This part of the east coast of the North Island isn't serviced by the Overlander train, so driving really is the only way to get around. All the major car hire companies are based at Napier Airport, but driving from Auckland - about 450 kilometres away - is definitely the scenic option.
Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com) flies to Napier from Auckland (55 minutes) and Wellington (50 minutes).
Country code for New Zealand: 64. Hawkes Bay: 06 (drop the zero if calling from an international number).
Witi Ihimaera's The Whale Rider. The general consensus is that the book is even more moving than the movie. Hone Tuwhare is NZ's most distinguished Maori poet writing in English. Try his collection Deep River Talk. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was born in Gisborne with Maori and European ancestry and went on to become one of the world's great opera stars. Read David Fingleton's Kiri Te Kanawa: A Biography to find out more about her incredible life.
Do go / Don't Go
Summers (November to February) are bright, warm and mellow, perfect for Hawkes Bay's outdoorsy way of life, although tasting wine doesn't necessarily need warm weather and even the winters are temperate here.
If the buzz words in the food world right now are local and seasonal, Hawkes Bay is well ahead of the times. With fertile land and the perfect climate, just about everything is grown or gathered here: meat, seafood, cheese, honey, olive oil, a whole array of fruit and vegetables and even coffee. All of that is then utilised by top-class chefs to create menus that can blend Asian tastes with European traditions, or at local cafes for something a little more low-key. Guaranteed: whatever you eat will be the freshest it can be.
You'll want to book taxis in either of the two larger towns: Napier Taxis (+64 (0)6 845 7777) and Hastings Taxis (+64 (0)6 878 5055). The Hawkes Bay region is large though, so this isn't really an efficient way of getting around, unless you're simply travelling back to your hotel after dinner.
Nowhere in New Zealand is it really expected, but adding up to 10 per cent on top of the bill if you've had great service is appreciated.
New Zealand dollar (NZ$).
Callaway Golf outfit, sunnies, a designated driver (of the human variety, rather than the golf club kind).
The Maori village of Whangara, just north of the Hawkes Bay region, was so overwhelmed by the influx of tourists when the film Whale Rider was released that there are now signs outside the town asking visitors to stay away. The only way you can see the town, marae (Maori meeting house) and beach, and hear about the legends that inspired the book and film, are to join Hone Taumaunu, an elder and consultant on the film, on one of his two-hour Whale Rider Tours (+64 (0)6 868 6139).
The amazing views from the greens at the Tom Doak-designed golf course at Cape Kidnappers (www.capekidnappers.com) are enough to convert even the most uncertain swinger.
Meet the growers, taste their produce and ask them all about it at the Hawkes Bay Farmers Market (Saturday in Napier and Sunday in Hastings; www.foodhawkesbay.co.nz). They call the region the food bowl of New Zealand, so filling a basket will be an easy task. Collectors of vintage wares, having stocked the picnic basket, should wander the streets of Napier exploring its appealing antique shops (www.villageinfo.co.nz/shopping/napier_antique_trail.htm).
There are no skyscrapers with viewing decks to take advantage of in this part of the world, and many of the natural peaks take more than a little bit of energy to reach. So what better way to get a birds-eye view of the whole area than from a chopper? Helicopters Hawkes Bay (www.helicoptershawkesbay.co.nz) has a range of options that start with 20-minute scenic flights over the rugged coastline and the inland region's lush forests.
Plenty of the cellar doors in the area offer complimentary tastings, and if you're a fan of red you'll want to spend at least a few hours sipping slowly. At last count there were 71 wineries, with 4,700 hectares under grape. You can download a list from Wine Region Tours (www.wine-region-tours.com).
February Harvest Hawkes Bay (www.harvesthawkesbay.co.nz).Buses shuttle merry punters between wineries, where there are tastings of fine food and wine, as well as entertainment, over the weekend. For the vinophile, there are also tutored tastings and workshops. February Geon Brebner Print Art Deco Festival (www.artdeconapier.com). For a weekend, Napier goes back to the Thirties, with displays of vintage cars and costumes, a soap box derby, dinners, concerts and dancing. February/March Mission Estate Winery Concert (www.missionconcert.co.nz). Lionel Richie may have been washed out in 2009, but past performers at the popular outdoor gig include Tom Jones, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Cliff Richard. September Hastings Blossom Festival (www.blossomfestival.co.nz). Celebrate spring with a week of entertainment that includes, as its highlights, the Blossom Parade through the streets of Hastings, the Blossom Dance and the Proms.October Kelt Capital Stakes. New Zealand's richest open-age horse race is run at the Hastings Racecourse (www.hastingsracecourse.com) on the first Saturday in October and is one of the town's glamour events. Frock up, grab a glass of champers and pick a winner.