The bustling and picturesque seaside town of Picton on New Zealand's South Island is located at the end of Queen Charlotte Sound in the famous Marlborough Sounds, a short 25 minute flight from Wellington. This charming village is known as New Zealand's prettiest and, with two marinas, a variety of waterfront cafés, restaurants and galleries, it is also one of its most lively tourist destinations. The town boasts a floating maritime museum and aquarium as well as a plethora of tour operators available to arrange cruising, fishing, dolphin watching, sea kayaking or mountain biking expeditions.
Picton is Marlborough's second-largest town, with a population of around 4,500. It occupies a secluded and scenic setting in the inlet known as Picton Harbour. The harbour is flanked by two headlands, Wedge Point and the Snout, and comprises two inlets, Picton Harbour proper and Shakespeare Bay.
The town is located on the site of the Te āti Awa settlement of Waitohi, which was established by migrants from Taranaki in the 1500s. In March 1849 the site was bought from Te āti Awa, who moved to neighbouring Māori centre, Waikawa Bay. Picton became a bustling port and gold mining base for European pioneers and early domestic settlers.
Today, Picton is the base for exploring the Marlborough Sounds with Queen Charlotte Sound being one of New Zealand's most arresting water landscapes. The Marlborough Sounds make up one fifth of New Zealand's entire coastline and are the country's most popular and sheltered waterways for boating and kayaking.
Picton is also the main gateway to the iconic Queen Charlotte Track. One of New Zealand's most famous attractions, one of the Great Walks and part of the NZ Cycle Trail network, the Queen Charlotte Track hugs the coastline along 70 km of sandy beaches and coves, native forest and unspoiled bush offering views over the Marlborough Sounds as well as passing areas of cultural and historical significance. The track can be conquered independently or as part of a guided or self-guided tour over three to five days, taking advantage of the campsites, lodges and nearby accommodation options along the route. Adventurous travellers may also enjoy combining walking with mountain biking and kayaking on a three-day guided itinerary. Convenient proximity to the Abel Tasman National Park also enables tours that combine the Queen Charlotte Track and Abel Tasman Track on one itinerary.
A short distance from Picton, the world-famous wine region of Marlborough occupies the entire north-eastern corner of the South Island. Thanks to the synergy of climate and soil, Marlborough is famed for wines of extraordinary purity and intensity specialising in varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Bound by the Pacific Ocean to the east and towering mountain ranges in the hinterlands to the north and south, this striking landscape of spectacular natural beauty did not develop a reputation as a premium wine region until the late 20th century. Today however, Marlborough is recognised as New Zealand's leading wine region beckoning travellers, wine enthusiasts and foodies to gather and enjoy the incredible bounty this diverse region has to offer. Wine tours are available from Picton by road or helicopter and can be included as part of a cruise package.
A number of cruise operators also accompany groups for fishing expeditions or sightseeing cruises in the Marlborough Sounds. With limitless opportunities to spot dolphins, orcas, humpback whales, sea lions and myriad birdlife, the water offers the best vantage point to admire local and visiting wildlife. Tour packages are available from one day to overnight cruises and can be combined with additional excursions such as wine, walking or cycling tours.
A range of accommodation and restaurant options make Picton a convenient stop on a tour through this vast region.
With some of the best weather in New Zealand, one fifth of its coastline and the country's biggest wine region just a short drive away, Picton makes the ideal starting point to explore this glorious part of New Zealand.
Related article: The Queen Charlotte Track