Ask anyone with salt-draggled hair and the odd piercing where the best surf break in New Zealand is and there’s a fair chance they’ll name Raglan without a moment’s hesitation.
Right in the path of the big, hollow-chested Tasman swell, there’s a happy coincidence of landforms and oceanography right there, 48km from Hamilton by road and a million miles from anywhere.
The town wasn’t actually named after a set of funny sleeves; it was named in the mid-1800s for the commander of the British forces at Crimea (boy, would he have been flattered). In pre-European times, Māori knew this area as a place of healing, and tired toa (warriors) would make their way here to soak in the bracing briny and recharge mind and body.
Since European settlement, it’s sort of preserved that reputation, and there’s even a health and relaxation spa at Whale Bay. Most of those who live here are in full retreat from the bruising pace of modern urban life, and most visitors feel the stress ebbing from their necks and shoulders the minute they come over the hill and around the corner towards Raglan. You don’t have to be a surfer to love this place.
You don’t have to be a surfer, but it helps. Manu Bay, 8km down the road from the township and better known to salt-draggled and suntanned people as The Point, is reputed to deliver one of the most accessible and consistent left-handers in the world. Certainly, it offers length of ride – the right wave will keep you up for ten minutes and carry you the best part of 2km.
It’s a longer paddle out to the line-up at Whale Bay, but once there, you’ll find yourself amongst one of the world’s great breaks: Indicators, where those Big Tasman thumpers peel along a long, long boulder bank.
Don’t worry if you’re a novice: you can hire a board and get expert tuition at Raglan’s renowned surfing academy – because after all, grommets are people too – or you can hire boogie board, wetsuit and fins, or just do a spot of body-bashing in the breakers.
There’s a heap to do for avid non-surfers too. There’s kayaking, horse riding, even golf – although you’ll need to get to grips with an unusual natural hazard in the shape of sheep grazing the fairways. There are cafés, galleries and the local pub. And there’s the sunset. Don’t forget the sunset – once you’ve seen it, you won’t forget.