293km (182 miles) NE of Rotorua; 298km (185 miles) SE of Tauranga; 504km (312 miles) SE of Auckland

Gisborne (pop. 46,600) had its big moment when it welcomed in the first light of the new century. There were hopes back then that the NZ$9.5-million revamp of the city would signal a bright, rich future for the area, but I think things have pretty much reverted to the same old quiet, provincial atmosphere that always prevailed. Mind you, the beautification was much needed, and it's good to see the place looking tidier and slightly more alive.

However, the small-town atmosphere is part of Gisborne's charm, and we shouldn't overlook the fact that it is a prosperous river port city and commercial center. It moves at a relaxed pace (and some days that's an understatement) and enjoys 2,200 hours of sunshine annually with summer temperatures consistently above 77°F (25°C), often rising above 95°F (35°C).

Apart from being the country's second-largest grape-growing district and the self-appointed Chardonnay Capital, this area is also the last genuine bastion of bicultural society largely unaffected by tourism. That bicultural heritage is evident everywhere, in the use of the Maori language in everyday life and in the fact that 45% of the population is Maori - the highest proportion of people of Maori descent anywhere in New Zealand.

If you'd like to experience an isolated part of the country that is more like New Zealand "used to be," then come to Gisborne and the East Cape.