The quaint seaside town of Picton is an excellent place to unwind, whether it's for a few hours, a few days, or a week. Simply relax or hire a bike, boat or a kayak and get active.
A Picton slice of paradise
Few places in New Zealand can compete with the tranquillity and beauty of Picton. The graceful coming and going of the Picton ferry does nothing to disturb this idyllic seaside town - in fact, it arguably adds to the magic.
Whether you settle for a picnic on one of Picton's beaches, play pirates on the Picton Foreshore, or relax at one the cafés, bars and restaurants overlooking Picton Harbour, you will find relaxation and inspiration in Picton.
So when catching our Cook Strait ferry, make sure you allow some time to enjoy this picturesque port on the banks of the Queen Charlotte Sound. Whether its a couple of hours, a couple of days, or a whole week, you will definitely leave feeling uplifted and buoyant.
Read on to find out more about:
- Things to do in Picton
- The Coastal Pacific train
- Eating out in Picton
- Cafes and Bars
- Getting to and from Picton
- Where to stay in Picton
- The history of Picton
For directions and check-in information for the Interislander ferry, please see our Picton ferry terminal page.
There is something for everyone in Picton and you don't need to organise anything to enjoy a few hours relaxation - in fact, we recommend you give yourself half a day of scheduled nothingness to unwind. Rain or shine, the views of the hills, palm trees and magnificent Marlborough Sounds will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step.
If you only have an hour or so before catching the Wellington ferry, then head for Picton Foreshore. It is only a short stroll the ferry to the foreshore and you can park your car at the Picton ferry terminal if you have one.
Around Picton Foreshore you will find Picton Beach, a colourful pirate playground, a mini-putt golf course and a grassy park with ample shade cast by Picton's iconic palm trees. You will also find stairs leading up to the cafés, bars and restaurants of London Quay.
If you keep walking around the beach, you will come to Picton Marina, filled with highly-desirable yachts, catamarans and fishing boats. Cross the bridge over the marina and it will bring you to another beach. This little circuit can easily fill a couple of hours - with one of those hours spent enjoying a coffee or something colder and more relaxing!
Picton Splash Pad
Picton recently added a Water Play Area to the foreshore, next to the Pirate Ship Playground. So make sure you have some spare clothes or swimsuits for your kids to hand before heading for a play! The cafes of London Quay are less than 100m away and there is an amazing ice-cream shop on High Street. On a sunny day, there is no better place to let of steam before or after the ferry, then look no further.
If the sun is shining, there is no better way to relax than heading to the beach. In Picton, this is easily done. Picton Beach is in the town centre and just a few metres from the cafes, bars and restaurants on London Quay.
For a more private and peaceful feel, simply head over the Picton Marina bridge to Shelley Beach on the far side. There are toilets next to the beach, but no cafes or shops. There is also a shaded grass bank leading down to the beach if you need some shelter from the sun.
A 15 minute drive along Queen Charlotte Drive will get you to the pristine white sands and secluded privacy of Governer's Bay on the Grove Arm. The beach is reached via a 10 minute walk down from the road. If you don't have a car, then you can hire a bicycle or a kayak, or simply catch a water taxi, from Picton marina.
For a secluded spot within walking distance from Picton, try heading to Bob's Bay. This secluded beach is reached by walking along the road past Shelley Beach to join the Lower Bob's Bay track. The path is signposted and leads over several bluffs for 1km. For young children and those less agile, there is an alternative route known as Upper Bob's Bay track that leads from the stairs behind the Shelley Beach boatsheds.
Picton has some of New Zealand's best walking trails, taking anything from thirty minutes to several hours. Whether you are looking for a pleasant 30 minute walk through native bush or a 3 day hike all the way along Queen Charlotte Sound, Picton has a perfect walk for you - so pack some good shoes.
Queen Charlotte Drive Lookout
If you only have thirty minutes and want a good workout before boarding the inter-island ferry, then head up Queen Charlotte Drive to the lookout point above Picton ferry terminal. The walk isn't spectacular, but the views are. The road has a footpath, but it is fairly steep and unshaded - so take some water!
