The 15 best things to do in Picton – The heart of the Marlborough Sounds

Uncover the best things to do in Picton with the help of this diverse guide.

Picton is located on New Zealand’s South Island. This charming little seaside town is one of the country’s hidden gems, and although it’s only home to around 4,000 people – you’ll find some incredible spots here.

Many people start their journey by taking the car ferry from Wellington to Picton, as they travel from the North Island to the South. Of course, it’s also possible to do the same in reverse, as you start your South Island adventure.

Or perhaps you’re sticking to the South Island and exploring by car or train? If you’ve factored a stop at Picton (and the Marlborough Sounds), congratulations — you’ve made a great decision!

Whether you’re looking to spot some wildlife, do a bit of hiking, or admire the beautiful scenery – you won’t run out of things to do here.

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A man on the edge of a pontoon facing a calm lake.
Photo credit: MarlboroughNZ.

The Top Things to Do in Picton

To help you make the most out of your visit to Picton we’ve hand-selected the top things to do there.

You can head along the famous Queen Charlotte Track, visit Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary, or visit the Edwin Fox Museum. Whatever your preference, you’re sure to find some awesome activities to your liking.

Here are the best things to do in Picton…

1. Walk or Cycle the Queen Charlotte Track

The Queen Charlotte Track is one of the most popular attractions in the area — for good reason too, it’s beautiful.

At 73.5km (45 miles) long, and offering breathtaking views of the coast, Marlborough Sounds, and native forest, we highly recommend you enjoy at least part of the track.

You can either hike the track or you can take a bicycle. It’s completely up to you how you tackle it.

To complete the whole track you’re looking at 3-5 days. Or you can choose to just do part of it as a day hike/cycle.

If you’re looking to experience the beauty of this area but don’t want to hike over 70km, then you can walk from Furneaux Lodge to Punga Cove (where you can stay the night, should you choose).

This part of the Queen Charlotte Track is around 13km (8 miles) long and will take you between 3 and 4.5 hours to complete.

Couples enjoying the Track Bike in Queen Charlotte.
Photo credit: MarlboroughNZ.

Enjoy a Cruise

2. Go on a Cruise of the Marlborough Sounds

If you’re looking for the best things to do in Picton, then a cruise has to be on your list!

The Marlborough Sounds are one of New Zealand’s most stunning attractions.

This collection of sunken valleys filled with water from the Pacific Ocean, resulting in what is now three main bodies of water. These are Kenepuru, Pelorus, and Queen Charlotte Sounds.

One of the best ways to see this beautiful area is by heading out on a cruise of Marlborough Sounds and Ship Cove. This way you’ll get to see the true beauty of the area, and visit a place named by Captain Cook himself.

If you’re a fan of seafood, then you can also head out on a cruise departing from Picton, that comes complete with fresh, locally grown/caught seafood.

London Quay, Picton 7250

A couple tasting mussels served by a woman while on the boat, riding across Wairau Sounds.

3. Check Out a Dolphin-Watching Cruise (& Swim With Them too!)

Heading out on a dolphin-watching cruise is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Picton.

The Marlborough Sounds are one of the best places to spot dolphins in New Zealand, so don’t miss out on this opportunity.

On these cruises, you’ll have the chance to spot a variety of dolphin species including bottlenose, common, dusky, and the rare hector’s dolphin. There’s also a chance of seeing orca and other whales.

Should you wish, it’s even possible to swim with these incredible animals in their natural habitat.

Two hector dolphins swimming in the water.

4. Join the Mail Boat Cruise of Queen Charlotte Sound

Now, this may seem like a weird one but it’s honestly one of the best things to do in the region.

Climb aboard New Zealand’s official rural post-delivery service, and see the skipper deliver parcels and mail to local residents.

As you cruise around Queen Charlotte Sound, you’ll get to learn all about its history and the people that live here.

It’s also the perfect opportunity to spot marine mammals, including a variety of dolphin species and fur seals.

So, make sure you head out on this mail boat cruise — it’s a wonderful way to enjoy the jaw-dropping scenery whilst gaining a bit of local insight.

A black dog holding a piece of cloth on its mouth.
Join the local mail delivery boat and see a side of the country that many miss.

5. Visit Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary

If you’re a nature lover, you can’t leave this area without paying a visit to the Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary.

This community project is situated on an island in Picton Harbour. It aims to restore 40 hectares of land whilst providing visitors with awesome wildlife spotting opportunities.

There, you’ll get to see a range of native flora and fauna including little penguin/kororā, raukawa geckos, and New Zealand fur seals.

The Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary also has a 2.7km circular trail that will take you through native bush, forest, and the restoration zone.

The trip out to the island takes just 10 minutes by boat, and although entrance to the island is free we highly recommend donating!

Kaipupu Point, Shakespeare Bay, Picton 7220

Did you know? You can reach Kaipupu Island by private boat, water taxi or kayak.

A kid holding some insects while his brother helps her in Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary.
Photo credit: MarlboroughNZ – Mike Heydon.

6. Head to Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary

The Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary is the place to go if you’re a keen birdwatcher.

The island is predator-free and is home to rare birds including the king shag, and the Okarito brown kiwi. Other native bird species include the saddleback, little blue penguin, yellow-crowned parakeets, and the bellbird.

