Falling in Love – Raglan

The walk to Tara & Gui's

“Home is the nicest word there is.” Laura Ingalls Wilder.

We’ve found it! 

A place where all of us, quite unanimously, think we could live. Raglan we love you. We’ve driven through New Zealand for nearly 3 months now, stopping along the way for Helpex work or staying with friends and we are nearly at the end of our trip. We have loved so much about New Zealand (reluctantly having to agree with everyone who predicted that) but have not found a place we thought we’d actually choose to live in before.

From the moment we drive in Raglan feels different, and we like it. Was it because we were relieved to have left an awkward helpex situation and move on to pastures new? Was it because we were at the end of our trip and wanted to finish on a high? Was it, simply, a good place that felt different? For starters, the High Street doesn’t just tail along the main road like in so many kiwi towns. There’s no through traffic here, it’s wide and tree lined and finishes with a magnificent banyan tree and a bridge across the estuary.

We are staying out of town, 20 minutes along the coast, with Helpex hosts Tara and Gui and their lovely family. Driving there passes the main beach, some tempting hills, and one of the best point breaks in NZ. The drive turns into a long untarmaced road where the vegetation is lush and tropical, pampas grasses wave next to stoic tree ferns, and occasionally the view opens to shimmering waters. There are many dwellings off this road, ranging from amazing modern homes, to house trucks, buses and shacks or converted farm barns, and they are all off grid. So many people living in such a environmentally respectful way, just getting on with it. It feels inspiring and more like an opting in possibility here rather than a fringe way of living.

House bus home

Following a steep track through a pine plantation gets us to our hosts home. They are instantly likeable; warm and friendly and easy going. They have built their own place, a beautiful bungalow of wood and glass snug in a sheltered spot looking down a v-shaped valley to the sea. Further up the hill, with even bigger views, is our temporary home, a fully equipped vintage bus. The bus is nice with a large double bedroom, bunkbeds for the kids, and a central kitchen and living room bit. We’re very happy here despite the persistent visits from unwanted rodents guests. We have a compost loo in the woods, a table outside to eat in the sunshine, and the best wide views I want to fly into. The kids have so much space to play and explore here and love hanging out with Tara’s boys Sylvan and Tafia. They introduce the kids to ‘pine boarding’, a wicked idea involving old wheeless skate boards sliding at high speed down the steep slopes of slippery pine needles. Hours of fun. In return for staying here we are to work the equivalent of 2 hrs a day.

Work! We’ve actually both been missing the sense of purpose work creates. At last we both have work we can really take on and enjoy getting stuck into, and we have plenty of free time to enjoy the rest of Raglan. We resume a better routine of homeschooling again – it’s not been so easy whilst on the road – and Kian gets his project started.It’s so good to see him fulfilled again, challenged and happy working on a project he loves for good people. He’s building them a treehouse, at least making a start, and hopes to gets the base done in the short time we’re here. It’s in the trees near the bus so he can pop out any time.

the platform going up
Gui & the treehouse

My work deal whilst I’m there is to cater for Gui’s 40th birthday party. I come up with my usual over ambitious menu of tasty dips, nibbles, and canopes, completely underestimating the lack of mains power (no big mixer) and no oven. We have to cook everything in the BBQ oven, fairly stressful when it’s all breadsticks, cheese straws and lavosh. – See recipe link at the bottom of this page for yummy spicy lavosh. Kian and I cook up a storm, taking over their kitchen for a long long day, and are rewarded by meeting many lovely people at the party and many happy munchers deeming the food a great success.

The town itself is laid back, a bit of an alternative place, but not too hippy – kept in check by the strong surf culture. It’s full of surf shops, art gallery’s, and fantastic cafes. It seems you can’t live in Raglan and not surf. Folk here grow up surfing and it’s a key part of most people’s lifestyle. People joke about not being able to get anything done if the surfs good…working hours become mysteriously flexible. We take a surf lesson – and are all standing by the end – and hire boards for the duration of our stay. We try and get into the water every day, the waves are consistently good, at least for beginners, and we’re all getting so much pleasure from it, and gaining confidence. We also find a nice place for yoga classes during our stay, a brilliant skate park for the kids, and an amazing climbing instructor who takes them out bouldering. Gui is really into surfing, Tara is a kite surfer, their kids go to surf academy at school, and we’ve seen folk paragliding and mountain biking. Raglan certainly appeals to people who want to get out and be active.

Surfing Duke
surf kids

Its not just the wild outdoors that makes Raglan so appealing, or just the lovely friendly mix of people, it’s the food too. The good climate allows for a great lifestyle and a happy diet; great food and great wine. They have the best cafes here, with inspiring menus and imaginative decor. It’s the kind of place I dream of opening my little cafe one day despite the daunting competition. We had some yummy food out at ‘Rock it’, fab Italian pizzas at the Food Place, and particularly enjoyed ‘The Shack’. One of the best breakfast menus (my favourite meal) I’ve ever seen. Kian and I both had our birthdays whilst in Raglan and both, not surprisingly, revolved around lots of yummy food. (and we surfed and visited a magical glow worm cave) Kian’s favourite breakfast is Shackshuka which we enjoyed with splendid views, coffee and sunshine. For my version of this dish see the recipe link at the bottom of the page.

