Whether it's an afternoon relaxing in the sun or an exhilarating week of hiking, biking, fishing and sailing - there are plenty of things to do in Picton!
Picton - gateway to the stunning Marlborough Sounds
Set on the banks of the idyllic Marlborough Sounds, Picton is far more than a hub for inter-island Cook Strait ferries. From the Picton Foreshore, the view northwards along the Queen Charlotte Sound is phenomenally beautiful. Surrounded by hills and stretching as far as the eye can see, this calm and sheltered scenic sea is the perfect setting for exploring New Zealand's unique marine life and forested habitats.
Alternatively, a quiet afternoon spent wandering the cafes, bars and restaurants of London Quay, interspersed with a spot of shopping on High Street, is a great way to unwind.
Read on to find out more about:
- Things to do in Picton
- The Coastal Pacific train
- Eating out in Picton
- Getting to and from Picton
- Where to stay in Picton
- The history of Picton
You don't need to organise anything to enjoy a day in Picton - in fact, you might find it more enjoyable if you give yourself nothing to do! Be it sunny or damp, the views in Picton are enough to light up your day. So pick a café, bar or restaurant, then sit down and soak up those views.
In between eating, drinking and shopping, take a stroll around the Picton Foreshore with its beach, colourful pirate playground and mini-putt golf course. If you are a fan of boats, you will find heaven ogling the yachts and catamarans in Picton Marina.
On the opposite side of town, a twenty minute walk will get you to a designated lookout on Queen Charlotte Drive above the Picton ferry terminal. The walk isn't scenic, but the views of the Queen Charlotte Sound and Picton town are spectacular once you reach the lookout.
Picton is famously sunny and there are few things more relaxing than lounging on a beach on a hot sunny day! From the centre of town, the Picton Forshore leads down through a pleasant green park onto the town's beach. If you are looking for a picnic on the beach or a refreshing paddle in the sea, then you need look no further.
For a more secluded spot that is equally convenient, simply cross the bridge through the marina and settle on the grassy banks of the beach on the far side. This is also a great spot for watching the Picton ferry come and go.
If you prefer pristine white sands and total seclusion, then Governer's Bay on the Grove Arm is a perfect spot. The bay is reached via Queen Charlotte Drive and is a 15 minute drive plus a 10 minute walk. Alternatively, for a fierce workout, you can hire a bicycle or kayak. Or, simply catch a water taxi from Picton marina.
If you are looking to for a more secluded swimming within walking distance from Picton, then Bob's Bay may suit you. The opening stretch of the Lower Bob's Bay track is simply along the Shelly Beach on the northwest side of Picton harbour. A signposted path then climbs over several steep bluffs for 1km to reach Bob's Bay. An alternative route known as Upper Bob's Bay track is better for young children and those less agile.
If exploring Marlborough's untamed native bush and stunning hilltop vistas sounds good to you, then pack a good pair of shoes. Picton is home to some of New Zealand's best walking trails, taking anything from ten minutes to several hours.
The Snout Track
Perhaps the longest and best of Picton's short walks is the Snout Track. From the centre of Picton, the trail takes you all the way to Snout Point where the Picton to Wellington ferry disappears from view when watching from Picton. The track is accessed from the stairway behind the boatsheds on the north side of Picton Marina and takes approximately four hours return.
Esson's Valley Walkway
On a hot sunny day, Esson's Valley Walkway is the perfect walk. Sheltered and cooled by the canopy of the regions oldest native bush, this walk offers a chance to dip a toe, or more, in the lake.
Convenient and short, the Tirohanga Track is a 1.2km uphill trail from Picton town. From the top, you get excellent views of the town and the Queen Charlotte Sound. The walk takes 30-45 minutes, depending on how much you love walking up steep hills.
Kaipupu Point Nature Reserve
Kaipupu Point is just beyond the Port of Marlborough on the left hills and is a community run wildlife sanctuary. The Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary walk is a leisurely 2.8km trail through native bush filled with endemic birds, such as fantail, kereru, weka, silvereye, grey warbler, tui, bellbird, and kingfisher.
