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The small coastal town of Picton is a very popular holiday destination in the South Island because it’s where you catch the ferry to the North Island (the ferry arrives in Wellington).
Not only is Picton one of the most stunning coastal regions in the world (Queen Charlotte Sound is especially spectacular!) but, there are loads of fun things to do in this small town! From joining the local postman on his delivery route by boat to remote waterside homes to swimming with wild dolphins, you’re sure to keep busy while visiting Picton.
One of the best wine regions in the Southern Hemisphere, the Marlborough, is close by too, so you can spend a day wine-tasting and having lunch in one of the stunning vineyard settings. And that’s just a tiny snippet of the best things to do in Picton!
In this blog, I list 21 of the best things to do in Picton, New Zealand – enjoy!
21 Things to do in Picton, New Zealand
1. Cruise the Marlborough Sounds
One of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand to go on a cruise is in the Marlborough Sounds from Picton. There are several tours to choose from, but one of my personal favorites is this particular Mail Boat Cruise. Would you believe the mail is delivered by boat in the Queen Charlotte Sound and has done for over 150 years!?
Join the postman on mail day as he delivers letters and parcels to hard-to-reach homes along the Sounds. You will also likely stop at one of the secluded beaches in Queen Charlotte Sounds if time allows. This is a truly unique way to see Queen Charlotte Sound with a seasoned local. Prices start from $110 NZD per person and you should book in advance to secure your spot.
The other boat tour I personally love is this boat tour combined with a wine tasting tour. The best of both worlds – scenic water views and excellent wines! In the morning, you will cruise through the Sounds on a catamaran, taking in all the spectacular coastal scenery – the water here is so clear!
Around lunchtime, you will go ashore to Saint Clair winery to enjoy lunch and a wine tasting. You will also visit up to 2 other wineries on this tour. Pick-up and drop-off are available from Picton and Blenheim. This tour starts from $291 NZD per person and you should book online in advance.
2. Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary
Just an hour away by boat from Picton is this unique bird sanctuary – Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary is home to tui, bellbirds, Kererū, robin fantails, and parakeets. It was made a designated wildlife reserve in 1920 and now, thanks to a heroic effort by volunteers and the Department of Conservation, is predator-free.
On the island, you’ll also spot penguin chicks in nesting boxes, and if you’re really lucky, the nocturnal Okarito brown kiwi. Remember, kiwis are very shy creatures, so it’s difficult to spot them plus, they only come out when it’s dark!
Another kiwi species you may see on the island is the Rowi Kiwi. Would you believe there are only 400 of these left in New Zealand?
Motuara Island is part of Operation Nest Egg. This project protects kiwis from predators. When the Rowi are born in Okarito on the West Coast, they are transferred here to safely grow to adolescence – remember, there are no predators here, so they can safely grow away from danger. Once they are big and strong enough, the Rowi are returned home to Okarito.
Boats to Motuara Island depart Picton at 8 am daily, and tickets cost $98 NZD per person. Important to remember this tour only operates between October and April and you should book online in advance to secure your place.
3. EcoWorld Aquarium and Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
Discover various animals of the underwater world of the Marlborough Sounds at EcoWorld Aquarium and Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre on Picton’s Foreshore. See short-tail stingrays, New Zealand pot-bellied seahorses, giant squid, and starfish. There’s a touching tank where you can safely touch the starfish in the presence of staff.
There’s also non-marine life to see, such as an endangered parrot species called the yellow and red-crowned kakariki. Because it’s a rehabilitation center, there are also lots of rescued animals here, like blue penguins and who will be cared for by the staff until they are strong enough to be released back into the wild.
What I think is great too is that it’s a not-for-profit organization, so any money gained through ticket sales goes directly back into the center. Entrance to EcoWorld costs $25 NZD per adult.
4. Dolphin cruise
Joining a dolphin cruise is definitely one of the best things to do in Picton. On this 4 hour cruise, spy up to 3 different species of dolphins (hector, bottlenose, and dusky) frolicking in the waters of the Marlborough Sounds.
Along the way, your knowledgeable guide will tell you all about the marine life here and will point out fur seals, rare seabirds as well as dolphins. This is a great tour option for photography lovers as the boat will bring you as close as is safe to the sea life.
This tour also includes a short tour of the Motuara Island bird sanctuary, which I’ve detailed earlier. It costs about $130 NZD and lasts for four hours.
5. Hike the Queen Charlotte Track
One of the most popular and most beautiful hikes in New Zealand is the Queen Charlotte Track, which lies between Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. The walking track has unrivaled views of both Sounds as well as viewpoints down to gorgeous bays and the chance to explore lush native bush.
