If you’re a fan of quirky surf towns with plenty of excellent restaurants and cafes, then Raglan is the perfect vacation spot for you. It’s one of my favorite towns in New Zealand because of its relaxed vibe and because there’s so much to do in such a small town.
Think adventure sports like rock-climbing and canyoning, to more relaxed activities like a sunset cruise on the harbor to digging your own private hot pool at the other, and relatively unknown, hot water beach (not the one in the Coromandel.)
There’s so much on offer in Raglan, and I can’t wait to tell you all about the best things to do in this incredible town. In this blog post, I list 21 of the best activities in Raglan as well as other important info to know before visiting!
About Raglan, New Zealand
Raglan is located just 32 minutes from the closest city Hamilton and just under 2 hours from Auckland. This small town (it has a population of just over 3000) is situated within the Waikato region, on the West Coast of the North Island.
The climate here is quite mild, with warm summers and mild, wet winters. Average temperatures in the summer are around 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit), whilst temperatures typically lie around 10 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) in the winter.
Raglan is perhaps most famous for its surf beaches. It has some of the best surf conditions in the country as well as the longest left-hand break in the world. It’s no wonder Raglan has been attracting tourists for decades. In fact, Raglan attracts about 100,000 visitors each month during the summer!
Related Read: Find out about the best time to visit New Zealand!
Things to do in Raglan, New Zealand
1. Visit Bridal Veil Falls
Just a 15-minute drive from Raglan, the massive Bridal Veil Falls (they are 55 meters tall) is a great spot to spend a few hours. The falls here are what is known as a plunge waterfall because the water plunges into the Pakoka River.
It’s an easy-moderate walk from the car park to the bottom of the falls, which will take about 20 minutes each way. Although, I should note it may take a little longer on your return as you need to climb back up the 300 steps, which can be quite a leg-workout. For a shorter, easier walk, consider just doing the 10-minute walk to the top of the falls, this trail is wheelchair and stroller friendly, and honestly, the view from the viewpoint here is epic!
Although the water in the plunge pool here may look appealing, it’s not safe to swim in due to bad water quality.
2. Go surfing
If you love to surf, then Raglan is the place for you – it’s known in the surfing world as one of the best places in New Zealand to catch a wave. There are several surf beaches within driving distance of Raglan town, and each one is suitable for different abilities.
Whale Bay is a must for advanced surfers, provided you’re up for a challenge. It’s best to surf here at low tide, and a good starting point is the rocks at the western end of Whale Bay. Worth noting is this beach is especially popular with local surfers, so it’s a great place to come and learn all the secret surf spots for those in the know.
One of the most famous surf beaches in the country is Manu Bay, which was featured in the movie ‘Endless Summer’. Many in the surfing community list Manu Bay as having the longest left-hand break in the world. If you’re skilled enough, you could catch a wave here and ride it for up to 2 kilometers! Manu Bay is located a 15-minute drive from Raglan via State Highway 23 and Wainui Road.
A good beach for beginner surfers is Ngarunui Beach, just 5 kilometers from Raglan. Here, more consistent waves mean it’s more of a relaxed surfing experience Plus, during the summer months, lifeguards patrol the beach adding an extra element of security for beginners.
Beginners should really consider a 2-hour private surf lesson to help them tackle Raglan’s challenging surf. Your experienced guide will work with you one on one to improve your surfing skills. A 2-hour lesson starts from $152 NZD per person.
3. Wander the vibrant downtown Raglan
Raglan is a buzzing surf town lined with many casual cafes, clothing stores, surf stores, and great restaurants. The locals are known for their alternative, quirky nature, and the town reflects that. In fact, Raglan is one of my favorite towns on the North Island. I highly recommend spending a few hours wandering the town on your first day here to get a feel for this cool town!
Raglan Roast on Bow Street is one of the best coffee shops in town and specializes in strong kiwi-style coffee. In fact, they roast their own beans on-site. It’s also worth checking out La La Land on Wallis Street for delicious waffles, coffee, and hot chocolate.
For something more substantial, ULO’s Kitchen, also on Wallis Street, serves up some of the best Japanese food on the North Island – it’s so fresh! And another place I love is Orca Eatery & Bar, just down the road for delicious steaks and burgers.
