12 Best Things to Do in Picton

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The Must-Dos in Picton

Welcome to the sunny South Island! Picton might be the gateway town to the South Island when taking the Cook Strait Ferry, but this little town on the edge of the Marlborough Sounds offers some of the best coastal activities the South Island has to offer. Marvel at the scenery of the Sounds along the Queen Charlotte Track or on a cruise. Watch wildlife on a bird sanctuary island or on a dolphin swimming tour. Taste the indulgent produce of the fresh Marlborough seafood or tour around the vineyards of New Zealand’s largest wine-making region. It’s all possible, as you’ll soon see in this list of things to do in Picton!

While you’re here, you might also be interested in the 10 Awesome Activities in the Marlborough Sounds.

1. Hike or Cycle the Queen Charlotte Track

Discover stunning forest, coastal and mountain scenery along the breathtaking 70km (43-mile) Queen Charlotte Track. This trail through the Queen Charlotte Sound can either be tackled as a multi-day adventure staying in a wide range of accommodation, from humble campsites to luxurious lodges, or done as a day hike on one of the sections. Plan your trip with our Ultimate Guide to the Queen Charlotte Track.

Location: Between Anakiwa and Ship Cove in the Queen Charlotte Sound. Boat transfers to the track depart from Picton Marina. Check out Cougar Line (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) for day hike transfers.©

2. Cruise Around Queen Charlotte Sound

Sure, you see the Marlborough Sounds while cruising on the Wellington-Picton ferry, but you’ll explore the hidden coves and bays on a scenic cruise of the Queen Charlotte Sound. While there are many amazing ways to explore the sounds on the way to various activities and accommodations, the most comprehensive cruises are on a dedicated boat cruise. Operators like E-Ko Tours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Cougar Line (on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Beachcomber Cruises (on Viator and Tripadvisor) all offer scenic cruises that cover most of the sound and more. From its historical sites such as Captain Cook’s landing to birdwatching at Motuara Island, there is a ton of choice when it comes to exploring Queen Charlotte Sound.

Location: Cruises depart from Picton Marina.©

 3. Indulge in the Seafood of the Marlborough Sounds

The Marlborough Sounds are famous (in New Zealand) for producing fresh seafood and specialities like the greenshell mussels. Try the seafood for yourself at one of the town’s restaurants or onboard the Greenshell Mussel Cruise with Seafood Odyssea Cruise (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). These cruises pair sightseeing with fresh local seafood and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Alternatively, head to the nearby “Greenshell Mussel Capital” to take the Greenshell Mussel Cruise from Havelock. See more experiences like this in the 7 Things to Do in Picton for Foodies.

Location: Picton Town restaurants. Cruises depart from Picton Marina and Havelock Marina (Havelock is approximately 35km (21 miles) from Picton.©

4. Hit the Walking Trails

Picton is surrounded by a myriad of walking trails to enjoy the views of Queen Charlotte Sound in an active and inexpensive way. A popular trail is the Tirohanga Track to a magnificent viewpoint over the Sounds and Picton town. Venture into the Victoria Domain for easy walking trails accessible from town or go inland to the Humphries Dam or Barnes Dam for some lake and forest scenery. Get all the details in our 12 Awesome Hikes in Picton.

Location: All around Picton – see the link above for specific locations.©

5. Tour the Marlborough Wine Region

As the entry town to New Zealand’s largest wine-making region, Picton is a fantastic base to explore the Marlborough wine region. Jump on a driving tour to go from cellar door to cellar door sampling the local wines and visiting the picturesque vineyards A few tour operators worth mentioning include Sounds Connection (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Marlborough Wine Tours (on Viator and Tripadvisor), Marlborough Tour Company (on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Bubbly Grape. See more activities like this in The Foodie Guide to Picton.

Location: Picton accommodation pick-up is included in all tours.©

6. Hit the Mountain Biking Trails

Marlborough is mad about mountain biking, so you’ll find plenty of two-wheeled adventures around Picton. Tackle the mountain bike trails at the Victoria Domain MTB Park, get stunning views along the Link Pathway or ride the easy-grade Picton to Waikawa Track. Of course, the Queen Charlotte Track (see above) is a must-do for any serious biking enthusiast. Check out Mountain Biking in Marlborough for more details.

Location: All around Picton – see the link above for specific locations.©

7. Swim with Dolphins

The waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound are teeming with life, including marine mammals like bottlenose dolphins. Watch dolphins and even swim with them in their natural environment on an eco-friendly dolphin swimming/watching cruise with E-Ko Tours (bookable on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). Dolphins spotted on this tour sometimes include bottlenose, dusky dolphins and orcas.

Location: Cruise departs from Picton Marina.©

8. Check Out the Local Museums

Culture yourself or at least keep dry when the weather isn’t playing ball at one of the many museums in Picton. See the world’s oldest merchant ship at the Edwin Fox Ship & Visitor Centre. Learn about the whaling history of the Marlborough Sounds at the Picton Heritage & Whaling Museum.

Location: Edwin Fox Ship & Visitor Centre – Dunbar Wharf. Picton Heritage & Whaling Museum – 9 London Quay.©

9. Take a Boat Trip to Ship Cove

Visit one of New Zealand’s most iconic historic sites, Ship Cove. Located at the end of the Queen Charlotte Sound, Ship Cove is a significant Maori and European heritage site where information panels tell about the local Maori people and Captain James Cook’s anchorage at the cove. There are a number of walks to enjoy in the area, photo opportunities, wildlife (like the cheeky weka) and carvings to admire. Catch a cruise to Ship Cove with Beachcomber Cruises (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Cruise departs from Picton Marina.©

10. Visit the Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary

Look out for marine wildlife such as dolphins on a cruise out to the wildlife mecca of Motuara Island. This pest-free island in the Queen Charlotte Sound is a bird haven with a short walk past watering holes (a huge attraction for birds) and to a stunning lookout over the sounds. The island is home to endangered birds like the saddleback, king shag, little blue penguin and kiwi bird. Visit the island with Beachcomber Cruises (on Viator and Tripadvisor) or E-Ko Tours (on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Cruises depart from Picton Marina.©

11. Kayak in the Marlborough Sounds

Enjoy the tranquillity of kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds with guided kayaking tours with Wilderness Guides (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company (on Viator and Tripadvisor). Choose either half-day or full-day tours exploring secluded beaches and learning about the local history, environment and wildlife from your guide. You might also be lucky enough to have close encounters with marine wildlife, such as dolphins and seals. Freedom kayak hire is also available at Lochmara Lodge (on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Tours depart from London Quay and Picton Marina.


12. Take a Trip to the Nearby Town of Havelock

After a scenic drive along Queen Charlotte Drive, stopping by Maori art galleries and the 10-minute to 1-hour Cullen Point Tracks, you’ll arrive at the peaceful town of Havelock. Explore the stunning walking trails or kayak along the Pelorus River and enjoy cruises down the Marlborough Sounds’ quieter sounds, like the Kenepuru Sound. Find out more in our 9 Fun Things to Do in Havelock.

Location: 33km (20.5 miles) east of Picton down Queen Charlotte Drive.


More Must-Dos and Things to Do in Picton

That’s it for the best things to do in Picton. Find more activities for your travels in the 51 Best Things to Do in the South Island.


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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