Weekender: Creatively cultural Raglan

Kauri Tree Retreat overlooks the Wainui reserve in Raglan.
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Kauri Tree Retreat overlooks the Wainui reserve in Raglan.

This seaside town was once a hippy haven. Today it's where you go to find  great food and wine and an interesting community.

THE SETTING:

The seaside township of Raglan was once a hippy haven at the end of 'the road to nowhere', state highway 23, 48km west of Hamilton.

Kauri Tree Retreat's kitchen is compact but contemporary and well-appointed.
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Kauri Tree Retreat's kitchen is compact but contemporary and well-appointed.

Today, it still has a hedonistic aura, but this surf magnet is now home to a thriving artisan community, with a 2500 plus population and a growing pride in its green credentials and high-end food producers.

THE SPACE:

We spent a weekend at the Kauri Tree Retreat which is 2km from the quaint town centre beneath the dramatic Mt Karioi, within walking distance of Ngaranui beach and at the edge of the Wainui bush reserve.

The Raglan wharf has risen from the ashes , with a new building and businesses.
Bruce Mercer

The Raglan wharf has risen from the ashes , with a new building and businesses.

The holiday home was compact but luxurious, a modern, single-story cube, with large sliding glass doors at the front, offering superb views over the verdant reserve from a contemporary deck..

THE KIT:

Inside, there is a cute sitting room with bright, contemporary furnishings, and a kitchen area, well-appointed with beautiful crockery, cutlery and plenty of utensils.

L-R Tesh Randall and Seb Walter, owners of Raglan Coconut Yoghurt are delighted with how popular their product has become.
Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ

L-R Tesh Randall and Seb Walter, owners of Raglan Coconut Yoghurt are delighted with how popular their product has become.

No bath to wallow in, but a tiled wet room containing the toilet, vanity and shower.was fresh and functional, with fluffy towels and scented soaps giving it a spa vibe.

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The one bedroom had a fantastic superking bed, prettily dressed, and spacious storage, making it ideal for a couple. But owner, Sharon Patterson, also provided a very useful fold-up bed to sleep a child.

COMFORT FACTOR:

Fresh fish at Raglan Fish Supply.

Fresh fish at Raglan Fish Supply.

Nine out of ten for that "get away from it all" feeling. We could have happily stayed in the unit reading books and drinking wine for the full 48 hours of our stay. Trouble it... there's so much else to do.

FOOD:

The kitchen was more than well equipped for self-catering if you fancy quiet nights in, but we dined at The Wharf Kitchen and Bar in Raglan

Knives made from old railway track by Marten ten Broek at his forge in Raglan.
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Knives made from old railway track by Marten ten Broek at his forge in Raglan.

The restaurant was a newly converted boat shed with an unpretentious interior and bar. There's a characterful outside deck too with tables for drinkers.

Owner Helen explained the eatery was getting back on its feet after being refurbished following a fire on the wharf.

We opted for two starters instead of mains, scallops in a delicious lemon sauce and a huge board of meats, cheese, and dips.

Ruapuke Artisan Bread Shop, Raglan
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Ruapuke Artisan Bread Shop, Raglan

After 6.30pm the placed was full and jolly. We spied on diners enjoying generous mains which at around $25 dollars each seemed to be good value.

Great alternatives however were to take advantage of a cool new food business BachBites, which offers to deliver food including pasta dishes, cheese or meat platters to greet your arrival as a holiday visitor, or pick up traditional fish and chips or a seafood salad from Raglan Fish restaurant and shop, near the town's wharf. It also offers freshly-made sushi, and hot smokes its own fish twice a week using Manuka.

WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR:

Raglan's combination of historical charm and the chance to stock up on delicious artisan food and crafts.

The main street has an old-world feeling, enhanced by the colonial-style Harbour View Hotel rebuilt in 1904. Raglan's museum was a capsule of the town's past. The ground floor display attempted to explain Maori history, colonial religion, Christian conversion, land dispossession and the resistance to land robbery, an issue still not resolved.