4. Watch the sunset at Manu Bay
I’ve already mentioned Manu Bay as one of the most iconic surfing beaches in the country, but its pros don’t end there – Manu Bay is also one of the best spots to watch the sunset in Raglan.
The Maori name for Manu Bay is ‘Waikeri,’ which means swirling or surging waters, so when the sun sets, the bright colors are often reflected on the surface of the water, making for an epic photo. In fact, it almost seems as though the sun is dancing on the water thanks to the big surge here.
It’s a popular sunset-watching spot, and one of the best vantage points for the sunset is on the tattooed rocks along the beach. The rocks are carved with unique patterns and are located about halfway between Manu Bay and Ngarunui Bay.
5. Kayak or SUP to the Raglan Pancake Rocks
An awesome activity on a warm day is to kayak or SUP out to the unique pancake rocks in Raglan Harbor. These limestone formations are so photogenic and are only accessible by water; in fact, you can kayak or SUP directly beside them!
There are several sets of pancake rocks along the coast here, the first is just 900 meters from Putoetoe Point (where I recommend launching from), and there’s even a scenic black sand beach here at low tide. From here, you can explore further along the coastline towards Maotaka Point, Horongarara Point, and Tokatoka Point. All in this is 5 kilometers of paddling, so allow at least a few hours.
6. Raglan Sunset Cruise
There are over 122 kilometers of coastline to explore from Raglan. It’s recognized as an important conservation area with over 2 million trees growing along the coastline, as well as that, it’s classed as a bird sanctuary.
A great way to see this unique coastline is on a cruise, even better, a sunset cruise where you can enjoy the luxuries of a catamaran boat. The design of the boat means that you can explore hidden bays and beaches. Towards the end of the tour, venture out deeper into the harbor to watch the sky light up in a myriad of colors.
This sunset cruise includes delicious fish & chips served on board and costs from $65 NZD per person. Departure time is typically 1 hour before sunset, so it varies by season.
7. Te Toto Gorge Lookout
It’s a 15-minute, winding drive from Manu Bay to this epic viewpoint over Raglan and the surrounding coast. It’s not an easy drive with a few hairpin corners, as well as that the final 4 kilometers are on a gravel road – so I only recommend this drive for those experienced with backcountry kiwi roads.
There’s a carpark at the viewpoint, and the lookout platform is just a 100-meter walk from the car park. As I said, the ocean views are great, but this viewpoint is not ideal for those afraid of heights as there’s a steep vertical drop beneath the platform. If you’re nervous, it’s best not to look down!
You can also walk down to the gorge beneath the viewing platform. The trail starts 30 meters from the car park and follows through native bush. It’s not very well signposted. There’s simply an orange marker on one of the trees at the start of the track.
8. Raglan Museum
Raglan Museum offers a unique insight into Raglan’s history. There are many exhibitions, artifacts, and photographs on display here that tell the story of life in Raglan in the 20th Century right through to the present day.
Some of the best permanent exhibitions here include the WWI exhibition, which details the stories of local soldiers who fought in the war. The James and Mary Wallis exhibition provide in-depth information about the founders of Raglan – missionaries James and Mary Wallis together with Maori Chief Te Awa-i-taia.
You can also check out the wooden telephone exchange switchboard that was used in the town up until the 1970s And learn all about the native birds here at the native bird exhibition. Interestingly too, there’s a surf exhibition, which opened in 2013.
Entry to the museum is via Raglan Information at 15 Wainui Road, Raglan. The museum is open 7 days a week, and entrance costs $4 NZD per adult.
9. Michael Hope Lookout
Another great sunset spot is the Michael Hope Lookout, which provides an epic view over Ngarunui Beach. It’s a very popular spot and has a few picnic benches to sit with a picnic and watch the sun dip into the Tasman Sea. If you’re an early riser, sunrise from this spot is also pretty good!
It’s worth noting that this is a very popular spot at sunset, so aim to get here at least an hour before sunset to nab one of the picnic benches.
There’s a small car park here; it’s just over a 10-minute drive from Raglan town to the carpark via SH23 and Wainui Road.
10. Go canyoning
For the adventurous traveler, why not try your hand at canyoning, a unique sport where you must navigate your way down a fast-flowing waterfall or stream.
You can try out canyoning here in Raglan at the freshwater stream at Mount Karioi. Unless you’re very experienced, it’s best to book a guided tour. On this tour, you must descend and ascend several waterfalls (you have a safety harness, so it’s completely safe). And despite how daunting it sounds, it’s actually suitable for the whole family.
