Meet a dream destination for keen birdwatchers and water sports enthusiasts, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Where is it:

In Central Hawke's Bay, 50km southwest of Hastings on the banks of the

Tukituki River

.

Advertisement

Origin of name: Wai is for water and pukurau is a type of fungus that grows around Lake Hatuma on the outskirts of town. This edible puffball mushroom is said to be helpful for indigestion and stomach aches.

Population: Around 4500.

Raising the baa: In 2011 the first and last Running of the Lambs took place in Waipukurau as part of the Rugby World Cup celebrations.

Famous locals: Johannes "Joh" Bjelke-Petersen (former Premier of Queensland), Errol Braithwaite (author), Cardinal John Dew (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington), Robert Taylor (guitarist from Dragon), Andrew Williams (former North Shore mayor) and Norm Hewitt (ex-All Black).

Best website: hawkesbaynz.com.

Big business: Silver Fern Farms (meat works), Mr Apple Orchards and Packhouse, dairying, sheep and beef farming.

Source of pride: Community spirit, Waipuk is a little town with a big heart.

Town fiestas: The three-day Central Hawke's Bay Arts Festival is held every September at Pukeora Estate and is amazing. Plus, there's the Rotary Sea, Sky and Bush Walk, three days of guided walks, an A&P show and lots of sporting events too.

Advertisement

Here for a short time: Stop for a day of trout fishing in one of the picturesque rivers.

Best place to take kids: Grab the bikes and take them for a ride on the new Central Hawke's Bay Rotary River Pathways, the newest part of the Hawke's Bay Trail network. It's a 12km return cruise from Russell Park and makes for a fabulous family adventure.

Best playground: The new playground at Russell Park is giving kids something to smile about, and the swings are said to be the highest-swinging in New Zealand. The cycle path sets off from here, too, and a skate park and splash pad are in the pipeline.

Best facilities: The public toilets beside the Waipukurau Railway Station and the Visitor Information Centre are excellent and regularly maintained.

Best walks: Hike up to Sunrise Hut on the Ruahine Ranges. It takes two to three hours to get up to the hut on well-crafted tracks through bush and forest and the views of the Hawke's Bay plains are superb. A'Deanes Bush is a lovely short walk, at just 500m long it'll take you to an extraordinary totara tree that's more than 30m tall.

Best view: Pukeora Hill. Take the scenic route heading south out of Waipukurau and look back over the town and the beautiful Tukituki Valley.

More than a mouthful: One of the world's longest place names can be found in Porangahau, a coastal village just 30 minutes out of Waipukurau. At 85 characters, "Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maunga horo nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu" translates as "the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as 'landeater', played his flute to his loved one".

Best swim: The AW Parsons heated pool makes for a great dip in winter or try the Tukituki River during summer. And don't forget, all the beaches in central Hawke's Bay are amazing and sandy.

Best museum: Central Hawkes Bay Settlers Museum, just five minutes up the road in Waipawa has an amazing collection focused on farming, colonial, and pre-colonial history. Its World War I exhibition is excellent.

Nice arts: Internationally renowned artist Cefyn Gauden has his studio at Pukeora Estate atop a limestone outcrop where his paintings are on display and for sale. Or stop by Electra Gallery in the centre of town for regularly changing exhibitions of local artwork.

Cream of the coffee: Espresso Loco at the Waipukurau Railway Station brews some of the best coffee in the whole region.

Baked: If it's award-winning pies you're after, Angkor Wat Bakery is where you'll go. Their vegetarian and breakfast pies have won fans all over the world.

Best food: During the day give Zinc a go for great coffee and consistently great food and service. For dinner, go to Latitude 40 Degrees South where the menu is loaded with tantalising dishes.

Wet your whistle: Tickets Wine Bar at The Picture House is a lovely spot for a drink, with all sorts of specials on a Friday night.

Best mountain biking: Ranui Farm Park has a petting zoo and a cafe as well as a range of mountain bike tracks that go up rolling hills, down through native bush and across farmland.

Best adventure: Backpaddock Lakes for wakeboarding, wildlife and waterskiing. This water sports park, with courses designed specifically for slalom, is going from strength to strength.

Old news: Stop at the historic homesteads of Mt Vernon Station and Woburn. Settled in the 1800s they're both magnificent, with the latter operating as a luxury B&B. By appointment or just do a drive-by.

Wildlife: The endangered bittern has an enclave on the banks of Lake Hatuma (formerly Whatuma) or look out for titipounamu (rifleman) at A'Deanes Bush.

When a local has visitors staying: They take them to any one of region's lovely beaches. The Limestone Loop itinerary, available at the Visitor Information Centre is a popular driving route showcasing the best of central Hawkes Bay art, food, wine, shops and historic homesteads. And a walk never goes amiss.

Locals say: Wouldn't live anywhere else.

Visitors say: Why would you?

CHECKLIST
Getting there: Waipukurau is a six-hour drive from Auckland or nearly a one-hour drive from Hawke's Bay Airport. Air New Zealand flies daily to Hawke's Bay.

Thanks to a handful of lovely locals for being so frank.