Kaipupu Point looks walkable from Picton, but there is actually no public access by road or path. So, you'll get to enjoy a short boat ride to get there! Either catch a water taxi or hire a kayak from the marina on London Quay.
Queen Charlotte Track
Picton is base camp for venturing out on to The Queen Charlotte Track, one of New Zealand’s greatest cycling and hiking routes. On foot, the 70km QC Track takes 3-5 days one way, spanning some of New Zealand's most beautiful scenery from Ship Cove to Anakiwa. The trail starts from the historic Ship Cove, where Captain James Cook first landed in New Zealand, and is a moderately easy hike back to Anakiwa. From there, you can simply catch a local taxi back to neighbouring Picton.
You don't need to take an organised tour to hike or bike the Queen Charlotte Track, but you do need to plan ahead. Start by visiting the Queen Charlotte Track website to look at their recommended track accommodation and booking in advance. Then brush up on the Queen Charlotte Track-Info to make sure you are well prepared. Lastly, upon arrival in Picton, you must pick up a QCTLC Pass before commencing the walk. These can be obtained from Picton i-Site, Blenheim i-Site, Nelson i-Site, DOC Wellington and Picton waterfront.
Alternatively, contact one of the organised tour companies on London Quay, such as the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company, to organise transport, accommodation, a guided tour or to hire a bike.
Edwin Fox Settler Ship
Immediately next door to our Picton ferry terminal is the Edwin Fox Ship Visitor Centre. Don't be fooled by the unassuming entrance, this ship is the ninth oldest ship in the world! Built as trade ship in 1853, the Edwin Fox soon found herself carrying troops to the Crimean War. Later she carried convicts from England to Australia, before becoming a settler ship in 1873. In her final years' she made four trips from England, carrying a total of 751 settlers, before finally settling herself in Picton in 1897 as steam vessels came to the fore.
The Marlborough Flyer Steam Train Tour
With the Coastal Pacific train out of service following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, Picton and Blenheim stations were sadly unused. To make amends, the 1915 Ab-class locomotive "Passchendale" was reintroduced to the Main North Line and Blenheim Station transformed into the "Wine Station" lunch venue. Henceforth, the Marlborough Flyer Steam Train Tour was born, offering wine tasting, lunch and steam train excursions from Picton to Blenheim.
Picton EcoWorld Aquarium
Between Picton Foreshore and our Picton ferry terminal is the Picton EcoWorld Aquarium & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Within the centre you will discover everything you could want to know about the Picton and Marlborough Sounds natural environment. Exhibits include dozens of endemic fish and mammals that you are unlikely to see anywhere else in the world! They also have petting sessions with New Zealand's living fossil, the Tuatara, and the Blue Penguin.
Discover NZ's native nature with E-KO Tours:
If you weren’t lucky enough to spot a dolphin in the Cook Strait if you travelled to Picton on the Interislander, a trip with Eko-Tours could solve that! You can stay on the boat or dive in and swim with Bottlenose, Dusky or the rare Hector dolphins. If you’re heading to Picton during the winter months, Eko-Tours also offer great whale watching opportunities as Humpback whales migrate through the Cook Strait.
Picton Kayak, Sailboat & Bike Hire
There are many ways to explore the beautiful Marlborough Sounds, but thankfully car is not one of them. The area is best-known for it's remote properties, isolated bays, unfettered natural beauty and undisturbed wildlife. The best way to enjoy these is under the natural power! Be it the ancient art of kayaking, the gentle art of sailing, or the exciting art of mountain biking, you will find your transport available for hire on London Quay. There are two main companies to choose from, Wilderness Guides and the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company.
Our Coastal Pacific train is one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, even rivalling our own world-renowned TranzAlpine train in terms of scenic spectacle. In contrast to most other great train journeys, the Coastal Pacific's glistening route takes it within touching distance of the sea, roaming across beaches, skirting around bays and tunnelling the rocky outcrops and cliff-faces of the Kaikoura mountain ranges. Little wonder then that the Coastal Pacific train is featured as one of Lonely Planet's Best Train Journeys You've Never Heard of. Certainly, if snow-capped mountains, sandy beaches, turquoise sea and salty sea breezes are your favourites, then the Coastal Pacific train is a Picton must-do activity.