Motuara Island also has a great walking trail. It takes you past watering holes and to a lookout that offers spectacular views of the sounds.

There are a couple of tours that run from Picton to the Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary. They also combine this awesome place with dolphin cruises and a visit to Ship Cove.

The Motuara Island as seen from above the trees.
Photo credit: MarlboroughNZ – Mike Heydon.

7. Go on a Guided Sea Kayaking Tour

Going on a guided sea kayak tour from Picton is one of the best ways to explore the incredible Queen Charlotte Sound.

An expert guide will take you to remote beaches and sheltered coves, and will teach you all about Marlborough Sound’s history.

As you explore this area on a kayak make sure you look out for wildlife too. If you’re lucky you might spot dolphins, fur seals, little blue penguins and eagle rays.

We also love that these tours are run with small groups as it makes for a more personal (and peaceful) experience.

A couple paddling on their green kayaks.
Photo credit: MarlboroughNZ.

8. Hike the Tirohanga Track

The Tirohanga Track is one of the most popular hikes in Picton.

Though it’s a relatively a short hike, it leads up to a hilltop lookout which rewards with incredible views of the town and Waikawa.

Although part of the hike is pretty steep, we wouldn’t consider it to be too challenging.

To get to the summit and then back down, you’ll need to allow yourself between 1-2 hours for this trail.

26 Newgate Street, Picton 7220

Taking a picture of Tirohanga and its bay while hiking in Tirohanga Walking Track.
Photo credit: MarlboroughNZ.

9. Treat Yourself to a Wine Tour

The Marlborough Region is famous for its wine, so what better activity could you choose than to head out on a wine tour?

Enjoy travelling from winery to winery, sampling the wines that the region is so well known for.

Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling Varietals, and Sauvignon Blanc — you’ll have the chance to sample them all.

Throughout these tours, you’ll get to learn all about New Zealand’s wines and see the beautiful landscapes the grapes are grown in.

Cheers to that!

Pouring a glass of white wine to guests during a bountiful meal.
Photo credit: MarlboroughNZ.

10. Visit the Edwin Fox Museum

The Edwin Fox Ship and Visitor Centre is a great place for families to visit and those with a passion for history.

There, you’ll get to see the incredible Edwin Fox Ship which has been preserved on-site for the past 30 years.

This ship has a pretty incredible history as it was the last surviving ship that took convicts to Australia, and it’s the last Crimea war troop carrier made of wood.

Not only that, but it’s the oldest merchant ship in the world. Pretty impressive, right?

During your time there you’ll get to watch a documentary about the ship, and view plenty of intriguing artefacts in the museum.

Dunbar Wharf, Picton 7281

The intact hull interior of the wooden boat Edwin Fox.

11. Enjoy the Queen Charlotte Drive

Driving along Queen Charlotte Drive is an experience in itself (from Picton to Havelock and back).

Throughout this drive, you’ll enjoy From there, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of Marlborough Sounds — so don’t forget your camera.

We recommend stopping in at the Cullen Point lookout whilst you’re over the Havelock side and also the Picton Harbour Lookout.

If you can head to either of these at sunrise or sunset, that’s even better!

What’s more, the Piction Harbour Lookout is a great spot tick off whilst you’re waiting for the Picton ferry as it’s only a couple of minutes’ drive away.

12. Pick up some delicious food

Picton is home to a number of great cafes, eateries and bakeries, so stopping by one for a bite to eat is a must-do.

The following are all great tried-and-tested choices in town…

  • Toastie Picton
  • Seumus’ Irish Bar
  • Cortado Restaurant & Bar
  • Picton Village Bakkerij
  • SCOOP ice cream

13. Entertain the kids

Though Picton mightn’t come to mind as one of the most well-known NZ spots to take your kids, there is plenty on offer for families.

Down by the waterfront, you’ll find a mini golf course, a ride-on model train track and a great playground.

The harbor is also a great place to feed the ducks and to go for a dip.

And, you like the idea of staying a bit longer, the campground is well-set up for families, providing the relaxed holiday that Kiwi memories are made of.

14. Shop the local souvenir shops

We were surprised to find that Picton has some of the very best souvenir shops in all of Aotearoa New Zealand!

With a ride range of tasteful, artsy mementos, Picton is one of the best places to collect something to remember your travels.

We particularly recommend:

  • Seaside Gems, Picton
  • Every Little Thing, Picton
  • The Choice Gallery, Picton

15. Enjoy a day trip to Havelock or Blenheim

The small town of Havelock is just a 45-minute drive from Picton (along the Queen Charlotte Drive) and is well worth the visit.

This town is known for having the best mussels in New Zealand. So if you’re a seafood fan, this is a must.

Some of the most popular spots to taste these delicacies include The Mussel Pot and Mills Bay Mussels Tasting & Eatery.

Whilst you’re in town, you’ll also want to visit the Pelorus River, walk the Cullen Point Tracks, and explore the local art galleries.

If you’re looking for an adventure, you can even kayak to one of the filming locations used in The Hobbit!

A man passing by the Mussels Pot while a red car park in front of it in Havlock Town.
Photo credit: MarlboroughNZ.

This beautiful town has plenty to offer for travellers.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or an action-packed weekend, there are so many awesome things to do in Picton.

Have you ever been to Picton before?

If you have, we’d love to hear about your favourite places!

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