Tag Archives: Raglan

Back in for a surf: Raglan time

Sun is shining, and as Bob would say, the weather is sweet. I’m sitting in the car park of Ngarunui Beach a few miles down the road from Raglan town centre having hitched a ride with a German guy. A van full of beautiful French people pulls up, two laughing couples playfully arguing as they unload their boards and step into wetsuits, tops pulled down to show off taut stomachs and perfect skin.

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The pathway down to the beach

I’ve just got out of a surf, my first surf wearing only a bikini. England right now would need the full get-up: 5/4mm wetsuit, booties, gloves and hood (that’s if you’re committed enough or silly enough to go into the water when the beach waterfalls have frozen solid).

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There are a couple of surf hire places, a new(ish) lifeguard hut and not much else

Waves are going to be small all week,’ Mickey, a Swiss-cum-Raglan resident had said before I headed out. He was clearly disappointed but it sounded great to me. A little one foot wave, two in luckier moments, was a good reintroduction to the sea, and the eight foot hunk of a board that I’d managed to blag made catching a ride a bit of a given.

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Heading in for a surf

Most people were packing up for the day so the beach wasn’t too crowded. As I bobbed about waiting for a set to push through, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with back home in Devon: green rolling hillsides, wide sandy beaches stretching into the distance, houses to die for dotted on the hillside.

So many of us search for something different, something beautiful, something more, and here I was, over 11,0000 miles from Woolacombe and Putsborough, and this place was undoubtedly beautiful but it was also strangely familiar. I guess that if you don’t explore, you’ll never know, but clearly the grass isn’t always greener. It’s just a slightly different shade. And maybe the sea was a little warmer and there was a touch more summer sunshine. I loved it. But I also love Devon in the summertime.

And so I splashed around and paddled my board and barely got my hair wet. I loved being the farthest out back (okay, it was small and no serious surfers would bother to grace these parts on such a petite day), sitting on my board facing out to the sea trying to spot a slight swell in the ocean. Miles and miles of sun-speckled water stretched out to a drop-off horizon, a vast mass of magnificent nature.

Later, sitting on the veranda of my house crash watching a beautiful haloed sun make way for the night whilst munching on a chunky bar of Whittaker’s chocolate and sipping a glass of red, I thought, yeah, this is my sort of afternoon. Pity it doesn’t pay the bills.

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It’ll be lonely this Christmas… or not

The idea of being away from home at Christmas is a big deal for many first time backpackers who have more often than not experienced the middleclass comforts of home-cooked turkey and stacks of presents under the tree. I wasn’t too worried about being away from my family, but Christmas is an important festival for me and I hoped to mark the occasion by doing something special.

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Arriving into Raglan

I had ended up in Raglan, a small town 100 miles down the road from Hamilton, New Zealand. My plan was to be here for Christmas, but whereabouts I’d stay, well, I was clueless. The motley crew that I had bussed and hitched with to get here had disappeared into backpackerland whilst I went and had my first CouchSurfing experience with a belly dancer called Paul who had some good conversation and taught me about different styles of belly dancing, from traditional through to tribal fusion and the crazy contortions and carefully considered movements of Rachel Brice.


I managed to arrange accommodation for the week (with use of a surfboard thrown in) in exchange for doing some gardening and helping around the house, and my good fortune continued with the offer of a housesit over the Christmas weekend itself. Things were looking up! And I was glad to have a breather from the cost and chaos of NZ backpackers (Raglan town was full in any case, Christmas by the surf and sand was obviously a popular choice).

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Paying my way with some weeding, Raglan

The prospect of a lonely Christmas started to fade, but I figured that even if I was alone and a little lonely, at least I would have a surfboard and the sea and that would be enough to complete my day.

So Christmas started with a night out in the Yot Club on Friday 23rd December. The theme was Sexy Christmas but barely a soul turned up in fancy dress. A few antlers were spotted about the place, a couple of Christmas hats, but it seemed that Raglan’s version of sexiness was simplicity. Some beers and smokes and a Jaeger Bomb later, and the party continued back at the house, but not before a little fight broke out in the pub garden. Kinda obligatory for an emotionally charged night out on the town, right?!