Explore the Sounds on the Snout Track
If you have a few hours and like a good bush walk, then one of Picton's best short walks is the Snout Track. The trail starts from the centre of town and leads all the way to Snout Point where the Picton to Wellington ferry curves out of view from Picton town. The Snout track begins from the stairway behind the boatsheds on Shelley Beach and takes approximately four hours return.
Enjoy the Cool Esson's Valley Walkway
For a short walk on a hot sunny day, the Esson's Valley Walkway is just the ticket. Sheltered and shaded by the oldest native bush in the region, this walk also leads to a refreshing lake.
Climb above picton on the Tirohanga Track
Leading uphill from Picton town along a 1.2km trail, the Tirohanga Track provides excellent views of the Queen Charlotte Sound and the town below. The trail takes 30-45 minutes and starts from the south eastern corner of Picton town.
catch a boat to Kaipupu Point Nature Reserve
If you are looking to be immersed in nature, then head to the community run wildlife sanctuary on Kaipupu Point. Located just beyond Port Marlborough, the Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary walk is a 2.8km trail through lush bush chirping with New Zealand's favourite birds, including silvereye, fantail, grey warbler, tui, kereru, bellbird, weka, and kingfisher.
There is no access by road or path to Kaipupu Point, so you'll enjoy the additional excitement of a water taxi or kayak from Picton Marina on London Quay to get there!
Hike or bike Queen Charlotte Track
Running along the western edge of the Queen Charlotte Sound, the Queen Charlotte Track is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular cycling and hiking routes. Starting from the historic Ship Cove where Captain Cook made anchor, the 70km QC Track takes 3-5 days on foot to reach civilisation at the small town of Anakiwa.
The Queen Charlotte Track is classed as moderately easy and you don't need to take an organised tour - although you can if you prefer. Either way, you should plan ahead and pre-book your accommodation - the official Queen Charlotte Track website has a full list of recommended accommodation. You should also read up on what to bring and learn about track safety by reading the Queen Charlotte Track-Info. Lastly, before setting off, you must pick up a QCTLC Pass. Passes are available from the Picton i-Site, Picton waterfront, Nelson i-Site, Blenheim i-Site and DOC Wellington.
For guided tours and bike hire, we recommend you contact one of the tour companies located on London Quay, such as the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company. They can organise transport, accommodation, a guided tour, bike (if required) and Track Pass for you.
Edwin Fox Ship & Visitor Centre
Just a few metres from our Picton ferry terminal is the Edwin Fox Ship Visitor Centre. It may not jump out as a Picton must-do experience, but the historic Edwin Fox is the ninth oldest ship in the world!
Beginning life as a trade ship in 1853, the Edwin Fox was quickly conscripted into duty carrying troops to the Crimean War. After the war, she circumnavigated the seas of the world, carrying English convicts to Australia and settlers to New Zealand. From 1873, she carried a total of 751 settlers on four trips from England. In 1897, she finally settled herself in Picton as sail became quickly succeeded by steam.
Meet the locals at EcoWorld Aquarium
Just beyond the Edwin Fox ship on the way between our Picton ferry terminal and the Picton Foreshore is the Picton EcoWorld Aquarium & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
On a rainy day, the centre is the salvation of many a family, but even on a sunny day it is worth a visit for an hour or two. Exhibits include local fish, seahoses, giant weta, turtles and kakariki. The headline acts have to be the ancient Tuatara, a breed of lizard so old it one roamed Earth alongside the dinosaurs, and the little Blue Penguin. Both of these stars have petting sessions where you can get really close up!
Showtime at Picton Cinemas
Picton Cinema is handily located inside the EcoWorld Aquarium & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre next to our Picton ferry terminal. If the weather is too hot or too wet to bear, then take shelter in Picton's boutique three-screen cinema and catch one of the latest big-screen blockbusters!
Explore the Marlborough Sounds with E-KO Tours
Based in Picton Marina, E-Ko Tours offer several seasonal tours aboard their catamaran, guiding you to the best of the Marlborough Sounds' natural wonders.
For those with an adventurous spirit, the Dolphin Swim Tour offers you the opportunity to go swimming with Dusky, Bottlenose and the rare Hector dolphins that feature on our Interislander logo!
During June, July and August, E-Ko Tours run whale watching tours, heading out to Cook Strait to track migrating Humpback whales through the Cook Strait.
