Picton Marina, Picton New Zealand

A Travel Guide to Picton, New Zealand

Last Updated: 5th August, 2023

Picton is a charming coastal town located in the Marlborough region of New Zealand’s South Island. Positioned at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, Picton is the perfect place to stay when looking to explore this incredible region. From outdoor adventures, wildlife encounters, local food and wine, and rich maritime history, it’s a must-see when travelling New Zealand!

Where is Picton?

Picton is a picturesque town situated at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. It is located at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, a stunning natural harbor that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and pristine waters. This charming coastal town serves as the South Island’s main ferry terminal, connecting it to Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, which lies across the Cook Strait. It is around half an hour north of the bigger city of Blenheim.

Map of Picton, New Zealand

One of the notable areas around Picton is the Marlborough Sounds, a captivating network of sunken valleys, inlets, and coves, offering opportunities for kayaking, hiking, and wildlife spotting. The region is famous for its world-class wineries, and visitors can indulge in wine tasting tours through the picturesque vineyards of the Marlborough wine region.

What is the best time to visit Picton?

The best time to visit Picton is during the late spring and summer months, from October to March. During this period, the weather is generally mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C. The warmer temperatures make it an ideal time for outdoor activities and exploration without the discomfort of extreme cold.

In terms of tourists, the peak season in Picton coincides with the summer months. Between December and February, the town sees an influx of visitors from both New Zealand and around the world. The popularity of the region during this time means that tourist attractions, accommodation, and activities may be busier, and it’s advisable to book in advance to secure your preferred options.

How to get to Picton

By Car:

Traveling to Picton by car is a popular option, especially for those exploring the South Island of New Zealand. From major cities like Christchurch or Nelson, travelers can take scenic road trips to reach Picton. The drive offers breathtaking views of the South Island’s diverse landscapes, including mountains, lakes, and forests. The main access route is via State Highway 1, and the journey allows for flexibility and the opportunity to stop at various attractions along the way.

By Ferry:

Picton is easily accessible from New Zealand’s North Island by taking a ferry from Wellington. The Interislander and Bluebridge ferry services operate multiple daily sailings, connecting the two islands across the Cook Strait. The ferry journey itself is a memorable experience, passing through the stunning Marlborough Sounds before arriving in Picton. It’s a convenient option for travelers who prefer not to drive or want to combine a scenic sea voyage with their journey.

Bluebridge ferry from Picton to Wellington, Picton, New Zealand

By Bus:

Traveling to Picton by public bus is a convenient and budget-friendly option for those without access to a car. InterCity provides services from major cities and towns across the South Island, including Christchurch and Nelson. The bus journey offers scenic views along the way, and the service frequency may vary depending on the season and demand.

Best Things to Do while in Picton

Embrace Pictons natural beauty!

Queen Charlotte Sound, Picton, New Zealand

Discover the stunning Marlborough Sounds

The Marlborough Sounds is a stunning and intricate network of sea-drowned valleys, bays, inlets, and islands that surround Picton. This breathtaking region stretches along the coastline for approximately 4,000 square kilometers and is renowned for its natural beauty and abundant marine life.

Cruise through the Sounds!

One of the best ways to take in the stunning Queen Charlotte Sound is by joining a cruise! There are many boat tours that journey through the sounds, taking you past lush green hills and secluded beaches. One of the best tours is the Mail Boat, where you join the local postman as he makes his way around the sounds, dropping off everything from groceries to packages to animals to remote residents!

Kayaking through the Sounds

The maze-like waterways offer sheltered harbors, making it a popular destination for sailing, boating, and kayaking. The calm and sheltered waters of the sounds are perfect for kayaking, making it accessible for both beginners and experienced paddlers alike. Wildlife encounters are common during kayaking excursions, with the possibility of encountering playful dolphins, inquisitive seals, and a variety of bird species.

Marlborough Sounds Adventure Co offer both guided kayak excursions (ranging from half a day, up to multi-day outings!) and kayak rentals, for if you fancy adventuring on your own.

Hiking and nature walks

For outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, the Marlborough Sounds provides ample opportunities for hiking and exploring. The Queen Charlotte Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, runs through the area, offering stunning vistas and a chance to witness the diverse flora and fauna along the way.

