view of the Queen Charlotte Sound from boutique accommodation Picton, New Zealand

The Best Things to do in Picton, New Zealand!

Last Update: 23rd July, 2023

Located in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand, Picton is a charming coastal town known for its picturesque waterfront, stunning natural landscapes, and thriving maritime history. It is the gateway to exploring the Marlborough Sounds, and there are heaps of things to do in Picton if you are keen on exploring this region!

In this post I talk about the 10 best things to do in Picton if you are looking for an true adventure! If you are travelling on a budget, or want to see a few more awesome things to do while you are here, check out my post on Free Things to Do in Picton here!

Top 10 Things to Do in Picton

1. Cruise the Marlborough Sounds

One of the coolest things to while in Picton is to get out on a boat and cruise through the phenomenal Marlborough Sounds! These are a collection of stunning waterways that characterize the region, and are a must-see for anyone travelling around this region.

Visit the Picton Marina, Picton, New Zealand

The Marlborough Sounds are stunning to visit, with their deep blue waters, lush green hills, and dense native forests. As you cruise through the sounds, you’ll be treated to stunning vistas, secluded bays, and golden beaches that showcase the region’s pristine natural landscapes.

The sounds are teeming with diverse marine life! As you go along, remember to keep an eye out for dolphins, seals, and seabirds as they often make appearances during cruises. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some whales, including humpback whales or orcas, as they occasionally visit the area!

Dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds, Picton, New Zealand

Throughout the sounds are secluded bays and islands, offering peaceful anchorages and opportunities for exploration. Many cruises include stops at scenic spots where you can go ashore, stretch your legs, and even go for a quick dip!

A view over the sounds from Queen Charlotte Drive

There are a number of different cruises to choose from, depending on your budget and preferences!

Queen Charlotte Sound Mail Boat Cruise

This is one of the most popular and unique cruises through the Marlborough Sounds! Join the mail-man as he cruises through the sounds, delivering post and groceries to the residents scattered around the sounds. This route changes daily, and during the summer months includes a quick spot at Ship Cove – a favourite Anchorage of Captain Cooks! The skipper is fantastic, filled with interesting knowledge of the area and the history of the Sounds, so it makes for an awesome afternoon out!

2. Hike the Queen Charlotte Track

One of the most iconic things to do while in Picton is to hike the Queen Charlotte Track! This incredible trail stretches across the ridges and valleys of the Queen Charlotte Sound, taking you a long golden beaches and through the lush forests between Anakiwa and Ship Cove.

  • Walk Length: 72 kilometers!
  • Duration: 3-5 days
  • Walk Difficulty: Easier Tramping Track

The track is designed as a multi-day hike, and is approximately 72 kilometers long! Typically, the whole hike will take around 3-5 days to complete, depending on your pace. However, if you fancy a shorter excursion, you can also enjoy sections of the track as a day trip from Picton!

Track Pass: The land along this walk is maintained by the Department of Conservation and Marlborough District Council, and requires a track pass to enter! You can get this online or at the Picton i-site before starting you hike!

What to expect!

The Queen Charlotte Track begins (or ends) at Ship Cove/Meretoto, a historic site where Captain James Cook anchored during his voyages in the 1770s. From there, the trail winds its way through lush forests, along ridges, and down to secluded bays with sandy beaches. The terrain is a mix of well-formed paths, gravel roads, and undulating tracks, offering a varied and enjoyable experience.

Accommodation on the Queen Charlotte Track

Along the route, you’ll encounter several accommodation options, including campsites, lodges, and resorts, for however you prefer to . Many visitors choose to organize baggage transfers, which means they only need to carry a daypack while their belongings are transported to the next accommodation. However if you like a challange, pack up your tent and stay at some of the incredible campgrounds nestled in nature along the track!

Camping at Schoolhouse Bay, Hiking the Queen Charlotte Track, Picton, New Zealand

Getting there!

