryside, ‘beautiful’ is getting a little worn), and it enjoys great weather in summer.

IMG_1705View from the rear of Raglan Backpackers

We’re all pretty low on cash, except Nick who is on vacation for a month and is living it up with beer and pizza every day. As a result, we were determined to camp for free, though there is a paying camp site in not far outside Raglan. We booked into the local hostel for the following weekend and looked for a suitable camp spot. We found one on the shore-front, beside a public toilet. There was a sign there banning camping and overnight stays, but the penalty wasn’t displayed so we chose to ignore it. We were eventually accosted two nights later by a burly Maori guy who lived across the road. He pointed to the notice and asked if we couldn’t read. “No overnight stays and you’ve been here four nights, bro.” I considered questioning his numeracy skills, but thought better off it. We moved on.

IMG_1695Raglan Backpackers courtyard. Beautiful, but closed at nine o’clock every night

Raglan Backpackers and Waterfront Lodge was one nicest I’ve stayed at in New Zealand: really beautiful with a Sauna and a Jacuzzi, plus friendly staff. There was even sharp knives in the kitchen, which is unheard of in a hostel. My only gripe with the place is that they shut everything down at nine o’clock. Everything. If you wanted to have a drink or smoke, you had to do it outside the front entrance, in an area ill equipped for such activity. That, and at twenty-nine dollars a night it was on the expensive side. If you want to stay there you’ll have to book well in advance as they are always at capacity in summer. You can rent surfboards and wetsuits here, thirty dollars for four hours for both.

Raglan HotelThe wooden Harbour View Hotel, in the centre of Raglan

There is alternatives for accommodation, the Lazy Stayz Hostel (07 825 0555) being one, though I never stayed there and can’t tell you much about it. After Raglan Backpackers, we stayed a bit out of town at Scott’s Place for three or four nights. It’s a farmhouse converted into a hostel by a chilled kiwi called Scott (amazingly) and his French wife, whose name I couldn’t pronounce and certainly can’t spell. You can pitch a tent in his garden for twenty bucks a night, sleep in your van, or grab a bed inside, all much cheaper than staying in town. It is a bit of a drive though, so if you don’t have a car you’ll be depending on a lift from others staying there. Scott has posters all over town where you just tear a number off and call him. Scott’s Place is amazing. He lives in a sort of valley, so we were surrounded by hills. He has some land with a small river in which he keeps large eels, apparently some over 150 years old, so keep them off the barbie… Oh, and bring insect repellent, or you’ll be eaten alive by both mosquitoes and sand-flies.

As to the surfing, I didn’t do too well. I missed the first day through a mysterious illness that we’ll call a hangover, and I never quite caught up with the other guys. I got standing up, but not for very long. Jono did much better, and Nick was pretty good too. Still, it was so much fun, and I reckon if I had a few more days at it, I’d be getting totally radical on the waves. But time to move on…

IMG_1711Me, Marco, Nick, and Jono, taking a break from being from getting smashed by the waves at Ngarunui Beach, Raglan

If you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, or even if, like me, you just want to give surfing a go, I’d definitely recommend Raglan. There is plenty of instruction available, the locals are friendly, and the location is, em, beautiful. If you’re not into surfing or kayaking, there is the nearby Bridal Veil/ Waireinga Falls and the Waitomo Glowworm caves to explore. There’s also great fishing spots and hiking and trails. Definitely recommend, loved it.

Scott's Place, RaglanScott’s Place, just outside Raglan

NOTE: We were actually very lucky not to have gotten into trouble for staying in prohibited areas overnight. I’ve spoken to people who have received 200 dollar fines for breaching the law, even where there are no signs. Unfortunately New Zealand, for all its beauty and friendly populace, is a land of rules and regulations (dogs are even banned from the main street in Raglan on pain of a 300 dollar fine, for example). So be careful. If you want to camp for free, you should go into the wild a bit, sand dunes are a good spot. Alternatively, ask a farmer if you can you camp on his land. The worst he can say is “no”, and I’ve heard of campers even scoring free food in this manner. Make sure to ask, though.

Been to Raglan? Going? Or had any trouble freedom camping in New Zealand? Let me know, below.