Upstairs the room was devoted to Raglan's surfing heritage, with pictures of the early wave riders and a splendid collection of old surfboards. The Pakeha had, by the 1920s, taken over the town.

So what have the interlopers done for this small, disputed settlement?

These days Raglan supports a remarkable art, craft and artisan food community.

This is on display the second Sunday of the month when the Creative Market is held around the School of Arts Centre - it has a growing, national reputation.

Artists also exhibit at the School, and each year in late January, the community organises an arts trail, linking creative studios open to the public.

Artisans included Liz Stanway who has a stall on the Creative Market. She and partner Rich Thorpe have been producing their own organic vegetables, dips and pesto for over 10 years. They also manage the Xtreme Zero Waste depot just outside town on highway 23. It sells unwanted items donated free by the townsfolk. Visitors can find anything from televisions to tea lights and it's a tremendous place for value.

We bought two trays of tea lights, a four CD compilation of Scottish folk music and a stylish, hardly-worn Pierre Cardin dressing gown for $5.

One of the most unusual craft workers must be Marten ten Broek who produces made-to-measure kitchen knives in his Raglan forge.

These indestructible objects were made from old rail track which Marten bought for $35 per metre.

He works with a medieval blacksmith's commitment.

"They will last a lifetime and beyond," he said. "There are no separate handles or other parts that can come loose and fall off. The knife is just one piece of sharpened steel. I make them one order at a time, and feel it is important that they go to a good place. This one," he points to a small hand knife, "is going to a chef on one of the Pacific Islands."

The sheer number of premium food producers makes the Raglan business community special. Mushroom grower Lennart Prinz produces up to 20 kilos of mushrooms every week in his sheds, picking young, pale-lobed fungi daily for the gourmet market.

At $30 per kilo, the produce ends up on the tables of Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown restaurants, but he also sells pickled button mushrooms as an hors D'oeuvre and chilli sauces.

But his Oyster mushrooms are the stars. Claims Prinz: "They are high in protein and have been shown to lower cholesterol."

Abbie Morgan of True Food makes her own organic granola and works closely with her friend Latesha Randall of the hugely successful Raglan Coconut Yoghurt Company.

The two began working separately, before realising their products could complement each other. Now, their Raglan granola jars - pots of yoghurt with a granola accompaniment. are sold around the country. Morgan produces 400kg of the gluten and dairy-free granola every month.

"I am very lucky to be able to work in tandem," said Morgan. "Demand for the standalone product is also growing thanks to the fact it is an ingredient which can be used past breakfast time.

"One of my customers sprinkles it over ice cream, while others use it as a cake topping," said Morgan.

Jenny Carter makes delicious bread products at Ruapeke Artisan Bread on Bow Street, and the Food Department on Wainui Road has gelato to die for, or pizza to order. Most of the producers had been given a business break at some point by WOK Organics, which stocks a range of locally made food and drink.

With a plethora of eating potential, what about exercise? Surfing still seems to reign in that department.

The day was overcast and non-too warm, but at Manu Bay, a 4k ride outside town, more than a score of serious surfers were riding the waves.

Manu, featured in the film, 'The Endless Summer', is said to have the longest left hand point break in the world allowing aficionados to cruise up to 2km.

The sport is taken seriously in Raglan. The Area School was the first in the world to put surfing on the curriculum (wow!). It still offers a surfing diploma counting towards higher education.

For visitors who prefer dry land there are walking and biking trails around the town, including in the Wainui Bush Reserve and treks up Mt Karioi for more robust trampers.

Raglan is not a south sea island paradise, but surely holidays are about more than just lounging around a lagoon. They should involve new people, pursuits, great food and wine and contact with an interesting community. Raglan scores very high on this scale.

More information raglan.net.nz

Staying there Nights at Kauri Tree retreat start from $175. See airbnb.co.nz.

Getting there: By road from Auckland about 2½ to 3 hours. Down state highway 1 to Hamilton turn right onto highway 23.

The writer was hosted by  Kauri Tree Retreat.

 - Stuff

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