We both had 11 days off work over the Christmas holidays, which gave us ample time to load up the car and get out of Auckland for a much needed summer road trip.
I had a bit of a nightmare finding somewhere to camp between Christmas and NYE with Lola. We were hoping to adventure further afield to either Taranaki or Gisborne, but New Zealand campsites aren’t particularly dog friendly at this time of year so it’s slim pickings. Fortunately, I managed to book four nights at Solscape in Raglan, which I had heard about before on an ‘unusual places to stay’ blog post. They accept dogs on a case-by-case basis so call up first to check – there is a limit to how many dogs can be on-site at one time.
Camping at Solscape
The people behind Solscape describe it as a place for ‘rest, rejuvenation and playful inspiration’. With a focus on sustainability it definitely attracts a certain type of traveller, and it wasn’t long after arriving that I picked up the faint whiff of incense sticks.
We arrived to nothing but clear blue skies. Driving up the hill to Solscape, the first thing you notice is the striking view over Ngaranui Beach, quickly putting this place at the top of our ‘most beautiful campsites in New Zealand’ list. We checked in and were given the yoga schedule for the week (which costs $15 per class, or a donation depending on what type of yoga you do). We pitched our tent up next to some interesting german techno loving characters, one of whom was later seen roaming around the campsite in a unicorn headdress. Far out!
The campsite is split up into a camping/van area, tipi garden, recycled cabooses, earth domes, plus a few self contained cottages scattered around the place. The camping area of the site has it’s own open plan kitchen, and basic bathroom and showers, but the main block is only a stones throw away (and has indoor, solar heated showers so definitely worth using – I discovered this the hard way after taking a very cool shower in the camping area). Cold showers aside, all the facilities were very clean and tidy, and never too busy.
There’s a definite hostel vibe at Solscape, with lots of young international travellers, but everyone seemed friendly and there were no wild parties, so it would appeal to all ages. There are signs dotted around the campsite saying ‘drugs and drinking sessions are a no-no’.
The camping area
The main block
Yoga at Solscape
One afternoon when the boys headed down to Manu Bay for an evening surf, Jamie and I signed ourselves up to a yoga class in the Solscape studio, overlooking the sea. The class was Yoga Nidra (otherwise known as sleep yoga), a type of meditative yoga. The class involved some omming and nose breathing, followed by laying in Shavasana for 30 minutes whilst the teacher guided us verbally through a body awareness journey. I got very close to falling asleep at several points, and was rudely awoken by my twitching leg a couple of times. However, I floated out of the class feeling super relaxed and chill, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who needs to unwind.
The Conscious Kitchen
Solscape has a beautiful on-site cafe called the Conscious Kitchen that serves up flavourful, plant based fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It also boasts the best views of any cafe in Raglan. We treated ourselves to a breakfast one morning (“fried eggs” and asparagus) and pizza on our last night (mushroom and BBQ), all of which were good tasting, plentiful portions.
Even if you’re not dining here, they have a BYO policy so its a great place to have a beer and watch the sun go down. There is even a lawn filled with bean bag chairs so you can camp out under the stars and moon, and map out constellations – we were lucky to have plenty of clear night skies. Dogs are also welcome to hang out by the cafe.
Did I mention that view?
Halfway down the drive at Solscape there is a lookout point where you can see a slither of Manu Bay through the trees and all the magic of Ngaranui Beach. It’s quite the spot for an afternoon tipple and casual crossword.
Things to do in Raglan
We drove down to Manu Bay on our first day (although you can walk from Solscape in approx. 20 minutes) as it looked like the waves were pumping. This is one of New Zealand’s most famous point breaks, and with that comes the crowds. It’s a boulder filled beach so the boys set off over the rocks to jump in, Matt with his brand new home grown surf board. As the waves break so close to shore, it’s great for surf photography, so I kicked back in my camping chair beneath the afternoon sun, camera in hand.
With several surfers going for the same waves, this spot isn’t for the faint hearted. There was some very impressive shredding happening, mostly from one local who was having the ultimate party on his board, wearing an 80s looking wetsuit and riding his board backwards, spinning 360 on it, and cheering everyone else on, amongst other things.
On our second day we headed down to Ngarunui, a beach break much more suited to the amateur surfers amongst us. Ngarunui is the main beach in town and draws the crowds. If you turn right onto the beach, you can also bring your dog off leash, just mind their paws (and your feet) on the hot black sand.
If you book a surf lesson in Raglan, this is where they’ll bring you. It’s patrolled by lifeguards and if you’re swimming you’ll need to do so between the flags most of the time. There are boards available to hire on the beach, as well as in town.
Unfortunately, the conditions weren’t great on our first visit as there was an onshore wind turning everything to mush and getting past the bigger waves further out isn’t much fun with a longboard, so I practiced popping up (and staying up) in the white wash, because it’s better than no practice at all, right?
We headed back there later in the week when the waves were smaller, perfect for my longboard, and managed to ride a few before the wind picked up again.
Word of wisdom: if you’re heading to the beach, bring a beach shelter as you won’t find any shade in your natural surroundings. It’s good for you (and your dog) when it’s flaming hot and you’re burning like a crab, as well as being a good wind breaker when the wind is shooting sand at you. Plus, it means you can spend the best part of your day on the beach without having to seek a shady solace.
Ruapuke Beach is about a 30 minute drive from the centre of Raglan, and because of that doesn’t attract much of a crowd. Part of the drive involves a dusty, bumpy dirt road, and once you arrive in the car park, it’s a ten minute walk over the sand dunes to get to the beach.
This is a typical wild west coast beach. You won’t find any facilities, or lifeguards, or sometimes even people, but you will find solitude from having a huge, beautiful black sand beach all to yourself.
It was no good for surfing on the day we visited, so we just pitched up the shelter, swam and hung out, enjoying the peace.
Other things to do in Raglan:
- Raglan has a family friendly skate park right by Kopua Holiday Park, where you’ll find skaters of all ages, shapes and sizes.
- If you’re feeling thrifty, there is an opp shop at the local recycling centre, plus a few more in town. We picked up a blanket for the cool Raglan evenings.
- There are hikes you can do around Raglan, plus the Bridal Veil Falls, however we didn’t include these on our trip as they aren’t dog-friendly, but I’ve heard they’re worth the trip.
Eating in Raglan
Aside from the Conscious Kitchen, I can also vouch for these eating establishments:
- Raglan Roast Food Department – good for grabbing a coffee before the beach or a slice of pizza after a frolic in the waves
- Raglan Bakery – good for picking up a cheap pie or sandwich to take to the beach for lunch
- Bow St Depot – good for sitting outside in the sun and enjoying lunch with a Good George Plum Cider
- The Shack – good for a vegetarian friendly brunch
- Roll Up – good for real fruit ice creams, if you don’t mind queuing (worth the wait)
The waves weren’t quite what we had hoped for but the beauty of our campsite and the great company made up for it. We were very sad to leave Solscape and head back to the city. It definitely delivered on it’s promise of harmony, and it didn’t take me long to lose track of days and time. This trip was a reminder of all the beauty that makes up New Zealand, and inspired us to make this lifestyle our own. Hopefully, if I read this in a year from now, we’ll be on our way to having a beach on the doorstep of our home, not the city.
Happy New Year! I hope 2018 brings great things.