Three of the most popular routes on the track are Ship Cove, Endeavor Inlet, and Torea Bay, all varying in length. For example, the Ship Cove to Endeavor Inlet is 17 km (10.5 miles) and will take 5.5 hours, and Endeavor Inlet to Camp Bay is 11.5 km (7.4 miles) and will take 4 hours.
If you wish to walk the entire Queen Charlotte Track, it will take you four days, and it’s 73.5 km (45.6 miles) in length, but there are several accommodation options on the track.
This particular tour provides return boat transfers to the start and end of your hike, but you will hike the track you wish unguided. So, it’s good to do some research on each track yourself beforehand. If you’re on a tight schedule, it’s worth noting that you will not be returned to Picton until approximately 6 pm.
6. Go on a wine tour
One of the best wine-growing regions in New Zealand, if not the Southern Hemisphere, is the Marlborough region. The Sauvignon Blanc here especially is world-renowned!
Of course, the best way to explore any wine region is on a guided wine tour where you can relax, drink as much wine as you want, and not have to worry about organizing a designated driver. On this tour, you will visit up to 5 wineries where you will taste their wine and tour the vineyards. There’s also a lunch stop, which I should note is an additional charge.
You will also get the chance to taste some locally-made chocolates en-route back to Picton at the end of the day. This is a great option for those who wish to sample the wines and not have to worry about driving or arranging transport.
The tour includes pick-up and drop-off in Picton, and prices start from $163 NZD per person. You should secure your place online in advance.
7. Sea kayaking
Get up close to sheltered coves and beaches on this half-day sea kayaking tour through the western side of the Queen Charlotte Sound. See if you can spot blue penguins, fur seals, and even dolphins from your kayak. On the journey, your guide will tell you all about the history of the area as well as point out any important sights or wildlife along the way.
The tour starts in Picton. You will be kayaking for approximately 3 hours, and even though the waters here are generally calm, a reasonable level of fitness is advised.
This is a small group tour and tickets cost from $100 NZD per adult.
8. Coastal Pacific Journey
The highlight of this train journey is that it features 98 km of stunning South Island coastline. In fact, the train tracks are so close to the Pacific Ocean that at times you feel like you could reach out and touch it! When you’re this close to the ocean, expect to see fur seals and dolphins frolicking in the ocean from the comfort of your seat.
There is GPS-enabled audio available, and headphones come with every seat so you can learn all about the sights you’re seeing as your train passes through.
The train departs on select days of the week from Picton Railway Station. The journey takes 5 hours and 13 minutes one way so I highly recommend spending the night in Christchurch and returning to Picton the next day. Or, simply stay in Chrsitchurch and explore all of the fun tings to do and see there!
9. Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary
Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary is a restored 40-hectare island connected to the mainland near Picton Harbour. It’s one of the best places in Picton for wildlife viewing. On the 2.7km loop track, you will spot lots of native wildlife like tui, bellbirds, fantails, kereru, korora (also referred to as “the little penguin”), and a native type of gecko.
From March through July, you are likely to spot dozens of New Zealand fur seals on the jetty here too. It’s a relatively easy walking track and is suitable for the whole family. I recommend allowing 2 hours to complete the full loop track.
Fun fact – this area was once a ‘kai’ or food-gathering site for native Maori.
You can reach Kaipapu on a 10-minute boat ride from Picton, or you can rent a kayak in Picton and kayak here yourself, parking your kayak on the new kayak ramp here. It is free to visit, but a donation is welcome.
10. Go on a scenic flight
One of the best ways to see the Marlborough Sounds is on a scenic flight from Picton. From up in the sky you’ll see the sparkling blue waters of the Sounds, secluded homes, native bush, and during certain times of the year, whales! There are several tour options to choose from, and all are surprisingly budget-friendly!
This 20-minute flight option flies over the Pelorous, Kenepuru, and Queen Charlotte Sounds and costs from $99 NZD per person.
This 45-minute flight takes in all three Sounds as well as D’Urville Island, Port Gore, and Ship Cove. It even includes a short stop on a remote beach. This particular tour costs $199 NZD per person.
And finally, the longest flight option is this 1 hour 15 minutes tour which follows the Koromiko Valley to the Wairau River and then into wine country. You will also be treated to seeing Tasman Bay and Nelson from high up above before stopping for 20 minutes at a remote beach. This tour costs $299 per person!
A scenic flight is definitely one of the most romantic things to do in Picton, and as you can imagine, is especially popular with couples.
11. Picton Heritage & Whaling Museum
The Picton Heritage and Whaling Museum, located in Picton Memorial Park, is a great place to learn about the area’s history. In the museum, hundreds of historical artifacts from the area are displayed, dating as far back as the 1700s. There’s a large number of very important Maori artifacts as well as whaling and maritime treasures collected throughout the years.