Transportation options to access the Queen Charlotte Track include taking a water taxi or scheduled boat service from Picton or Anakiwa. These services allow hikers and cyclists to start or finish at different points along the track, making it more flexible and accessible.

Water taxi to Mistletoe Bay, Hiking the Queen Charlotte Track, Picton, New Zealand

3. Go Sea Kayaking through the Marlborough Sounds

Sea kayaking through the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand is a fantastic way to explore the region’s stunning coastal landscapes, tranquil bays, and intricate waterways. The calm waters of the sounds provide ideal conditions for kayaking, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced paddler. The area is known for its crystal-clear water and vibrant marine life, making this for an awesome day out!

Go on a kayak tour

There are several options for sea kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds. You can choose to embark on a guided tour led by experienced instructors who will provide equipment, safety briefings, and local knowledge about the area. These tours are suitable for all skill levels and often cater to small groups, allowing for a personalized experience.

Sea kayaking the Marlborough Sounds, Picton, New Zealand

Or explore on your own!

For those with more experience, you can also opt for renting a kayak and exploring the sounds independently. Rental facilities are available in towns such as Picton and Havelock, providing a range of kayaks and equipment to suit your needs. So go on, grab your kayak and get out there!

4. Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary

Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary is a protected island located in the Marlborough Sounds, all the way up by Ship Cove! The island, around an hour boat ride from Picton, is renowned for its rich birdlife and serves as an important sanctuary for native New Zealand bird species!

Motuara Island is a predator-free sanctuary, meaning it is free from introduced predators such as rats, stoats, and possums. This protection has created a safe haven for native bird species to thrive, and makes for an incredible place to visit! There are loads of short walking tracks on the island, taking you through lush native bush filled with birdsong!

The sanctuary is home to a variety of native bird species, including the South Island saddleback (tīeke), little blue penguin (kororā), New Zealand bellbird (korimako), and the endangered South Island robin (toutouwai).

Bellbird in Picton, New Zealand

Fun Fact: Motuara Island holds historical importance as a landing site for Captain James Cook during his exploration of New Zealand in 1770. There is a memorial plaques on the island, commemorating his visit!

Getting to Motuara Island:

Motuara Island is accessible by boat, and water taxis or guided tours are available from nearby Picton!

5. Join a Dolphin Cruise…

Get out onto the water and have the experience of a lifetime spotting some of these graceful animals that call the Sounds home! This is definitely one of the best things to do while in Picton. These fantastic cruises take you out from the main harbor in Picton, with a stunning boat trip around the many secluded bays and coves in the Sounds in the hunt for a pod of dolphins or two!

Dolphin cruise in the Marlborough Sounds, Picton, New Zealand

The Marlborough Sounds is home to a number of dolphin species, including the bottle nose, dusky, and rare hector dolphins. Watch these dolphins riding the bow waves from the boat, or leaping out of the water in energetic displays! Remember to have your camera ready, although these memories will definitely last a lifetime.

Along the journey, your experienced guides will tell you all about the marine life you see, as well as stories and history from the Sounds. You will also have a chance to see the sleek NZ Fur Seals basking on rocks in the sun, rare seabirds, and (if you’re lucky) even an orca! The guides are fantastic, and provide an up-close and respectful interaction with these amazing creatures.

An awesome cruise option is this one through E-ko Tours, which combines a dolphin cruise with a short-but-sweet visit to the Motuara Bird Sanctuary (mentioned above!) This cruise is 4-hours long, with departures scheduled in the morning and afternoon. They even provide refreshments (whoo hoo!). It can get busy during the touristy summer season, so it’s a good idea to book in advance.

6. … or go Swimming with Dolphins instead!

If you fancy getting just that little bit closer to these incredible animals, then why not go swimming with the dolphins instead! E-ko Tours run a dedicated tour that will take you out into the Sounds, before dumping you into the water with these wild animals. Nah, just kidding! It’s a fantastic experience, and just incredible to be able to get up close and personal with these curious creatures!