If you are looking for shorter walks that can give you incredible views over the Sounds and lush native forest, then Picton is a great place to start. There are a number of short walks starting from town, including the popular Snout Track Walk. This walk is a couple of hours long, taking you past the Picton Marina and through forest, before ending at Snout Point – giving you incredible views along the way!

Wildlife Encounters

One of the coolest experiences you can have in Picton is going out and meeting some of the local wildlife that call this stunning region home! The sounds are known for their pristine waters, which are teeming with marine wildlife! Tours can take you out into the secluded bays of the sounds, where you can see playful dolphins, NZ fur seals, incredible seabirds, and if you’re lucky, even an orca or two!

One of the most popular wildlife encounters in Picton is with dolphins. The Marlborough Sounds is home to several species of dolphins, including the playful Dusky dolphins and the acrobatic Hector’s dolphins. There are boat tours and cruises available that offer the opportunity to see these delightful creatures frolicking in their natural habitat.

Dolphin Watching in picton, New zealand

The Marlborough Sounds region is a haven for birdwatchers, with numerous native and migratory bird species to spot. On of the best ways to see some of these birds is to join a tour out across the waters to Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary! This island is a protected nature reserve and is important role in preserving and conserving native bird species. While you’re there, you have the chance to spot several native NZ species, including the South Island Saddleback, Robin, Tui, and Bellbird. If you’re very lucky, you might even see one of the elusive Little Blue Penguins!

Explore Picton’s Town Center

If you are feeling like a relaxing day spent in town, then an afternoon wandering around the charming center of Picton is perfect! The town center offers an awesome mix of history, culture, and of course lots of cafes and restaurants to check out while you’re at it!

Waterfront Promenade

The town center is nestled around the stunning Picton Marina, with a scenic waterfront promenade. You can stroll along the harbor, and watch yachts and cruises coming and going out into the Sounds. There is also a lovely Memorial Park located just on the waterfront, with a great playground for kids, and lots of shaded grassy areas for picnics!

Shopping and Dining

The town center boasts a range of boutique shops, art galleries, and souvenir stores. You can explore local crafts, artwork, and unique New Zealand gifts. When it comes to dining, there are various cafes and restaurants serving fresh seafood, as well as international and traditional Kiwi cuisine!

Learn about Picton’s maritime history!

If you fancy a dive into Picton’s fascinating maritime history, then you’re in luck! There are two small museums in Picton, which are fascinating places to explore. There is the Edwin Fox Maritime Centre, which is home to the Edwin Fox – the world’s oldest surviving merchant ship that carried immigrants from England to New Zealand in the mid-1800s! Another must-visit museum is the Picton Heritage and Whaling Museum, which contains collections dating back to the 1700s! It displays significant local Maori history and artifacts, maritime activities and a display on the history of whaling in the area (including tools used!)

Picton’s town center is relatively compact and easily explorable on foot, making it a pleasant destination for a day visit or as a starting point for further exploration of the Marlborough region and the picturesque Marlborough Sounds.

Indulge in Local Cuisine

Check out the fresh Seafood

Being surrounded by the ocean, it’s no wonder that Picton is known for its fabulous seafood. While here, definitely take advantage of this and try some of the freshest seafood around! There are a number of awesome restaurants and eateries in Picton where you can find an array of fresh catches – including blue cod, snapper, hoki, and groper, sourced directly from the surrounding waters by local fishermen.

  • Le Cafe: Situated in prime location along the Picton waterfront, this family-owned restaurant is a gem! It is known for it’s excellent seafood dishes, as well as other local produce sourced from the Marlborough region.
  • Cortado Restaurant and Bar: Cortado Restaurant offers a fresh, locally sourced seafood-inspired menu with a South American twist! Including awesome pizza and mouth-watering tapas, it’s an awesome place to eat and soak in the atmosphere.
  • Seabreeze Cafe and Bar: Seabreeze Cafe is a cafe with a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere overlooking the waterfront. It is a great place to sit and people-watch, while enjoying a bite to eat. They have a diverse menu with a focus on fresh seafood, as well as other local favourites!
  • Paperfish: Our favourite fish and chips shop in Picton! Located right on the main road, this awesome takeaway serves incredible fresh fish with a generous helping of crunchy chips and tomato sauce – perfection!

