Things to do in and around Picton
By: Christopher Cookson
Last Modified: 24-2-2021 22:55
I sometimes describe Picton to my wife as a miniature version of Rio de Janeiro, with the rugged bush clad hills and sea, a festive atmosphere, but without the pollution, the crowds, or the big statue. Sometimes I’ve thought a big statue or pou up on a hill might make it more like Rio and make an interesting visitor attraction. I’ve never been to Rio, although I have been to some other parts of Brazil’s coast, and can confirm it is a bit like the Marlborough Sounds, although warmer, and in Picton ‘dawn chorus’ refers to birds, not monkeys mating in the tree tops.
I like Picton, but for some reason haven’t got around to writing about it as a destination before, even though I’ve written a number of articles about specific Picton activities. As a Marlburian, I guess it’s too easy to take our port town for granted, but it’s really quite a special place.
Although Picton has a fraction of Blenheim’s population, it more than makes up for it with character. While Blenheim has struggled (somewhat unfairly I think personally), to shake off the image of a service town rather than a destination, Picton has always seemed like a destination in its own right.
Picton is a seaside town, so though it’s no Wellington, it can tend to be breezy, so it’s a good idea to carry a windproof jacket in the car, even if you turn out not to need it.
Bush walks galore
Surrounded by steep hills covered in regenerating native bush, Picton has plenty of opportunities for bush walks.
Essons Valley follows the Waitohi Stream to two small dams that provide Picton’s water supply. The tracks themselves are flat, although there are steep drops to the stream, so maybe not the best for very small children, but otherwise easy, and being in forest, it’s comfortable to walk even on a hot summer’s day.
Tirohanga Track starts in Essons Valley too, but climbs steeply to a lookout point over Picton and Waikawa.
Victoria Domain to the north of Picton has numerous walking tracks, including to Bob’s Bay, and the longest track in the area, the Snout Walkway with fantastic views over Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound.
Out to the west of Picton, the Link Pathway begins near the Bluebridge ferry terminal, and can take you all the way through to Havelock if you really want to, but staying within the boundaries of Picton, you can follow it up to a lookout point with great views over the harbour. (You can also drive to the lookout if walking isn’t your thing.)
If you don’t mind paying for a short water taxi trip, you can also explore Kaipupu Point, a predator proof reserve on the north eastern entrance to Picton harbour.
Picton has a substantial number of eateries including cafes, bars, pubs, and takeaways. Menus, and even ownership seem to have a bit of turnover, so I don’t want to be too specific with recommendations, with a risk they’ll be out of date by the time I make them, however there are plenty of options to suit a range of tastes and budgets.
Although Havelock lays claim to being New Zealand’s greenshell mussel capital, Picton also boasts plenty of seafood options, and mussels can be on the menu if you want them, along with other local fare such as salmon or blue cod. There are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy Marlborough wines and beers, as well as others from further afield.
In terms of major fast food franchises, the only one you’ll find in town in Picton is Subway.
Speaking of takeaways, if you want food to enjoy as you relax on the foreshore reserve, there’s one place that’s been around long enough under the same ownership that I think I can recommend. The Picton Village Bakkerij is a Dutch style bakery that does a wide range of breads, pies, savouries, and sweet treats that’s well worth a visit, although you don’t want to get there too late in the day, as the tastiest treats disappear quickly.
One of the great appeals of Picton is that it is a very family friendly destination with lots of family activities within a short distance. The Picton Foreshore Reserve has a ‘pirate ship’, and water play area, not to forget the beach itself, and on Sundays and school holidays, there are model train rides and toy yachts to sail on a boat pond. For bigger kids, there’s mini-golf which takes you on a tour of some of Marlborough’s landmarks. There’s also a carousel to ride on when it’s open.
The Picton Aquarium offers the opportunity to get up close to some marine life and other critters without getting wet, and the Edwin Fox museum offers the opportunity to learn about the age of sail, with one of the oldest wooden ships on display anywhere in the world.
Fishing for spotties off a jetty in the marina is something of a Marlborough kids’ ritual of childhood.
Arts and crafts
Picton has quite a variety of arts and crafts on display with several galleries, and shops with New Zealand made goods. Artists aren’t limited to just those based in Picton, and one shop that particularly caught my attention was Marlborough Creative Artisans, which is a collective operated by a group of Marlborough artists working with a wide range of different media, who share the costs and staffing of a shop. The Diversion Gallery includes works by contemporary artists from around New Zealand.
Gateway to the Marlborough Sounds
In addition to having quite a few activities in its own right, Picton is the base for a number of activities that explore the Marlborough Sounds. I never tire of the Cook Strait ferry trip, with sailings in different seasons and different hours offering fresh perspectives. The Cook Strait ferries aren’t the only vessels in town though, and there are other smaller boats that offer cruises in the Sounds, or at the smallest level, there is kayak hire so you can explore under your own muscle power. The Cook Strait ferries only follow Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound as far as Kura Te Au/Tory Channel, so if you want to explore outer Queen Charlotte Sound, including predator free islands, and historic sites, then a local cruise is your best option.
If you’re thinking of walking the Queen Charlotte Track, you’ll want to take a water taxi from Picton to the start of the track in Meretoto/Ship Cove.
Road trips, Rail and Cycling
Picton is between 25-30Km from Blenheim depending on where you measure from, so if you have a decent level of fitness, or an e-bike, it is within cycling range, however State Highway One is busy and there’s a fairly steep climb up the Elevation just south of Picton.
It’s also possible to get to and from Picton via Port Underwood Road, but this is steep, mostly unsealed, with lots of bends, and although it generally has less traffic than State Highway One, it has logging trucks at times. If you don’t mind taking plenty of time for a scenic route, there is an opportunity to visit some historic sites along the way.
Picton connects to Havelock via Queen Charlotte Drive, which provides a picturesque, but narrow winding road, with access to various pretty bays along the way. One of my favourite spots to stop is Governors Bay, which I’ve visited many times since childhood, but which is easy to miss, as the car park is on a bend at the top of a hill.
Passenger trains tend to be something of a rarity in the South Island, but Picton is the northern terminus for the Coastal Pacific between Picton and Christchurch. Personally, I prefer trains to buses, as I find them more comfortable, and you can potentially get up and wander around. Unfortunately, with a tourist rather than commuter focus, the Coastal Pacific only runs once a day, and certainly isn’t the cheapest option to get to or from Picton, but it’s worth doing at least once for the experience, as the train passes through parts of Marlborough that are inaccessible by road, and if you’re environmentally conscious about long distance travel, trains generally have lower carbon emissions than flying.
Cite this page
Cookson, C. (2021). Things to do in and around Picton. Retrieved April, 21, 2021, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/commentary/things-to-do-in-and-around-picton/