Raglan surf is all about magical left-hand point breaks. They are manna from heaven for goofy-footed riders. But there are also some great beginner waves in this happening North Island surf town.
Raglan surf at a glance
- Some of the longest lefts in the world
- Three different point breaks with long rides
- Some surrounding beach breaks that are proper swell magnets
- Localism – reports are it’s getting worse
This is a part of our greater guide to Surfing New Zealand.
What will I find in this guide to the surf in Raglan
An introduction to Raglan surf
Paddle to the point. Ease in. Sit in the pocket. You could be there for hours. What do we mean? We mean Raglan surf, which is left-handers roll for hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of metres across long stretches of North Island coastline. Some say this is the single best place for goofy-footed folk in the world. One glance at the peeling points of Manu Beach and the mellow lefts of Whale Bay and you’ll see why.
The Raglan surf map is made up by three breaks. The farthest from the town is the fast and hollow point at Indicators. The closest is Manu Beach, which is where you’ll catch most of the drop-in surfers with their campervans. Legendary swells can bring enough to link up all the sections, to complete a run that’s arguably the holy grail of Southern Hemisphere lefts – you’re talking real thigh burners that could last minutes, not seconds!
After a cameo (alright, more than a cameo) in seminal/cliché The Endless Summer (1966), Raglan really came into the spotlight. These days it’s probably New Zealand’s best-known surf destination (sorry Mount Maunganui and Shipwreck). The downside of that is it can get super busy, especially on the best midsummer swells. Reports of localism are regular, so no dropping in.
Where is Raglan?
Head south from Auckland on NZ’s Highway 1 to cross into the bountiful and green region of Waikato. Then, you make for the coast on route 23. At the end of it sits little Raglan, nestled into bucolic Whaingaroa Harbour. The extinct cone of Mount Karioi watches the town from the north-west. The surf breaks are about 8kms from the centre down Wainui Road. That’s a 10-minute drive that serves up some pretty spectacular North Island coastal scenery.
Where to surf Raglan?
Raglan surf is focused on three world-class points that can even link up when the stars align, and the swells are heavy and shapely enough. That’s a dream that’s only been achieved by a select few of Raglan’s chosen ones, however, so don’t come expecting to breeze through from Indicators to Manu on your first go. More likely, you’ll pick one of the spots per sesh. Your options are:
The first of the famous three in Raglan is Manu Beach. Just eight clicks from the town, it’s a classic NZ point break with parking right in front. The best swells are S-SW (getting their power from the cold currents down in the Antarctic). They’ll wrap around the headland to offer up shapely waves that can hold double and triple overheads no problem, especially if you throw in a nice easterly offshore. The drop in is quick, so paddle fast to the peak. After, you find a sectiony ride that can sometimes be hollow, sometimes be rippable. This is really an intermediate/expert only ride. Rock and boulder bottoms see to that, along with a popular line up.
Whale Bay is sandwiched between Manu and Indicators in a beautiful inlet of its own. It’s considered the mellowest of the breaks, but we’d say it’s still firmly intermediates only. Reasons? Pebble/rock bottoms for starters, but also a huge submerged boulder that can be real nasty when hidden at high tide. It’s easier to dodge when the water’s low, which is also when Whale Bay gets hollower and quicker. On smaller days, Whale offers a rippable, wide-peak wave. Best swells are southerly and SW and sets can hold well up to 12ft.
Indicators is the final jewel in the Raglan surf crown. Locals might also say it’s the most priceless jewel. Good intermediates and experts love this one for its heavy take-off and uber-fast hollow sections. It’s a beast of a challenge when S-SW swells of 5-10ft are cooking. There are actually two start points: Insides and Outsides. The first is harder and pretty barrelly. The second is better if you’re not used to surfing NZ left points. Look to catch this one on a SE offshore for best conditions. Expect some seriously long rides. Also, this is the place to go if you’re chasing that dream of linking up all the points in one odyssey of a ride – the journey begins at Indicators.
If you’re after consistency, there’s usually something to ride down on Ruapuke Beach. You’ll need to drive a little further – around 35 minutes or so from Raglan itself – to get to the parking. Then, you’re straight onto a long stretch of black-sand beachfront that runs for a couple of kilometres down the North Island coast. Its slightly south-west orientation means the beach is one hell of a swell magnet. There are good wind swells and ground swells in equal measure here. The best days are about shoulder high and mellow, with peaks for all levels to try going both left and right. Great for beginners on account of the sand bottom, but better left to intermediates or more on larger days.
