Things to do in Picton, New Zealand

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If you’re looking for the best things to do in Picton New Zealand, this blog has everything you need to know!

Things to do in Picton New Zealand

Things to do in Picton, New Zealand

Picton is a picturesque town at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. Best known as the connection point between the North and South Islands thanks to the inter-island ferry docking here, there’s a lot more to enjoy about Picton and the region if you take the time to hang around.

From unforgettable hikes and kayaking experiences to interacting with rare wildlife and joining in a truly unique mail run, here’s a rundown on some of the best things to do in Picton New Zealand.

Ten of the best things to do in Picton New Zealand

Kayak the stunning Pelorus river

Kayaking Tour Picton

Less than an hour from Picton, the stunning Pelorus is arguably New Zealand’s most beautiful river. Chosen by Sir Peter Jackson as the filming location for the famous barrel-escape scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, you can bob down the section of rapids near Pelorus Bridge on an unforgettable kayak tour. Despite how dramatic Bilbo’s and the Dwarves’ escape looks on film, the river is actually very gentle and family-friendly. Suitable for first-time kayakers and kids (6+)!

Take the famous Mail Boat Cruise

Mail boat cruise Picton New Zealand

Picton is often referred to as the gateway to the beautiful Marlborough Sounds, a landscape of sunken river valleys and tree-lined fiords cascading into pond-like, reflective waters. This quirky boat cruise offers a truly unique way to discover them – by joining the local postie on their delivery run! Given the remoteness and inaccessibility of Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound, many places are only accessible by boat. People still need their post, and so this boat – a service that has run for over 150 years – makes sure they get it. It leaves from the Picton Marina every day except Sunday (Mon-Sat) in summer, and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in winter.

Dip into Picton’s fascinating history and heritage at local museums

Picton museum

Picton may seem like a small town, but it’s played a big part in Aotearoa New Zealand’s history. A natural transit point between the North and South Islands, the area around Picton had been an important settlement and Māori pa (fortified village) since long before Europeans arrived. The first of those to come were whalers and sealers, who left their own imprint on the area that you can see at the brilliant Picton Heritage & Whaling Museum. Another local historical highlight is the Edwin Fox Ship Centre, which lets you walk in and around the oldest in-tact merchant ship in the world, used to transport convicts to Australia in the 19th century!

Explore one of Picton’s many great hiking trailHiking trail Picton

Get a great view over Picton (and the start of Queen Charlotte Sound) from the top of the Tirohanga Track, a short, steep, 45-minute hike straight up (1.2 km / ¾ mile) from Newgate Street or Garden Terrace. For an even more expansive viewpoint, trek the Link Pathway from Picton through forest reserve to the Whenuanui Bay Lookout (1hr 30min). Or, to go the whole hog, get deep into native New Zealand bush heading up to the top of The Snout, which you can either do as a 45-minute walk from The Snout Car Park (a 5-minute drive from Picton town center) or as a full half-day/4-hour walk by connecting onto the Harbour View track, about a 3-4 hour walk directly from Victoria Domain in Picton. If you prefer a damn good dam, then there are beautiful walking trails from Picton to either Humphries Dam (40 mins) or Barnes Dam (45 mins).

Take the Coastal Pacific Scenic Train to Kaikoura/Christchurch

Picton scenic train

Picton is the starting point (or terminus) for one of New Zealand’s most iconic train journeys: the Coastal Pacific. Tracing the magnificent Kaikōura coastline so closely it feels like you’re gliding over the water, while also showing sweeping mountain views towards the snow-crusted alps in the other direction, this is a journey you won’t forget in a hurry. You can either choose to do it all the way to Christchurch, or stop off at Kaikōura (2.5 hours) for a spot of whale watching or seal spotting and tasty local crayfish.

Hike or bike the Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte track Picton

The main reason a lot of people visit Picton is to walk or bike the Queen Charlotte Track, a 71 km (44 mile) wilderness trail connecting Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. From doing short day-walk sections and romantic picnic spots to taking on the full 5-day hike or challenging mountain-biking trails, there are dozens of different ways to enjoy and explore this beloved New Zealand hiking trail. The track begins at historic Meretoto/Ship Cove, one of the most important sites of contact and exchange between early Europeans and Māori after Captain James Cook first landed here in 1770. It winds its way over five distinct sections to its end point at Anakiwa, passing through dense native forest, remote beaches and bays, and many stunning panoramic viewpoints.

Rare and wonderful wildlife spotting around Picton

Picton wildlife

Whether swimming with dolphins, spotting rare seabirds (E-Ko Tours [shoutout!]), finding native geckos or waiting for some of the world’s smallest penguins to come home from their day of fishing, there are many incredible wildlife experiences to enjoy in and around Picton. Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary, situated right beside Picton Harbour, is home to several of these creatures, and it has a fantastic 2.7 km (1.6 mile) loop trail for trying to spot them. Further out into Queen Charlotte Sound is even more rewarding for nature lovers. Predator-free Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary allows you to visit what has become a haven for New Zealand’s native wildlife, while a half-day (4-hour) designated dolphin cruise lets you see three different species of dolphin (hector, bottlenose and dusky) up close.

Kayak, cruise, and explore Queen Charlotte Sound

Marlborough Sound Picton

With such an expanse of wild beauty, there are many marvelous ways to explore Queen Charlotte Sound – and Picton is the perfect base for doing so! Whether wining and dining on a lavish Marlborough Sounds Cruise, exploring the coves and bays at your own pace on a Queen Charlotte kayak tour, or even taking a stunning 20-minute scenic flight straight over the three sounds of Pelorus, Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte for an unbeatable bird’s-eye view, Picton offers multiple ways to discover this beautiful region of New Zealand.

Hit the beach

Picton beach

If you’re looking for some sunny beach vibes while in Picton, then you’re in luck – just 15 minutes over the hill on the way to Nelson is gorgeous Governors Bay, a hidden gem popular among Marlborough locals for swimming, sunbathing and boating. Small and surrounded by lush trees, it’s a secluded beach with no huge development (although there is a public toilet). Another nearby option is beautiful Bob’s Bay, a great sandy swimming spot that you can reach on foot in 30 minutes from Picton, by either the Lower or Upper Bob’s Bay Track. Take the Upper on the way and the Lower back, or vice versa, for a loop track taking in beautiful views across Picton Harbour and passing along steep bluff edges or rocky shoreline.

Go fishing: Discover, taste, or catch delicious local seafood yourself

Picton seafood

Although a lot of tourists come for the landscapes and the Instagram shots, a lot of New Zealanders know the Marlborough Sounds best for fishing and seafood. From superb snapper to world-famous greenshell mussels, Picton is the ideal spot for tasting some of the best seafood New Zealand has to offer. What’s more, it’s also the perfect place to start if you want to try and catch it yourself. There are many different fishing options around Picton: from simply stocking up at a local bait and tackle shop and finding a quiet cove to relax, to going on a fully fledged day-long private fishing charter with high-end professional gear, there’s a Picton fishing activity to suit everybody.

Planning a trip to Picton?

Whether you’ve already got Picton penciled into your New Zealand South Island itinerary or want a little more information, head over to Pelorus Eco Adventures to find a bit more information on the area. You can contact us directly to ask any questions, or you can go ahead and book an unforgettable kayak tour right away!

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