Picton Kayak, Sailboat & Bike Hire
The Marlborough Sounds are best known for their remote bays, undisturbed natural habitats and untamed wildlife. Dotted along the shoreline, there are also many properties for hire and some larger resort-like retreats. To explore the best of the region, we recommend doing it using natural power - such as kayak, sail boat or mountain bike.
Leaving your car at home has never been so attractive! Our Coastal Pacific train not only connects our Interislander ferry with Blenheim, Kaikoura and Christchurch, it also provides intimate views of New Zealand's most stunning coastal scenery.
Lonely Planet nominated it amongst the Best Train Journeys You've Never Heard of and it undoubtedly rivals our own world-renowned TranzAlpine train in terms of scenic spectacle! Certainly, the Coastal Pacific's scenic journey along isolated beaches, around dramatic bays and through rugged cliff faces of Kaikoura mountains, makes it one of the great train journeys of the world.
Departing daily from Picton station, the Coastal Pacific Picton to Christchurch train takes approximately five hours. The first stop is Blenheim at the heart of New Zealand's premier wine region. The Coastal Pacific arrives in Blenheim mid-afternoon, in perfect time for you to enjoy a wine-tasting tour followed by an award-winning dinner at one of Blenheim's many great restaurants and wineries.
By late afternoon, the Coastal Pacific train is easing into the dramatic seaside town of Kaikoura. Set in the foothills of the Kaikoura mountain ranges, Kaikoura is famous for its marine life and seafood. Top attractions include Whale Watch Kaikoura, Dolphin Encounter and, more recently, the scarred land and curiosities that resulted from the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake.
Hop on and off for free!
With our Flexi and Flexi Plus Coastal Pacific train fares, you can hop on and off at all stops along the Coastal Pacific route. So why not make the Coastal Pacific part of your holiday itinerary and give yourself a relaxing break as you travel from Picton to Christchurch.
Picton's colourful waterfront is the perfect place to watch the boats come and go, whilst basking in sunshine and sipping a on a refreshing drink. Whether your favourite tipple is our world-famous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, our intriguing and bold craft beer, or our iconic Flat White, you will find your favourite drink at one of the many bars, restaurants or cafes on London Quay.
Between drinks, you can slip off for a wander on neighbouring High Street, where colourful clothes, jewellery and souvenirs are all on sale in close quarters. There is also a delicious ice-cream parlour to help keep you cool!
Picton's restaurants are relaxed and cater predominately to the transient market of ferry-goers. If you are catching the ferry and have at least an hour to spare, then relaxing with a delicious lunch or early dinner on London Quay is perfect.
The local delicacy is fresh King Salmon, which is sustainably farmed on the Marlborough Sounds. King Salmon is the largest and tastiest of the Pacific Salmon species and the is an extensive list of Picton restaurants serving NZ King Salmon. If you are travelling through in a hurry, then Le Café is a good place to start your King Salmon hunt.
If King Salmon isn't one of your cravings, then try consulting TripAdvisor to find up-to-date reviews of Picton's best restaurants.
For those staying a few days, the neighbouring town of Blenheim is just 30 minutes drive or taxi away and has many more upmarket dining choices - so try consulting TripAdvisor's recommended list of restaurants in Blenheim.
If you are unaccustomed to Kiwi culture, then you should be aware the trend is to dine early and many restaurant kitchens across New Zealand close by 9pm. If you scheduled to are arrive late into Picton, then call ahead and book a table to ensure the restaurant will is expecting your arrival.
The lines are blurry between cafés, bars and restaurants in Picton - each does food, coffee, wine and beer. Where you choose to go really depends on how nice you want your coffee to be or what brand of beer you prefer. With Picton being such a quaint town, it is probably easier to walk around looking for you favourite spot than it is to look online. But if you like to plan ahead, then try checking TripAdvisor.
Undoubtedly London Quay is the place to start your search (view map). You don't really need a map to find your way around, most of Picton's bars, restaurants and cafes are lined up along this street!
From backpackers to boutique hotels, you will find an extensive range of accommodation in Picton to suit your budget, style and your holiday plans.