The Museum tells the story of the families who called Picton home and how Picton was developed from a Pa (a Maori village) named Waitohi.
Picton has a long history of whaling, dating as far back as 1820. In fact, the last whaling station in the country was right here in Picton and was set up by the Perano family in Fishing Bay. It closed, not that long ago actually, in 1964!
Entrance to the Picton Heritage & Whaling Museum costs just $5 NZD per adult. Plus, it is a great place to escape the heat and head indoors for a bit. It can get very warm in Picton during the summer months (with temperatures reaching as high as 23 Celsius or 73 Fahrenheit) and the museum has air conditioning.
12. Edwin Fox Museum
The Edwin Fox Maritime Museum on Dunbar Pier is the oldest merchant sailing ship in the world. Visitors can climb aboard the ship to get a real feel of what life on a 19th Century convict ship was like – this ship was used to transport convicts to Australia! You can visit the hull and see where the ship’s staff slept.
The Edwin Fox Ship is a fantastic piece of World heritage. As part of the experience, you can watch an informative documentary about the history of the Museum and its founder Edwin Fox as well as check out the numerous artifacts on display, which includes a 100-year-old Marlborough clinker dinghy (a tiny wooden boat)
The ship has been lovingly preserved over the last 30 years and sits in a dry dock here in Picton for all to explore and enjoy.
Allow one hour here. Tickets cost $15 NZD per adult. Children under 14 are free!
13. Tirohanga Track
Tirohanga Track is a short 1.2 km track that leads through native forest up to a viewpoint with one of the best views of Picton and Waikawa. You can choose to start the track from Garden Terrace, just outside the town center or Newgate Street. The track should take at most 45 minutes to complete. However, if you consider yourself fit, you could easily complete it in 25 minutes. Now, there’s a challenge!
Definitely bring a picnic, because the viewpoint is one of the best views in all of Picton. From this high vantage point, you can see Picton Marina, some of Queen Charlotte Sound, and if you time it right, the giant inter-islander ferries making their way to and from Wellington.
Although this track is well-formed, because of the steep climb, I would recommend it for those with a reasonable level of fitness.
14. Paua Pearl Tour
On this tour, take a boat journey to a remote island to see where the Paua Pearls are grown, also called the Blue Pearl. These are incredibly unique, and on your tour, you will get to see various different sizes of Paua.
It’s a one-hour boat journey from Picton to Arapawa Island, which is where the Pauas are grown. It’s a small island once used as a whaling base. This is a unique tour, which allows you to see the inner workings of the pearling and Paua industry in New Zealand – both are very lucrative markets. The tour on the island will take about an hour, and your informative guides are the owners of the Paua business – the Radon family.
At the end of the tour, you will be taken to the Radon family home, where you will be served some snacks and drinks. Plus, you will get to view the rare and exclusive pearl set in stunning jewelry. Did you know this is the only place in the world where you can buy this unique type of pearl?
Pricing for this private tour is $900 NZD for the first 1-4 guests, and an additional $225 per person after the first 4.
15. Queen Charlotte View
If you’re after a short walk that offers phenomenal views, then the 30-minute walk from the Snout Track car park to Queen Charlotte View has to be one of the best short walks in the area. It is quite a steep climb to the viewpoint, hence why it’s rated as moderate. But the walk-up is quite clear, meaning there’s not much bush in the way so the views pretty much the whole climb are great!
Take a picnic and enjoy the incredible views of Queen Charlotte Sound from the viewpoint.
Hot tip: This viewpoint is one of the best places in Picton to catch the sunset!
16. Visit the Snout
Essentially a longer version of the previous hike, the Snout Track is a firm favorite with Picton locals. That’s because you’re still getting a decent workout in (allow at least 4 hours to complete the track), and you’re witnessing some of the best views in the Marlborough Sounds on your walk. In fact, many locals complete this track before or after work during the summer months.
The track starts at the Snout Track car park, above Endeavour Park. The first section of the walk takes you to the Queen Charlotte View, and from here, it’s about an hour to the picnic area at the tip of the headland. Both viewpoints boast excellent views of the ocean and Sounds.
You can walk a slightly shorter version by starting at the Victoria Domain car park. This option will take about 3 hours return.
There’s also a new mountain biking trail, which takes you to the Snout – the Kanuka Trail is a Grade 2 return trail, which is 3.5 km in length. The trail begins from the Westside mountain bike trail.
17. Picton Memorial Park
Memorial Park, off Waikawa Road in Picton, remembers those New Zealanders who lost their lives during World War II. It is divided into two parts; the northern side of the park was once a tidal lagoon where rowing regattas were held in the early 1900s. This section became part of the memorial park in 1950, and now, there’s a large grassy area here that is popular with young families playing football, rugby, and even enjoying picnics.
