Picton is the gateway to the beautiful Marlborough Sounds and the port of arrival for the ferry from Wellington. The seaside adventure hub is the launching point for hiking and biking on the popular Queen Charlotte Track, kayaking on the Sounds’ 1,500 kilometers of coastline, or for just sitting back and enjoying the region’s famous seafood. Picton is a stone’s throw from Blenheim in the heart of the Marlborough wine region and a short train ride from Kaikoura, another top adventure town.
Things to Do in Picton
Queen Charlotte Track
Without a doubt, the Queen Charlotte Track is one of New Zealand’s premier trail systems. The 71 km route traverses the temperate coastal forests and secluded bays between the magnificent Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. Along the way are a number of boutique eco-accommodations and water taxis will transport your baggage from one stopover to the next. The entire Queen Charlotte Track is open to hiking and a majority is open to mountain biking. For help with trip planning and bookings, contact Picton’s Wilderness Guides.
The north end of the South Island is loaded with excellent places to kayak. Abel Tasman draws the biggest crowds but the Marlborough Sounds are many times bigger and more remote. The three main bodies of water to choose from are Queen Charlotte Sound, Kenepuru Sound, and Pelorus Sound. For those who don’t feel comfortable setting out on their own, Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company and Wilderness Guides both run guided kayaking trips from a half-day to four days. Each company also offers independent rentals that include all kayaking equipment.
If you haven’t tried Greenshell Mussels, you’re in for a treat. Native only to New Zealand, the colorful Greenshell is one of the largest and tastiest members of the mussel family, growing up to 240 mm in length. They are sought after by chefs worldwide but ubiquitous in Picton’s restaurants and cafes. For a fun day trip, the tiny town of Havelock (33 km west of Picton) is known as the “Greenshell Mussel Capitol of the World” and operates daily Greenshell Mussel cruises. Havelock’s annual Greenshell Mussel Festival in March is one of liveliest food festivals in New Zealand.
Picton is part of the largest wine-growing region in New Zealand. Marlborough’s climate of warm days and cool nights helps ripen the grapes to perfection, particularly for Sauvignon Blanc. Sounds Connection guides daily wine tours out of Picton including round trip transportation from your accommodation.
The Marlborough Sounds offer a truly unique diving experience: the MS Mikhail Lermontov is one of the world’s most recent and most accessible major shipwrecks. In 1986, the Soviet cruise ship ran aground in the shallow reefs near Port Gore; the Lermontov now lies fully intact on her starboard side in diving depths ranging from 12 to 36 meters. Picton based Go Dive Marlborough is the only company to guide the Lermontov wreck, as well as a number of the Sounds’ other shipwrecks and marine life hotspots.
Coastal Pacific Railroad
The Coastal Pacific scenic railroad runs from Picton to Christchurch along the South Island’s rugged eastern coastline. The full journey takes just over five hours each way, but Picton to Kaikoura is the most striking stretch of track and takes roughly half the time. The Coastal Pacific recently introduced new viewing carriages with GPS triggered commentary available via headset.
Climate/When to Go
Marlborough is New Zealand’s sunniest region and enjoys a mild, temperate climate. Summer usually is warm and dry and winter is cooler with more precipitation. The Queen Charlotte Track is open year-round but receives the bulk of visitors in the summer. No matter the season, hikers and bikers should come prepared for rain, wind, and cold conditions.