Top tip – they offer evening tours where the stream you are climbing downturns into a glowworm grotto. So cool!
What’s great about canyoning in Raglan is that you can do it in any season. Prices start from $129 NZD per adult. It’s worth noting that canyoning is only suitable for children over 8 years of age.
11. Try rock climbing
Whether you’re an experienced or a beginner – Raglan has an abundance of rock climbing routes to choose from. What makes this such a great area to go rock climbing is the Waikato Limestone rocks found only here. Its unique structure means it’s suitable for all abilities.
It’s a good idea to book a guided rock climbing tour because you have a fully qualified instructor on hand and know all the equipment is completely safe. With Raglan Rock, you can choose top rock climbing (the most popular option), sport climbing, or traditional climbing. Prices start from $158 NZD per adult for the top rock climbing tour. It’s worth checking their website for the prices of their other tours as they vary.
Did you know – rock climbing is the fastest growing adventure sport in the world!
12. Swim at the Raglan Footbridge
Wake yourself up with a refreshing swim in the cold waters off the Raglan Footbridge (also called the Kopua Footbridge) in town. Join the local kids (and adults) on a summer evening by jumping from the jumping zone of the bridge.
In fact, jumping from the Kopua Footbridge is considered a rite of passage for local children. The jumping point of the bridge is 4.46 meters high and was actually a lot lower but was re-constructed in 2010.
If you do decide to brave the jump, be sure to be careful as you must stand on the railings of the bridge to jump in, and this can be slippery!
13. Visit the local art galleries
Many artists call Raglan home, and as a result, there are plenty of awesome art galleries in this small town. Most of them specialize in local art!
The Wharf Gallery on Wallis Street is perhaps the most popular art gallery in town and specializes in contemporary New Zealand art. It was just opened recently in 2010 and focuses on both new and well-established artists. If you’re an art-lover, other must-see galleries include the Jet Collective on Bow Street and the Raglan Old School Arts Centre, a community-run arts center on Stewart Street.
14. Hike up to Mount Karioi Summit
One of the best but most challenging hikes in Raglan is the Mount Karioi track which will take about 3.5 hours each way. Mount Karioi is actually a dormant volcano, and the views from the summit of the Herangi Ranges and Te Aroha mountains are spectacular. In fact, on a clear day, you can see as far as the magnificent Mount Taranaki! So, all in all, it’s worth the challenging and steep climb.
The track starts at Te Toto Gorge, 13 km from Raglan. And although it’s a steep hike to the summit, there are many viewpoints (including one very photogenic viewpoint of Raglan Harbor) along the way where you can stop and catch your breath. Along the way, you will see that chains and ladders have been installed to help you navigate the rocky outcrops. The last section of the track is the hardest as you have to climb 756 meters to the summit.
Mount Karioi Track is one of the best hikes on the North Island.
15. Go mountain biking
Te Ara Kakariki is the place for mountain biking in Raglan, with over seven trails that all tie into the same loop – meaning you can successfully ride all seven in one day. Most of the trails here are a Grade 2, which means the whole family can ride them. The trails are not far from town, just over 4 kilometers via Wainui Road and Riria Kereopa Memorial Dr.
Some of my favorite trails here include Mr. C’s Groove, which is a nice, short trail with an awesome view of Raglan harbor at the halfway point. Hateful 80 and Alley Oop are two of the park’s other busiest and most popular trails. If you’re up for it, a more challenging trail is Aunt Betty, which takes you through the trees and involves some table-top jumps.
You can rent mountain bikes from the Raglan Rocks Adventure Centre, rental of a full-suspension bike is $50 for 2 hours, and hard-tailed bikes are $40 for 2 hours.
Related Read: Check out the best bike trails in Queenstown!
16. Kawhia Hot Water Beach
One of the best-kept secrets on the North Island is the Hot Water Beach at Kawhia. Here, like in other more famous hot water beaches (I’m looking at you, Coromandel Hot Water Beach), you can dig your own private hot pool, but at Kawhia, you’ll likely have the beach all to yourself.
It can be quite hard to find the hot water beach if you don’t know where to look – drive to the end of Ocean Beach Road in Kawhia and park at the car park at the end. From here, walk across the sand dunes onto Ocean Beach (that’s the official name of the beach) and find a spot to dig. Worth noting is you can only do this at low tide, so be sure to check the tide times before you go!
