Trains and tipis in … Raglan?

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I’d only ever been to Raglan once before, on a rushed road trip through the North Island many years ago.  We were staying in the local campsite, where it drizzled almost the entire time – except when the rain got heavier somewhere around 5am and an inch of water rolled into our tent.  Throwing everything into a soggy heap in the back of the car, we headed out of town at first light and carried on in search of sunshine.  It’s fair to say that this small surfing town on New Zealand’s west coast had not left much of an impression.

This time around, things were different.

We had seen nothing but blue skies since leaving Auckland several days earlier and, after three days exploring Northland by land and sea, headed down to Hamilton for a couple of nights to hang out with my lovely cousin and catch up with work.  A city with a bit of an identity crisis, more than one local described Hamilton in terms of its proximity to other places.  It’s an hour or less to Raglan, Mount Maunganui, the outskirts of Auckland … but not really full of attractions in its own right.

We stayed in the shiny new YHA Hamilton, a converted motel a few minutes from the downtown area.  With a friendly and helpful owner, clean private en-suite rooms, a great commercial-style kitchen and funky movie room, it was a surprisingly good hostel.  Internet was via the semi-ubiquitous Global Gossip, one of the more reasonably priced options (by New Zealand standards) at a few dollars a day.  Oh, and the barista at the little cafe down the road made an excellent flat white.  All in all, a definite success.

Movie room, YHA Hamilton

We arrived in Raglan around lunchtime … and then proceeded to drive straight out of it again.  Google Maps was pointing at a random-looking spot several kilometres away near Manu Bay.  We were headed for Solscape Eco Resort, and as I drove along the winding road I was grumbling to anyone who would listen (ie, nobody) about how far out of town we were.

And then we drove up the driveway, parked the car and saw … this.

View from Manu Bay from Solscape

Our room wasn’t quite ready yet, so we sat in the sun and ordered some organic goodness from the little cafe.  It took a few minutes to arrive, which I didn’t mind a bit – especially when it came out like this.

Lunch at Solscape

Still wiping the last drops of balsamic from my lips a while later, we were shown to our room.  Yes, it was a converted railway caboose.  Why do you ask?

Caboose at Solscape

Right about that point, I really started to wish that we’d booked for a lot longer than one night.  This was definitely the kind of place I could have stayed for, oh, a month.

Solscape has an eclectic set of accommodation options, with cabooses and carriages that functioned as private rooms, small dorms and even a large family space.  It’s not just about trains, however – the owners and volunteers have also hand-built a few earth domes and fancy cottages, and a few minutes walk down a nature trail took us to several tipis, complete with communal kitchen and bathrooms.

Tipi at Solscape

Often places like this with such a mix of styles don’t quite get it right, but Solscape definitely did, with a strong eco-friendly vibe running through it all.  It was, easily, one of the best, most interesting hostels I’ve ever stayed at.

Tempting as it was to lounge around in the hammocks reading a book all day, we figured that a little exploring probably wouldn’t go amiss.  Over the road, a trail lead down through the native bush to Manu Bay, a famous surfing spot … for people who weren’t as big a klutz as me, at least.

Trail to Manu Bay

Still, even if I wasn’t out there in the waves face-planting every 10 seconds, the black sand beach looked like the perfect spot to work on my tan.

Manu Bay beach

And, indeed, it was.

Manu Bay hills

I learned an interesting new fact around that time: black sand on a sunny day is, approximately, 94 million degrees Celsius.  Unfortunately I learned that fact in the no-man’s-land between the waves and my towel halfway up the beach, necessitating an ungainly knee-lifting sprint as I attempted to have as little contact with the sand as physically possible.

Still, it was a good excuse not to move for another half hour as I nursed the blackened stumps that were once my feet.

Black sand beach

We headed back into Raglan for dinner later that evening, gorging ourselves on fish and chips and ice-cream.  Lounging around on some waterside grass as we tried to digest our indulgences, the last traces of the sun’s warmth played along my back before disappearing behind the hills.

Full and content, I reflected on just how much better my Raglan experience had been this time around.

It’s amazing what a difference blue skies and dry bedding makes, I guess.

3 Responses to “Trains and tipis in … Raglan?

  • “railway caboose”

    you are from New Zealand Dave…down there they were called a “Guards van” 😉

    Cracking weather

    • Heh, maybe they are … but the guy at Solscape, and the website, calls them a caboose, so that’s good enough for me. 😉

  • That hostel looks/sounds amazing!! Raglan is yet another place that is still on my “next time” list for NZ. It’s crazy; I’ve been there so many times, but am still constantly discovering new things I want to see and do!

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