Before we left Peterborough in September, our good friend Renee Stevens told us that one of her “nieces” (but not exactly) Candide from Quebec years ago had fallen in love with a town called Raglan in New Zealand when visiting, decided to stay, and got married to a local guy. Her sister Dominique came to visit her, and well, the same thing happened to her. Renee said that the community was very environmentally active and thought we’d like it there. We made a mental note to visit … but anything that is “mental” with me doesn’t usually work out. Fast forward to January as we make our way down the north island, and Raglan is off our radar. But out of the blue comes this email from Renee saying “hey, are you guys going to visit Raglan?” We looked at the map and saw that we’d gone by it already, but it wasn’t so far out of the way so after visiting Waitomo we headed north an hour and out to the west coast to Raglan.
Renee put us in touch with her family contacts, but we were arriving in the height of the tourist season (Candide and her husband Steve run a kayak & stand up paddling (SUP) business), their father from Quebec was arriving just as we were, and there had been a tragic death of a 20 yr old in town just days before. So we settled in on our own, and quickly saw what had attracted these two women years before.
Raglan is known nationally for its surfing, its strong arts community and its environmental consciousness.
Our first day we rented surf boards and found our way to the fantastic surf beach.
Kaia, Jake and I took turns on two boards and picked up where we’d left off surfing on Zancudo beach in Costa Rica. The waves were certainly bigger here – it was hard to even get out to the break, but we had some success, and the wetsuits bought us more time in the water. Its amazing how much of a workout surfing is, at least the way we were doing it. There’s a huge amount of water flow even in shallow that you need to work against. Then there’s the big waves washing in at you that you try to jump over or duck under. Then you hop on and paddle like mad to get out before the next wave washes you back. But then …. you catch one and its the best feeling. We had a 24hr rental on the boards so we hit the beach at 6:30 AM the next day too. Jake decided to just swim that day so these photos taken that morning are of just Kaia and me.
Raglan is also known for its great coffee. We sampled a few downtown spots and were not disappointed. We had run into Candide’s husband Steve at a music event the previous night, and then accidentally met Dominique’s husband Paul at the coffee bar.
It quickly became apparent to us why the “arts” label was appropriate for Raglan. Many galleries were spread around the downtown and beyond, and every Sunday afternoon/evening Steve and Candide organize “Sunday Sessions” – a downtown drop in gathering of locals and whoever for some great live music. There were posters galore for other upcoming events.
It became apparent to us that in Raglan, the “white” (Pakeha) and Maori communities are very well integrated. We actually camped at the local “marae” (meeting place). The Pakeha we spoke to almost always made reference to the earlier Maori occupation of their lands. When the 20 yr old Maori boy died in a car accident a couple days before we arrived, the loss was mourned by the entire town.
When we dug around a bit to learn what had given rise to Raglan’s environmental consciousness, we learned that a female Maori elder had years ago become very outspoken about land issues and had made a significant impact on decision making. Others took note, and the town is now known for its activism.
A proposal was made by mining company “Chatham Rock” to extract phosphorus from the sea bed off the west coast of NZ. They would essentially be dredging vast areas of sea floor and dumping the waste tailings back on the bottom, with the associated marine impacts. Think of “trawling” x 100. Raglan initiated a group known as KASM (Kiwis Against Seabed Mining) that presented evidence at the application hearing. They fundraised so they could hire biologists and environmental lawyers. The battle went on for several years and not long before we arrived, Chatham’s application had been rejected …. KASM had won!
When we asked Candide where we should stay, and told her that we were interested in connecting with some of the local environmental movers/shakers, she said we must go to “Solscape” – an eco accommodation facility on the edge of town. They were completely booked out (hence us camping at marae) but we visited twice and had some time to speak with the founder Phil.
Phil toured us around the property a bit then invited us to explore the rest of it. He set out years ago to provide visitors with accommodation choices that have minimal impact on the earth. Principles of permaculture guide everything they do. The operation has evolved now to include:
– food gardens throughout
– a restaurant that uses all the produce grown, and sources as much as possible of the rest from others in town
– a major composting operation
– solar hot water throughout
– low embodied energy accommodation
– a nature trail
There were also facilities for tenting and small self contained camper vans.
Solscape offers yoga classes on the front lawn vista, as well as lessons in the “Raglan” form of yoga – surfing.
We learned that Phil was one of the two founders/leaders of KASM, and he described to us how the community had really come together to rally against this threat to their marine environment. The fact that the approval authority had actually listened seriously to their testimony was refreshing to our family who in Peterborough have witnessed twice in two years local decision makers ignoring wide spread and informed public opinion to plow ahead to preconceived outcomes.
When I asked Phil what his longer term vision for Solscape was, he described how the management team wanted to further green the food their guests eat (food is a large part of a tourist’s env. footprint) by expanding their gardens and wanted to attract more regional (NZ) guests (at expense of intn’l guests) to lessen the transportation footprint. All in all …. we loved Solscape!
We managed to connect with Dominique and Candide just before we left.
Our blog entries aren’t really complete until we post a couple photos of us jumping off a cliff or rope swing. So here are Kaia and Jake off the bridge that joins the downtown to its wonderful park that includes a fantastic fitness trail and a skateboard park that would put any similar park I’ve seen in Canada to shame.