The Coastal Pacific Picton to Christchurch train departs in the early afternoon daily from Picton station. It's first stop is Blenheim in the mid-afternoon - the perfect time enjoy a wine-tasting tour at the heart of New Zealand's world-famous Marlborough wine region before settling down for some award winning food!
In the late afternoon, the Coastal Pacific train eases into the gorgeous seaside town of Kaikoura. Set beneath the immense Kaikoura mountain ranges, Kaikoura is famed for it marine life encounters, including Whale Watch Kaikoura and Dolphin Encounter. More recently, the earthquake of 2016 has made Kaikoura a poignant destination of great scientific and historical interest.
Hop on and off along the way with Free Stopovers!
With either a Flexi or Flexi Plus Coastal Pacific train fare, you can hop on and off the Coastal Pacific at all stops along the route. So make the Coastal Pacific part of your holiday, rather than a means of transport, and give yourself a few days to travel from Picton to Christchurch.
Unsurprisingly, Picton's picturesque waterfront is dedicated to al fresco drinking and dining, with cafes, bars and restaurants gazing out into the sparkling harbour and beyond. Meanwhile, the adjoining High Street is geared up for light-hearted shopping and souvenir buying. This makes Picton a great little town for indulging in the region's award winning wines, whilst picking up gifts for your favourite people!
Restaurants in Picton
From quick bites to haute cuisine, you will find your fill in Picton. The local delicacy is New Zealand King Salmon, which is sustainably farmed in the Marlborough Sounds and the largest and tastiest of all the Pacific salmon species. There is an extensive list of restaurants serving NZ King Salmon the Picton area, but Le Café is an obvious place to start.
Dining in Picton is predominately a relaxed affair that principally caters for the transient market of ferry-goers. For a current list of Picton's best restaurants with up-to-date reviews, try consulting TripAdvisor.
The nearby town of Blenheim has more upmarket dining choices and is only a thirty minute taxi ride or drive away. So if you are looking for a fine-dining experience you should consult TripAdvisor's list of recommended Blenheim restaurants.
One thing to note: Kiwi culture is to eat early and a lot of Picton restaurant kitchens close by 9pm. So if you are arriving late, you should call ahead to book a table and make sure the restaurant will be open for your arrival.
Cafes and bars in Picton
There's not a lot if difference between cafés, bars and restaurants in Picton - all three do food, coffee, wine and beer. And, being a small town, it is probably easier to walk around looking for a café or bar that suits you than it is to surf the internet looking for one!
Without doubt, the place to start is on London Quay (view map). You won't need a map to find the bars and cafe's, they are all in a line along this street!
Picton hotels, motels and holiday parks
For a small town, there is a remarkable variety of accommodation to choose from. You can indulge in five star hotels, get a waterfront apartment, bunk in with the backpackers, stay on a boat, pitch a tent…there really is a lot to choose from! To find something to suit your taste, Destination Marlborough has the lowdown of all the available options.
Picton Top 10 Holiday Park
Don't disregard this as a simple campground! Picton Top 10 Holiday Park is conveniently located in the heart of the town (view map) and offers full-blown holiday villas, a wide range of high-spec cabins, self-contained units, powered sites (for camping and campervans) as well as standard camping.
Picton Yacht Club
Picton's most iconic hotel stands on the edge of the marina. With rooms offering beautiful views of Picton Harbour and overlooking the large private swimming pool, the Picton Yacht Club is one of Picton's most salubrious spots.
Jasmine Court Motel
Also located in the centre of Picton is the family run Jasmine Court Motel which offers comfortable 4-star quality with a friendly feel.
Escape to Picton Boutique Hotel & Restaurant
If you are looking for something different, more romantic and extravagant, then book yourself into the Escape to Picton Boutique Hotel and Restaurant. Although it doesn't have harbour views, the voluptuous décor will certainly keep your eyes entertained.
