HAWKE'S BAY, on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, is one of the country's great and most beautiful wine-growing regions. It is also one of the most beautiful, with the Kaweka Ranges forming an impressive backdrop to its sheltered bay, and being one of the island's sunniest regions (an average 2,245 hours of sun per year), with generally low humidity and continued heat until April, the area is ideal for late-maturing varietals such as cabernet sauvignon and riesling. Stop by the tourist information centre on Marine Parade, Napier - the province's largest town and one of the world's best-preserved art deco cities - to pick up the wine enthusiast's bible - A Guide To Hawke's Bay Wineries, which includes a map. A car is essential to tour the area, but several companies run tours for visitors without their own transport. Alan Currie runs Toast The Bay (Tel/fax:  06 844 2375, Mobile:  025 801 879) with a personal door-to-door service. His tours - in the morning and afternoon - cost NZ$30-$35 (HK$102-$119). John Hancock, of the Trinity Hill Winery, says: 'For a down-to-Earth, no bull experience, I recommend Toast The Bay tours.' Another company, Noel Hunt's Hawke's Bay In A Glass (Tel:  06 843 2478) tailors tours to individuals' requirements. Perhaps the region's most famous vineyard is The Mission (198 Church Road, Taradale, Hawke's Bay. Tel:  06 844 2259, Fax:  06 844 6023) which was established in 1851 by a group of French Catholic missionaries with a passion for fine wine and tradition. In the beginning, the early vintages were produced for sacramental purposes, but such was the wine's success the brothers soon began producing on a commercial basis. Today, The Mission is arguably Hawke's Bay's most picturesque winery, its imposing driveway flanked by plane trees sweeping up to the historical mission building perched on the hillside. Free tours are conducted Monday to Saturday at 10.30am and 2pm, or by special arrangement. The winery is open from 8.30am-5.30pm Monday to Saturday and from 11am-4pm on Sunday. Its range of wines is divided into three categories. The estate range is perfect for everyday drinking (NZ$12.95), the reserve range, notable for its structure, flavour, delicacy and intensity, starts at NZ$17.95 for the 1999 pinot gris, rising to NZ$27.95 for the 1998 syrah. The Jewelstone range, matured in new French oak with grapes sourced from the best vineyard sites, comprises the 1998 chardonnay (NZ$23.95) and the 1997 syrah (NZ$29.95). Be sure to leave enough time for lunch or dinner in the Mission House restaurant (Tel:  06 844 6048) on the terrace. Alternatively, take a picnic and eat on the lawn. Another attractive vineyard is Brookfields (Brookfields Road, Meeanee, Taradale; Tel:  06 834 4615. The vineyard, which also has a restaurant, lies alongside the Tutaekuri River between Napier and Hastings and was founded in 1937 and purchased by the present owners, Peter and Sharon Robertson, in 1977. Like the Mission, Brookfields regularly wins awards, and the distinguished wine writer Hugh Johnson has described its Gold Label cabernet, merlot and chardonnay as 'outstanding' in his Pocket Wine Book. On the nose, the 2000 sauvignon blanc (NZ$15) is a wonderful combination of passionfruit, mango and ripe gooseberry. Park Estate winery, at Pakowhai Road, Napier, (Tel:  06 844 8137) is notable for its fruit juices as well as wines. Park Estate, open seven days a week and with its own cafe/restaurant, prides itself on fruity wines such as gerwurztraminer and Riesling, while its fruit wines include boysenberry and kiwifruit. Blackcurrant, apple and grapefruit feature among the fruit juices. Further inland is Kemblefield (Aorangi Road, Hastings; Tel:  06 874 9649), about 25 km southwest of Hastings in Mangatahi district. Open weekdays throughout the year and at weekends in summer, the vineyard has its own micro-climate similar to that of Sonoma's in California. Perhaps its signature wine is the chardonnay - a big bold wine that has citrus and stone fruit flavours integrated with a creaminess. Numerous motels are available at NZ$100 or less for a double, sometimes a triple room, such as at The Tennyson Motor Inn (Tel:  06 835 3373, Fax:  06 835 8500) on the corner of Tennyson Street and Clive Square in Napier. Because the New Zealand dollar is at near-record lows, now is the time to splash out on upscale accommodation. Two retreats are well worth considering. One is The Master's Lodge (Tel:  06 834 1946), the restored Art Deco home of a tobacco baron on Napier Hill, overlooking the town of Napier and with magnificent views of Hawke's Bay. Rates start from NZ$490 per room including general sales tax (GST). Dinner is extra. Alternatively, Mangapapa Lodge (Tel:  06 878 3234; fax:  06 878 1214), offers a glimpse of country living starting from NZ$365, excluding GST per person but including dinner and breakfast. Built more than 100 years ago, the lodge lies in six hectares, has been restored completely and includes a tennis court and swimming pools.