17. Yoga Class
As you can imagine, in a town full of creative, hippy types, yoga is a popular activity here. The Space Raglan is one of the best places to indulge in a relaxing yoga session, and it’s conveniently located in the center of town. They offer a range of classes suitable for all abilities and will work with you to develop a routine that fits in with your lifestyle.
You can try a beginner’s yoga class or something more unique like hatha yoga and vinyasa yoga. In fact, they offer 12 different yoga classes here weekly. Prices start at $18 NZD per class.
18. Play a round of golf
If you’re a golf fanatic or are simply looking for a relaxing sport to play whilst in Raglan – look no further than Raglan Golf Club on Te Hutewai Road. This 18-hole par 69 course boasts some epic views of Mt Karioi, Raglan town, and Raglan Harbor.
Plus, it’s very reasonably priced to play here, just $35 NZD per adult for 18-holes!
19. Attend SoundSplash Music Festival
Typically held every year in late January in Mystery Creek, Hamilton (a 45-minute drive from Raglan) – Soundsplash is a super-cool music festival that hosts international, new, and quirkier music acts. In 2022, for example, acts like Netsky, Hollie Smith, and The Broods played to a large audience.
It’s a 3-day affair, and there are 4 different stages here, each pumping out different music. Interestingly, in the Blue Zone, you can hear community leaders talk about the changes they have made in their community, TED talks style.
Attend the festival for a day or turn it into a whole weekend of fun and camp here. There’s a food village (called the kai village, named after the Maori name for food) where you can refuel with delicious food.
20. Have a picnic at the Raglan foreshore
For a casual dinner option, why not grab a takeaway of delicious, fresh fish and chips from Raglan Fish on Wallis Street or Raglan Fresh Fish on Bow Street and head to Te Kopua beach to watch the waves and the sunset.
Te Kopua is a short walk from town, across the footbridge, and it is usually pretty busy, especially on a summer evening. The black sand here may be new to you, but it’s pretty common in this area, thanks to the volcanic activity in the area thousands of years ago.
It’s completely safe to swim here, so why not work off the fish and chips with an evening swim.
Where to Eat in Raglan
Orca Eatery & Bar – a casual day-time eatery that turns into a swanky dinner restaurant, Orca Eatery & Bar offers a seasonal menu and prides itself on using only local produce, where possible. Plus, the view from the restaurant of Raglan Harbor is pretty epic too!
Rock It Kitchen – easily one of the most unique restaurants in Raglan, Rock It Kitchen is located in an old woolshed and is nestled among native trees. There’s even a stream flowing past the restaurant. It’s this relaxing setting that has locals and tourists returning time and time again. They specialize in organic, local produce, and their large sunny deck is dog-friendly!
The Shack – serving up deliciously fresh breakfast and lunch options, this bright and airy restaurant on the corner of Bow Street and Wainui Road is a popular spot with locals. They also offer plenty of vegan and gluten-free options.
WYLD Raglan – recently opened, WYLD Raglan on Bow Street is a colorful, wholesome restaurant and is a welcome addition to the town Worth noting they are only open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays but serve lunch every day.
Where to Stay in Raglan
Raglan is a small town, but thankfully, there are plenty of accommodation options for every budget.
For budget travelers, Raglan Backpackers on Wi Neera Street is a great choice as it has awesome beachfront views. There’s also a shared lounge, a large outdoor patio, and even a sauna. You can choose from a double room with a shared bathroom or save more $$$ and book a bed in a dorm.
If you can afford to spend a little more, why not consider the Silos Apartments on Raglan Wharf? These stylish apartments are actually converted cement silos, which is pretty cool. Some rooms have an epic view of the wharf whilst the remaining have a peaceful garden view.
And if you want to splurge on a luxurious stay, Three Streams Raglan Retreat is a gorgeous stylish studio apartment set on 25 acres with a large patio and an awesome outdoor tub. Raglan town is a 5 km drive away.
Thanks for reading!
The small town of Raglan, as you can see, has no shortage of awesome things to do. In this blog, I’ve listed just 21 activities (there are heaps more), and I’m sure you’ll agree there’s something for every type of traveler in Raglan. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Raglan is one of my favorite towns in New Zealand, and I am just itching to return soon.
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