Green-Lipped Mussels

New Zealand is famous for its green-lipped mussels, and Picton is no exception. These large, succulent mussels are farmed in the nearby Marlborough Sounds and are a staple on many seafood menus in town. They are often served steamed, grilled, or in flavorful seafood chowders.

Seafood cruise

If you are keen to try some of the local seafood and get out on the water, then why not combine the two! This awesome cruise takes you through the Queen Charlotte Sound, while you sample local seafood cooked on board! Including salmon and the famous green-shelled mussels, and wash it all down with a delicious Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Marlborough Wine Region

The Marlborough Sounds is famous for its wine-producing vineyards. The unique combination of maritime climate and fertile soil in the area has led to the establishment of world-renowned wineries, making it a wine lover’s paradise!

One of the best ways to experience the magic of Marlborough’s world-class wine region is to join a guided Wine Tasting Tour! These tours take you through a number of the region’s most esteemed wineries and vineyards, where you can learn about the wine making process, wander through the wine yards, and of course, try a few of the incredible local wines!

There are numerous tours you can join, depending on what kind of experience you would like! You can join a wine tour that includes guided vineyard walks, or for a more active experience, you can hire a bike and cycle to the wine cellar’s of your choice!

Day Trips from Picton

There are a number of awesome cities and towns within a few hours drive from Picton, making them an awesome place to go and explore on a day trip!


Blenheim is a charming town located in the heart of the Marlborough wine region, and makes for an awesome day trip! It is approximately 30-minutes drive from Picton, and is filled with boutique shops and galleries, incredible restaurants, and an interesting museum where you can dive into the history of the region!


Nelson is a vibrant city located in the Tasman region of New Zealand, and is an excellent option for a day trip from Picton! While it’s a bit further away from Picton compared to Blenheim, the drive is well worth it as Nelson offers a diverse range of attractions and activities to explore! It has a lively city center, known for its excellent cafes, boutique shops and weekly markets. The drive to takes around 2 hours, and is incredible scenic, taking you past the stunning Pelorus Bridge and through the Rai Valley before emerging in the golden Tasman Bay.


Havelock is a small coastal town nestled in the heart of the stunning Marlborough Sounds! It is around 30-minutes drive from Picton, around the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive (an attraction in itself!). Havelock is renowned as the “Green Shell Mussel Capital” of the world. As you arrive in the town, you’ll notice mussel farms dotting the waters, as well as green mussel sculptures and paintings decorating the town center. There are many awesome restaurants where you can try these succulent mussels fresh from the sea!

Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve

Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve is a stunning natural area located around an hours drive from Picton. The reserve is filled with lush native bush and forests of NZ beech and podocarp, and centered around the Pelorus River.

This river is stunning, with crystal-clear waters, and is best known for being the filming location for the barrel rider scene in the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug!

There are a number of small walking tracks in the reserve that take you to beautiful lookouts over the river, so you can soak up the scenery before grabbing an ice cream at the local cafe!

Where to Stay in Picton

Whether you’re visiting for a day or planning a longer stay, Picton offers a range of accommodation options to suit various preferences and budgets!

Luxury Accommodation

For a truly indulgent experience, there are a number of luxury lodges and resorts in and around Picton that offer high-end accommodations, gourmet dining, spa treatments, and exceptional views over the Sounds. For a more personalized experience, bed and breakfasts in Picton provide a welcoming atmosphere with friendly hosts. B&Bs often offer comfortable rooms, delicious breakfasts, and a chance to connect with local insights and recommendations.

Budget Accommodation

There are a number of awesome accommodations in Picton that a perfect for budget-conscious travelers! Whether you are looking for a lively dorm-style room with communal facilities, a private room, or a budget -friendly holiday home, there is something to suit your needs!

Camping Accommodation

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Picton has campgrounds and holiday parks that cater to campers and caravan travelers. These facilities provide a range of amenities, including powered sites, kitchen areas, and communal facilities.

Thanks for checking out my Travel Guide to Picton! This town may be small, but it’s full of awesome things to see, do, and eat! I hope this has given you some helpful tips to planning your Picton adventure! If you liked this (I hope ya did), when check out some of my other travel guides here!

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