Picton has been a gateway to the South Island since 1962, when it welcomed the first Interislander Wellington to Picton vehicle ferry from the North Island. Since then more than 40 million passengers have crossed Cook Strait on Interislander ferries, passing through Picton en-route. The Interislander ferry remains the number one reason for travelling to Picton - and the most popular way of getting there and away!
Interislander Cook Strait ferry
The Interislander Cook Strait ferry runs between Picton and Wellington, connecting the New Zealand's North and South Islands. Several Interislander ferries arrive and depart each day from the Picton ferry terminal, taking both foot passengers and vehicles to and from Wellington.
The Cook Strait ferry has two great advantages over other means of transport. Firstly, it sails through New Zealand's finest scenery and is rightly called "one of the most beautiful ferry journeys in the world". Secondly, it is incredibly convenient, with several ferries a day. You can also connect with the Auckland Wellington train called the Northern Explorer. This is the longest of The Great Journeys of New Zealand and combined with the ferry gives you an extraordinary way to travel Auckland to Picton.
Coastal Pacific train
A long-distance train from Picton to Christchurch called the Coastal Pacific departs Picton railway station daily. The Coastal Pacific is one of the most scenic journeys in New Zealand and stops at popular destinations, Kaikoura and Blenheim. This great train journey is far more than just transport, with custom-built scenic carriages creating a sociable and relaxing way to travel New Zealand by train.
InterCity national coaches:
Picton car hire:
The majority of car rental companies are clustered in the Interislander Picton Terminal. If you hired a car from the North Island, a number of car rental companies will let you leave your car in Wellington, hop on the Interislander ferry and pick up a new car when you reach the South Island. You can either pick this up at Picton or if you want to enjoy the Coastal Pacific to Christchurch, alternatively you can pick up your next rental car here.
The closest airport to Picton is in neighbouring Blenheim, a regional airport with daily flights from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Paraparaumu. To get to Picton from the airport which is 34km south, there are options of taxis, shuttle services, rental cars or the Intercity bus.
Originally, Picton was a Maori Pa (fortified village) called Waitohi which had existed for over 300 years. The land was bought from the Maori people, Te Āti Awa, by then Governor of New Zealand Sir George Grey and Francis Dillon Bell in 1844.
The town was initially names Newton but after 10 years of being known for many different names, it was finally christened Picton in 1859 in memory of Sir Thomas Picton, a hero from the Battle of Waterloo. In this same year, the region of Marlborough was established and Picton was crowned the provincial capital. Picton quickly became a vital link between the South and North Island as well as overseas ports with shipping of wool and food from here.
However, neighbouring Blenheim was thriving due to its central location and the council shifted to this location in 1865. Ten years on, the railway between Picton and Blenheim was opened and populations for both small towns began to grow – however, Picton was a little slower to thrive and didn’t pass a population of 2,000 until 1956.
Opening of a train from Christchurch to Picton:
In 1945, a daily train service began operating between Picton and Christchurch called the Picton Express. Due to a lack of interest and profitability, the train was reduced to three times a week and over the years, falling patronage led to smaller trains and carriages and a service which only ran during the summer months. In 2006, Toll NZ sold the then TranzCoastal to KiwiRail who in 2013 relaunched the long distance passenger train now known as the Coastal Pacific. The scenic train journey allows people to see the stunning Kaikoura coastline as the train runs alongside the Pacific Ocean during the summer months. Due to the Kaikoura earthquakes in 2016, the Coastal Pacific is currently not running but is hoped to return in late 2018/early 2019.
The birth of the Interislander ferry:
The introduction of the first roll-on, roll-off Cook Strait ferry in 1962 had a huge impact on Picton and launched it as the gateway to the South Island for passengers, road and rail main routes. Little old Picton was thriving. As demand grew, the number of ferries and frequency of trips increased and the Interislander now operates three ferries, Kaitaki, Aratere and Kairahi with up to 5 return trips a day.
Visit NZ History for more on the history of Picton.