A “must do” on our trip was surfing, especially for my travel buddy, Simon, who has never tried the sport. So, based on multiple suggestions, we headed to the west coast to Raglan, a small surfer town.
Based on the information from the Info Centre, tenting accommodation would be at least 20 NZD a night, but we luckily found a cheaper option at Te Kopua Whanau Camp. It has basic facilities – toilets, showers (1 NZD for hot water), a kitchen area with sinks, waste disposal. There was plenty of tenting space and we nestled our little tents and dirty car under a huge Norfolk Pine tree.
We wandered down to the beaches. The closest beach, Ocean Beach, was a 10 minute walk from the campsite, and there were kite surfers setting up as we passed.
The surfing beaches were about an hour walk. The tide was out, so there was a vast expanse of sand into the shallow water. Rogue waves surprised us a couple of times, convincing us to retreat closer to the sand dunes. We stopped at Ngarunui Beach, set up shop, Simon explored and I relaxed.
Our first day of surfing wasn’t the greatest. I felt under the weather and so hung out in my tent resting, while Simon took his first ever surf lesson. When he returned to the camp site, the first words he said were “surfing’s hard”.
The second day had mixed reviews. I put my previous surf lessons to good use and had a grand time surfing on the beginner waves. There were times I was forced ashore from the salt, sun, and sunscreen burning my eyes to, what felt like, blindness. But after a quick rest I continued with my 4 hour board rental. Eventually, my knees began to burn, the waves became more choppy, and I more fatigued. So I retired to the beach, where Simon and I met a young Japanese traveller practicing his English, and a friendly dog that was keen to play fetch with everyone.
Unfortunately, Simon had a worse day than me. When we returned our boards after our hire period, and collected our belongings, Simon discovered his new Birkenstock sandals were missing, likely taken by another visitor, either intentionally or by mistake.
So with his size 12 Birks with a new owner, we headed back to town. Walking by the cafés and shops and galleries, with no money to spend frivolously, and passing old friends meeting up and children jumping off the bridge into the local watering hole, I began to feel that Raglan is a special place.
It reminded me of Nimbin, Australia. The same relaxed, local, friendly vibe. But I felt that, same as Nimbin, you cannot grasp the full emotion of the town as a short term visitor. There are too many corners to explore, interesting people to meet, and local events to attend. We were in Raglan for 3 nights, somewhat secluded in our campsite, without many opportunities to meet locals (even those who worked at the surf school/rental were foreigners). But even after our brief stay, you can tell Raglan is a special place.