They supply all necessary gear (wetsuits, hoods, booties, snorkels, the whole shibang) and a knowledgeable local guide will take you through a safety briefing before getting you into the water! The water here is some of the warmest in New Zealand, at around 17 degrees Celsius! As you swim out from the boat, you will see dusky and hector dolphins swimming gracefully around you. They are super curious, and will quite often come up close to check you out, incredible! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience!

The tours are running daily from 1st June – 30th November, during the time of year that Dusky dolphins frequent the Marlborough Sounds. During the summer months (1 Dec – 31st May), this tour will run twice a week (on Wednesdays and Saturdays), and so it’s a good idea to book up in advance!

What to expect!

After getting suited up and running through a brief safety meeting, the skipper will take you from Picton harbor out into the gorgeous Sounds! Experienced guides will use local knowledge and specialized equipment to help locate the dolphins, and will cruise up to a safe distance. If the conditions are good, they’ll then get you into the water where you’ll have an experience you’ll never forget! Whether it’s a group cruising quietly or performing high leaps and somersaults, it’s truly something magical to see.

7. Go on a Wine Tour

If you love a good vino, or just want to experience a little of New Zealand’s fabulous wine region, then this is an awesome thing to do while in Picton! The Marlborough region is rebounded for it’s numerous wineries, and is considered the heart of New Zealand’s wine industry. From deliciously crisp Sauvignon Blanc to buttery Chardonnays, the wines here have distinct flavours and character that make them some of the best in the world!

The region boasts numerous world-class wineries, each with its unique charm and character. Some of the renowned wineries in the area include Cloudy Bay, Brancott Estate, Allan Scott Family Winemakers, and Saint Clair Family Estate. Many of these wineries offer visitors the opportunity to indulge in wine tastings, where you can try a variety of wines while looking out at the sun-drenched vineyards. Bliss!

Wine tours are a popular way to explore the wineries in Picton and the surrounding Marlborough region. Guided tours take visitors on a journey through picturesque vineyards, providing insights into the winemaking process and the region’s unique terroir.

There are multiple wine-tour operators that start in Picton, and so you can pick and choose depending on your preferences! There are both half-day and full-day tours available, where a knowledgeable guide will take you to a number of incredible wineries. You will have a chance to try a variety of wines will taking in the stunning scenery of the region!

8. Learn about local history!

A perfect rainy day activity to do in Picton is to visit one of the fascinating museums located along the waterfront! You can pop into the Picton Heritage and Whaling Museum and learn more about local history during the whaling era, as well as looking at old tools and equipment used in this time. Alternatively, stroll through the park to the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum, where you can explore one of the oldest surviving merchant sailing ships in the world!

9. Try some incredible seafood!

While in Picton, you just have to try some incredible seafood! The pristine waters of the Marlborough Sounds is chocka with incredible fish and shellfish, and this is shown in the amazing fresh seafood on offer in many of Picton’s restaurants. The area is especially famous for its green-lipped mussels and blue cod – delicious!

Located right on the Picton waterfront, Le Café is renowned for its excellent seafood offerings, along with a fantastic view over the marina. They use seasonal and locally produced food, meaning their seafood is as fresh as you can get!

For a more casual and kiwi seafood experience, grabbing some fish and chips and eating them at the beach is a must! Our favourite fish and chips shop in Picton is Paperfish, located just a little way along the main street. The fish is fresh and delicious, and they give you a proper helping of chips! Ka pai!

10. Enjoy the sunset over the stunning Picton waterfront

Nothing is more beautiful that sitting on the waterfront in Picton in the evening, and watching the sun set over the incredible Marlborough Sounds. I mean, just check out this view!

What a relaxing way to end your adventure-filled day out in Picton!

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Hey guys and gals! Thanks for reading my post on things to do in Picton, New Zealand! It’s a pretty cool region to explore, and I hope this list gives you the travel-bug! I have been visiting Picton since I was a kid and have a lot of love for it, and so I hope you love it too! 🙂

If you are keen to check out other awesome cities to see in the region, please check out my post on nearby Nelson here! 🙂

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