Ngarunui Beach sits just beyond Manu Bay, on the Raglan town side. That makes it really easy to get to, and well-positioned to pick up and groundswells coming in off the mid-Pacific. Throw in a sand bottom and a clutch of decent surf schools and it’s easy to see why this is the beginner spot of choice. Waves can be punchy or mushy. Sometimes there are hollow parts on bigger days, but really this one’s for practicing and enjoying a variety of peaks.
Those that don’t want to travel all the way down to Ruapuke might prefer Wainui Beach, which sits just in front of the entry to Whaingaroa Harbour, only a few kms out of Raglan itself. It’s a pretty stretch of shoreline that’s backed by high hills of grass and tussock. The breaks can be big and hollow, but they’re usually the pick of starters and improvers on account of the sand bottom. You can see Manu Point in the distance. Tends to be lots of space, so try to spread out and find a peak to practice on for the session.
Where to stay in Raglan
Koru Lodge ($$$)
Koru Lodge is a charming little collection of apartments that will put you right in the middle of the main Raglan surf breaks. It’s sat on the road leading south-west out of town, facing the lovely left-handers of Whale Bay. Each unit has stylish wooden floors, comfy seating areas, big self-catering kitchens, and more. Some of the best even enjoy stunning views of the Tasman Sea from their al fresco decks.
The Grand apartment – Raglan Silos ($$$)
The Grand apartment – Raglan Silos is a good option if you prefer to be in the town than out by the beach (warning: that could affect your ability to the get to the line up before anyone else!). The accommodation is set in a curious industrial-chic silo building (hence the name), with pool tables and uninterrupted views of Whaingaroa Harbour.
Solscape is a stay with a difference. It has options for all sorts of travellers, from families to solo surfers, all set over a sprawling complex that includes vintage wagons and timber-built lodges. The location means you’re only ever a short drive from the waves and should be able to check conditions at just a glance from the garden. An on-site restaurant also serves healthy regional food with vegan options.
A guide to the Raglan surfing season
Consistency is one of the reasons the Raglan beach breaks and point breaks are so famous among the NZ surf community. There’s little difference in surfable days in these parts when you compare December (the New Zealand summer) to July (the height of winter). More than that ground swells really dominant. They create an average of about 70% of the surf, with a little extra push given by 20% wind swells and nice southerly or south-easterly offshores.
What to wear for surfing in Raglan
Wetsuits will be needed. As a general guide, you’re looking at a 4/3mm in the colder months (May to September) and a 3/2 in the summer months (November to March). That’s just a rule of thumb. You might want to chop it down to a 2mm in the height of the season and when the wind cuts. Sometimes, it’s even possible to spot the odd braver going out with just a rash vest. Booties are gold dust in these parts. The pebble/boulder points mean that you’ll be tiptoeing out like you’re on hot coals if you don’t have foot protection. Get some good uns’.
Surf shops in Raglan
Raglan certainly has no shortage of surf shops. Check out the options below for some of the best-known in town.
Raglan Surf Emporium
Just as its name implies, the Raglan Surf Emporium has pretty much everything you’ll need. From tail pads to fins and leashes, all the ancillaries are in abundance. Loads of 4/3 and 3/2 wetsuits are in stock, so you’ve got plenty of pick of the neoprene that you’ll need in the local water. And there’s local Raglan surf wear – just ask for the RSE gear.
The name of Raglan Longboards is the stuff of legend in the local surf community. One of the original shapers in the town, the place stocks some beautiful additions to the quiver. Despite the moniker, it’s not just elongated logs on the racks. Mid-length, shorties and even foamies are in the mix too. Trademark shapes include the likes of The One – a PU glassed board with a 6oz bottom and 9″1-9″6 length. It’s like the Barry White of boards. Smooth as.
Where to eat in Raglan
Located on the main road to the Raglan surf breaks, Rock-It Kitchen is a great place for a pre-sesh/post-sesh food/coffee stop. Dishes are generously portioned and make use of local NZ ingredients. There’s also nothing quite like a cold Marlborough wine on the deck outside once you’re done in the water!
A classic fish and chips bar that’s got affordable, filling meals that are great after a surf.
A major brunch spot. The Shack is a chilled surf-style café eatery with farm-to-table dishes. Breakfasts include the likes of walnut bread with poached eggs and fresh rocket salads. Coffee is great.
This ultimate guide to Raglan Surf is always being updated and changed. If you think we’ve missed something or gotten something wrong, we’d sure love you to get in touch. You can use email or just drop a message in the comments below.