Christmas Eve meant a house switch for me: my own pad for a few days. But it also meant that it was time to concoct some party food. Raglan was a bustle of preparation and FourSquare, the local supermarket, heaved with people doing a quick last minute dash for beers and bread and other basics. Together with a new friend, I cleared out the vegetables and fruit sections and got to chopping kiwi and mango and nectarines for a fruit salad, an offering for the evening meal. We covered the salad with juices from freshly picked oranges, – sweet, sugary nectar from scruffy, little balls of sunshine. No plumped up shop stuff. Beautiful.

A few hours later I carefully carried the bowl of goodness and a bottle of wine and crashed a Latin American gathering.  They were welcoming, a real international mix of family and friends and then me. Clearly unable to let go of my recent trip to South America, I was back in the swing of being surrounded by Spanish and feasting on beautifully made tamales and tasty frijoles and other great food.

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Christmas Eve feast and the best tamales ever!

The Buena Vista Social Club played in the background and people talked about dancing; stockings hung by the fireplace and a little tree lit up the corner of the room. It was definitely the most Christmasy I had felt since arriving into the country. Throughout the evening we supped on wine and sipped shots of Mezcal. Nothing too hectic. We ate dessert, a homemade ice-cream cake drizzled in a rich chocolate sauce, complimented by cream topped meringues, an indulgence absolutely suited to a hot Christmastime.

Not a typical New Zealand Christmas, I’m guessing, but a beautiful experience nonetheless. A little out on the fringes, I still felt welcomed but my mind drifted to my own family and those close to me and how they would be celebrating Christmas, and as much as I tried to be in the moment and enjoy the ‘here and now’, I felt that little pull. I guess that Christmas does that you, right? So I was part of something, yet still not.

Christmas day started late. I had an amazing sleep in. As I walked through Raglan, the town itself was still, all shops shut. The waterfront, however, buzzed with activity; kids jumping in the water, people going for a Christmas kayak, families picnicking on grassy patches.

Some more food preparation began, this time a Mexican lentil soup and some salsa style dip. It was an unusual Christmas dinner, served out on the veranda in the shade of the sun, but why stick with the usual?

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Anyone want to switch up turkey for lentil soup with banana and pineapple?!

And then I turned down an invite to join a couple of others for the afternoon and evening. Christmas is usually so hectic and family focused, and I thought, if I’m away from all that and doing it alone, let’s do it alone. I didn’t feel like being social. So I wandered down to a secluded spot at the end of the boardwalk and wrote Christmas messages in the sand and read my book and did some writing.

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Writing Christmas shell messages in the sand

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Create, photograph, email (a day ahead of you guys, oh yeah!)

And I watched the world go by. I saw families with shrieking, happy children running around all over the place; and couples paddling in the water, squelching the mud between their toes; and fathers and sons out collecting cockles; and fancy speed boats passing by; and kids splashing around in the water with friends, ducking in and out, bombing each other.

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Taking in the views on Christmas day in Raglan harbour

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Cockles on Christmas day in Raglan harbour

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Showing off the Christmas supper catch, or dig, or whatever you want to call it

And then I saw one teenage figure sitting on a bench overlooking the water, hood pulled up so it was impossible to identify whether they were male or female. Christmas, it reminded me, isn’t a happy occasion for all. And I felt for this character and hoped that future Christmases would throw up some more hope.

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Another solitude character on Christmas day in Raglan harbour

So, how was a solo Christmas? It wasn’t so bad really. I had company when I wanted it, I had the sea on my doorstep and the sun shone down on me all day long. For me, a Brit, it did feel strange not to have the cold and the dark nights and the Christmas lights twinkling all over the place, but I enjoyed observing the differences between an English and a Kiwi Christmas; the introverted family occasion all cosied up and huddled around trees and fires versus the outgoing ‘let’s-enjoy-the-summertime-and-get-the-hell-out-of-the-house’. All a good experience. Now where the hell are my presents?!

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Filed under culture, festivals, food & drink, new zealand, solo travel