Raglan, New Zealand is centered on the eastern shore of the northern island and feels like a miniature version of California's Santa Cruz dating back to the 1960's. Downtown is a short two blocks but packed with trendy eateries, surfer gear, funky art shops, one grocery store, and several kid-friendly parks. Two popular beaches, Black Sands Beach and Manu Beach, are situated side-by-side about 4 miles south of town. We decided to explore both before heading back to Auckland for our last night in New Zealand.
Black Sand Beach is flanked by sheer cliffs and stretches for miles. It was empty except for two surfers, strolling the sands. Perhaps if the weather had been more favorable we may have seen more folks enjoying one of the longest, perfectly arching, black sand beaches I've ever seen. We might have stayed longer too but, from here, Manu Beach was a few minutes by car and we were lucky enough to arrive for a local junior surf competition. After a few hours of soaking up some much needed sun and watching talented young surf kids rip it up in the waves, we headed up the road to Auckland.
Detours should be a traveler's mantra; they pull you off the planned path – sometimes out of your comfort zone – and make for good travel memories a great stories. Personally, we call that 'scooter-pooping', when you detour for no reason, just because. And that's what we did on the way to Auckland - a spontaneous right turn to Bridal Veil Falls. There we encountering only two other couples walking along the prehistoric forest trail and, five minutes later, we peered over the edge of an unexpected and dizzying 180 foot drop, watching the water rush along side us and cascade to a pool far below. The area is still considered sacred by the local Maori.
Leaving the falls, it was a 3 hour back-road drive through (you guessed it) sheep, cattle and more farmland before we arrived at our airport hotel. A quick visit to the local equivalent of 7Eleven and we were set with a continental dinner - wine, fruit, cheese and crackers - in our cheap, but clean, abode. Our flight to Melbourne, Australia - my birthplace - leaves tomorrow at 5:30 a.m.
Maybe it's the season (fall) or just the area but, since we've been in central New Zealand, we couldn't help but notice how few people we've seen and how peaceful it feels. In a short five days we've put our toes in the waters of both coasts, gotten a delightful taste of Kiwi hospitality, and seen strange and gorgeous landscapes. Not to mention the best coffee – ever! Kiwi's are a bit reserved, but friendly and I'd definitely recommend a longer visit to uncover more of this fascinating land.