Kian's birthday brekkie


Kian's birthday brekkie

Happy Birthday Kian!

There is also a large Mauori population here and it feels refreshingly mixed race compared to so many other small towns in NZ where we heard casual racism stirred with the coffee.

We all agree we could happily move to Raglan. It’s a rare place that ticks most of our boxes when it comes to quality of life. Land is amazingly cheap, new innovative buildings are given a chance and alternative lifestyles are embraced, work seems easy with many carpentry jobs opening up for Kian, and foodie possibilities for me. So why not? Why are we not leaping in?

Sadly we can’t allow ourselves to consider it seriously because it’s just too too far from ‘Home’. I can’t consider taking the kids permanently so far from their Dad, I worry about being so far from my parents as they just reach an age where they will need more help, and we all know how much we’d miss friends. New Zealand is just so far from the UK.

Home to the kids is still Devon, despite, or strengthened by, all the travelling. Now I’m starting to wonder if I’d underestimated it too – maybe I will find home is still Devon?

One of the main reasons to take this year away was, not just to have a ‘gap year’ but to shake life up a bit, find some inspiration for a new life and a new place we may call home before the kids get too old. I’ve reflected so much on what makes a home now and what it is we’re seeking. I dream of somewhere blissfully sunny with plenty of wilderness and freedom, good people and community and cultural stimulation. Finding Raglan gives me faith such places do exist.

I realise that a home, a real home, takes time to build. The material stuff of Home – walls and trappings – become an expression of ourselves, whilst our habitat – community, friends, familiar natural places – help us to grow and strengthen. This all takes time to cultivate and home can become more nourishing with time.

“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be ones appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.” Amelia Earhart.

When I embarked on this trip I wondered if I would return with a new love of travel or a new place in my heart, or if I would rediscover all the positives of the place we left. Be reminded of the beauty we had perhaps started to neglect, and so return with a new love of the home I already have.

To some degree I think this may be happening. Travel always fulfills one part of me, but also creates another need the older I am. I have missed having my own space, being able to invite others to share food and having a hidey hole to call my own. Home is not just a place to feel safe but is also an extension of ourselves. Being over materialistic and surrounding ourselves with too much stuff is, we all agree, not healthy, but carefully creating and collecting the stuff of a home is a delightful task. We create the place that ideally makes us all happiest.

The irony is that when I left last year, I left a job I really loved and a place I could really call home, a place of good friends and family, active community and beautiful open countryside. We were all happy with the simplicity of life in a caravan, and more time outdoors, but we all lacked something. The kids wanted more space of thier own, I wanted more sunshine and stimulation, and Kian needed to be out of the same old small town.

Maisie moops

Frustratingly, I am aware I have confounded needs. My yearnings seem to be in constant contradiction. Having had a childhood in many countries, and my early adult years travelling and living freely, I have the curse of itchy feet. I have the need for travel, new stimulation, excitement, and heat, yet I crave simplicity of home, love of a community, and the greatest satisfaction of all; growing a garden.

I have tried to bring my kids up with a sense of being world citizens, proud of their place in the bigger picture, not tied to one tiny town in Devon. But. I have to accept, their childhood has been so different to mine and so they do have strong attachments to the place they were born and raised. They have travelled a lot for their small years but, unlike me, have always returned to the same base. Perhaps they will have a sense of belonging that I missed so much as a teenager. I hated people asking where I was from as I never really knew how to answer, I just wanted to fit in and be ‘normal’ (whatever the hell that is!).

Now as an adult I appreciate the places I’ve lived and the world view it’s given me. I struggle with the need to keep the kids happy and secure but to also keep us all challenged and satisfied. I would like to find a place to make a new home, a place where I think the kids will have the best life I can give them, despite their first thoughts. It’s hard to know how much to involve the kids in future plans. I think their voices must be heard but we do not need their approval. Ultimately as parents we have to walk the line of doing what we think is the best for everyone. We may sometimes get it wrong. I was furious with my folks for moving me to boarding school aged 14 so they could move to Malaysia for work. I was happy and didn’t want to know any different. Now, with hindsight, I know it was a hard move for me but I gained some of my closest best friends and a good education.

We are excited to be heading to Vietnam for our last stop. Who knows what we’ll find there. Stimulation and fresh inspiration on the enigmatic quest for home?

We still do not know how we will feel when we return to Devon; if we will continue our search for that ‘ideal place’ – such as lovely Raglan – or if we will find that what we left actually already has it all. Returning feels daunting, but being on the path to finding a home feels imperative. 

Manu Bay

“It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I’ve gone and come back, I’ll find it at home.” Rumi.






3 thoughts on “Falling in Love – Raglan

  1. You write so beautifully Susie. We know Raglan too. Feeling real tugs for NZ. Did you manage to see Sally in Wellington?
    Longing to catch up on your return. What amazing experiences you are all having!
    Love Rosanne xx

  2. I had goosebumps reading this Susie… also made me feel quite teary by the end, I love your honesty, your adventurous spirit, your beautiful writing style that effortlessly conjures the feel of a time and a place , and your beautiful soul stirring photo’s…. cant wait to see you, our community has missed your shining light and joyful, playful spirit! I hope we don’t lose you to another more deserving one 😉 …. but if we do maybe I’ll have to come too! Raglan certainly looks and sounds like heaven! xxx

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