The second part of the park is the main entrance to Picton Marina and Shelly Beach. The rest of the park is very dog-friendly, and if you’re a dog-lover, you’ll love it here. However, dogs are not permitted in the second part of the park.
18. Visit a nearby beach
Picton is a beach-lovers idea of heaven. In fact, this is one of my favorite coastal areas in all of New Zealand. New Zealand beaches are known for not only being stunning but also being less crowded than in other countries, and the beaches in Picton are no different.
One of the best beaches in the area, in my opinion, is the peaceful surroundings of Governors Bay. The beach here is small and surrounded by lush green trees. It tends to be a popular spot for locals who bring their boats and yachts into the bay. Worth noting is there is a public toilet located here, but no other facilities. You can reach the beach via a short walking track. It’s a 15-minute drive from Picton on the road towards Nelson.
Other awesome beaches include Shelley Beach in Picton town, which is a flat beach popular with swimmers. It can get very busy due to its close proximity to the town center. Bob’s Bay is a small beach, a 10-minute walk from Picton Wharf – it’s not as popular as the previous two, so it’s a great place to come and relax!
19. Enjoy the scenic drive to Havelock
The Queen Charlotte Drive is a spectacular winding road that links Picton to Havelock. It is often described by drivers as one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world. At every turn, you’ll have views over the stunning blue ocean, beach bays, and lush vegetation. The drive itself is 34.8 km (21.6 miles) and will take 40 minutes each way but considering all the awesome stops on the drive. I recommend turning this drive into a full-day affair!
The best stops include Cullen Point Lookout and Momorangi Bay which is an area popular with locals for fishing and swimming. Governors Bay which I’ve described earlier, is also part of this route. And Cullen Point Lookout is well-worth spending a few hours at as it has two lovely walking tracks.
20. Eat seafood
In an area surrounded by the ocean, you better believe there’s plenty of good seafood to enjoy in Picton. This area is especially famous for its Snapper and Red Cod!
One of the most up-market seafood restaurants in Picton is located on London Quay. Cortado Restaurant and Bar offers waterfront views with a huge seafood menu. I hear their mussels are excellent!
Also worth a visit is Cockles Seafood Bar and Restaurant on Auckland Street. It’s got a buzzing atmosphere but is also a great place for a romantic date. The under-the-sea-themed interior is awesome! Highly recommended is the seafood platter and green-lipped mussels!
For something more casual, Kiwi Takeaways on Wellington Street is a great place to pick up some fresh fish and chips and take it to the Marina to enjoy. This place gets very busy, and it’s typically just a one-woman show. Yep, the lady owner tends to do the cooking, the serving, and accepting the payments!
21. Swimming with dolphins!
Did you know that in the Marlborough Sounds you can go swimming with dolphins, an activity for the bucket list for sure! This tour from Picton actually allows you to swim with wild bottlenose, common, or hector dolphins – provided the water conditions are favorable.
You will receive all the necessary gear (wetsuits with hoods and booties), and your experienced guide will be on-hand to go through the safety briefing. The water temperature here averages 17 Celsius. It’s some of the warmest waters in New Zealand – which is a big plus for me!
This tour is Department of Conservation permitted and classed as eco-friendly, meaning the utmost care and consideration is given to the wild dolphins.
The tour departs from Picton waterfront and costs $183 NZD per adult. You must secure your spot in advance as this is easily one of the most popular things to do in Picton.
Where to Stay in Picton, New Zealand
Picton may be a small town but there are a ton of great places to stay. The truth is, picking a great located hotel is important because Picton is not the most beautiful town. So, you really want to enjoy the natural scenery and be near the coast.
Budget travelers will love the Atlantis Backpackers. I stayed here once when I was transporting my car from Auckland to Queenstown and simply wanted a cheap place to stay. The hostel is fun and it’s easy to meet other travelers. It’s located close to the marina and right next to Picton Memorial Park.
If you can spend a little more, then you’ll really get a nice upgrade. Harbour View Motel is one of my favorite hotels in Picton because of its location and views. Stare out at the gorgeous marina and enjoy sunset drinks on your balcony – my favorite!
If you don’t mind spending a little more, the Picton Waterfront Luxury Apartments are one of the most luxurious options in Picton. The hotel’s location is as waterfront as you can get and the rooms come with large balconies and ocean views.
Thanks for reading!
I hope this blog has given you some inspiration for your vacation in Picton. As you can see, there is lots to do here (I’ve only touched the surface in this blog). In fact, I recommend spending a few nights in Picton to truly experience the best the coast has to offer!