Whichever way you approach the west coast settlement of Raglan, once you leave the motorway - or have Hamilton in your rear-vision mirror - you’ll discover an enchanting landscape that leads to the sea via winding rural roads. The rolling green countryside is punctuated with bumps and cones, relics of the region’s volcanic origins, so try to negotiate yourself out of driving to better enjoy the picturesque views.
Raglan is popular with artists and activists, surfers and innovators - people who’ve created a community actively dedicated to environmental issues. With its epic surf and natural beauty, it feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big smokes, yet it’s just 150km from Auckland and 45km from Hamilton.
Seas the day
Refresh yourself on a hot summer’s day by taking a dip in the tide. Head for the surfing and swimming beach at Manu Bay or opt for the lifeguard-patrolled waters of Ngarunui (Ocean) Beach, where various operators hire out surfboards and offer surf lessons.
If you prefer your bathing less boisterous, the calmer waters of the inner harbour at Te Kopua Beach are a haven for paddling and are especially popular with young families. Kayaking and paddleboarding are also fashionable, and you could spend many happy days perusing the coastal limestone formations.
If you’re not travelling with aquatic equipment, head to Raglan Kayak Tours and Rentals, which has a base at the Bow Street jetty. Or make time for a sunset excursion aboard the Wahine Moe, a comfortable, fully licensed, pontoon-style catamaran. Dine on fish and chips from Raglan Fish while the Wahine Moe’s skipper regales you with colourful tales and sunset puts on a display so dazzling, if it hadn’t been designed by nature, you might call it garish.
With its skate bowl, pump track, playground and mature trees for climbing, Te Kopua Domain is where parents take kids to wear them out. Have a stroll across the famous footbridge, which is illuminated prettily at night.
Visit Wainui Reserve on the way to Ngarunui Beach - the playground there is tucked away but well worth seeking out. Other excellent means of being active include stand-up paddleboarding or climbing and abseiling with adventure tourism company Raglan Rock.
Mountain-bikers have the recently opened trails at Te Ara Kākāriki at Wainui Reserve (grades 2 and 3). The challenging but charming 45km Mount Karioi Loop is a winner with cyclists, although with winding roads on a shingle surface, do take care.
Pīpīwharauroa Trail is an 18km delight beneath the Te Uku Wind Farm - and the views will blow you away. But if that all sounds too much like hard work, you could opt for a massage (there are numerous therapists in Raglan) or take a yoga class at Raglan Yoga Loft.
Best foot forward
Be sure to have sturdy footwear on hand, because there are several lovely strolls - from dreamy wanders to hearty hikes. Some 28km from Raglan on the Kauroa-Kāwhia Road, Bridal Veil Falls (55m) is a perennial favourite.
Found within the 217ha Wairēinga Scenic Reserve, the path follows the Pakoka River and is an easy 15-minute walk to the elegant cascade. If time is on your side, climb Mount Karioi, the 2.4-million-year-old extinct volcano will make you feel positively youthful.
Of the two tracks, Mount Karioi is more challenging than the Wairake Track - or walk up one and down the other and leave a vehicle at each end. Whichever way you do it, it’ll take about seven hours return, so pack sensibly with water, food, sunscreen and clothes for all seasons.
The 9km Three Bridges Trail from the causeway to the airfield and the footbridge is stunning and suitable for pushchairs. Or to stretch your legs but not break a sweat, the Ngarunui Beach Trail (20 minutes each way) is a delightful method of getting to the beach from town.
There are numerous eating and drinking establishments in Raglan. Raglan Roast Food Department on Volcom Lane makes a feisty hole-in-the-wall coffee when you need a caffeinated kick in the pants. Or say kia ora to the barista at Raglan Surf Company.
Rock-it Kitchen is based in an old woolshed a little way out of town and focusses on seasonal, organic food. If you time the tide right, you can paddleboard there and take advantage of the craft-beer selection and wine list. There’s also a grassed area where kids and pets can frolic.
Clover is a cool little family-run restaurant serving vegetarian soup and salads. Ruapuke Artisan Bead is perfect for stocking up on picnic fare, while La La Land is a cute boutique chocolate café hidden behind a massive pōhutukawa tree on Wallis Street that serves excellent coffee and croissants.
The Shack is dandy for mouth-watering, fresh, locally sourced food. Bow Street Depot offers seaside views, burgers and beverages. The Historic Harbour View Hotel is the oldest building in town and is perfect for people-watching. It also serves tasty pub grub.
The YOT Club caters to a more party-oriented crowd with Sunday sessions featuring bands and DJs. For casual fish and chips on the beach, the best bets are Joe’s Campground Takeaways and Raglan Fish, based on a working fishing wharf, meaning the fish couldn’t be fresher.
It is incredibly hard to keep this section brief but - one final suggestion - The Conscious Kitchen at Solscape serves astonishingly delicious plant-based food. So stop in, pull up a beanbag and admire expansive views of the sweeping coast. This is where locals go to feel the energy of the surf and remind themselves why they live in Raglan.
Surrounded almost entirely by water, Raglan Holiday Park is perfectly placed on the peninsula that juts into Raglan Harbour. It offers every type of accommodation from cabins to powered sites, as well as spaces for tents.
Visitors tend to return to this place year after year thanks to its fab facilities, excellent play areas, views and proximity to the water, although you will need to leave your pooch at home. For something a little more rustic, you’ll find Ruapuke Motorcamp just 28km south of Raglan.
With cabins, tent spaces and eight powered sites, it’s tranquillity personified. There’s loads of space, it’s next to a brilliant surf beach, and there’s a stream with eels in it. If you’re roving with Rover, you’ll be pleased to learn that it is also pet-friendly.