But it is beyond Picton that the real gems are found. Heading north up Queen Charlotte Sound, you can find your own little slice of paradise. With holidays homes, lodges and retreats nestled on the water's edge, accessible only by boat and with their own secluded beaches and woodland trails, a break in the Sounds is an escape of unrivalled beauty.
Whatever it is you are looking for, you will find it on the Destination Marlborough website!
Picton Top 10 Holiday Park
Located centrally, near Picton Marina, Picton Top 10 Holiday Park offers premium holiday villas, high-spec cabins and self-contained units to suit families and couples, powered sites for camping and campervans, plus standard camping sites for pure economy (view map). If you are a Top 10 or Big 4 holiday parks member, then don't forget you can grab an Interislander ferry discount using our online promocode.
Picton Yacht Club
The Picton Yacht Club overlooks Picton Marina, with rooms and apartments nestled around a large private swimming pool. If you are looking to indulge in some deep relaxation, then this may just be the place for you!
Jasmine Court Motel
Located in the centre of Picton, the Jasmine Court Motel combines 4-star quality with a family-friendly feel. If you are seeking cost-effective comfort and convenience, it is worth enquiring here first.
Escape to Picton Boutique Hotel & Restaurant
Extravagant, romantic and a bit bizarre. The Escape to Picton Boutique Hotel and Restaurant ticks all the boxes for those looking to treat themselves or their partner to a delectable weekend. The hotel also has its own, highly rated, restaurant.
Picton became an iconic New Zealand destination in 1962, when the first Interislander Wellington to Picton vehicle ferry arrived. More than 40 million passengers have since travelled on the Interislander Cook Strait ferry, passing through Picton as they went. Of course, the Interislander remains the most popular way getting to Picton, with the incredibly scenic ferry journey often being the motivation!
Interislander Cook Strait ferry
Our Interislander Picton Wellington ferry runs several times a day, shuttling vehicles and foot-passengers across the Cook Strait in just over three hours. This iconic service has been connecting New Zealand's North and South Island's for more than fifty years, bridging State Highway 1 and allowing traffic to continue from Wellington to Christchurch and Nelson. Interislander ferries operate from the Picton ferry terminal on the northern edge of town.
Our Cook Strait ferry has major advantages over all other transport. Firstly, it cruises through some magnificent scenery and is rightly described as "one of the most beautiful ferry journeys in the world". It is also incredibly convenient, allowing you to pack your bags in your trunk and cruise to the other side, car and all! For those without a car, you can connect with the Auckland Wellington train called the Northern Explorer and the Picton Christchurch train, called the Coastal Pacific. On board the Interislander ferry, time will fly as you move around various cafes, bars, restaurants, lounges, outdoor viewing desks, cinemas, shops, playgrounds and nurseries. Plus, there is enough room to swing a dozen cats without causing annoyance to fellow passengers.
Coastal Pacific train
Our Coastal Pacific long-distance train departs Picton railway station daily, stopping at Blenheim, Kaikoura and Christchurch. There is nothing more relaxing than settling down on the Picton to Christchurch by train and watching New Zealand's beautiful Pacific coastline roll by. The Coastal Pacific is genuinely one of the exhilarating scenic journeys New Zealand has to offer and is far more than transport, with specially designed scenic carriages creating a relaxed and sociable way to experience New Zealand by train.
Picton car hire
If you are hiring a car or campervan to travel around New Zealand, then you will almost certainly need to include the Interislander Cook Strait ferry in your itinerary. Most car rental firms can include the Interislander journey with your booking, so be sure to enquire when booking your car.
Most major vehicle hire companies offer Picton car hire with drop off and collection from the Interislander Picton Terminal. This is very convenient for those arriving and departing on the Wellington ferry! Car hire companies often prefer you to drop your car off before travelling on the ferry and then collect another car when you disembark - so please check this with the car rental firm when you book.
Car rental firms at the Picton ferry terminal include: AVIS, Budget, Europcar, Ace, Hertz and Thrifty. If you are an AA member then you may be eligible for a Thrifty AA discount and our Interislander discount!
InterCity national coaches
InterCity coaches operate New Zealand's most extensive long-distance coach network, with connections throughout the North and South Island. InterCity coaches depart from the Picton i-Site a few minutes walk from our Picton ferry terminal and can be booked online or within the i-Site. Inter-island travel with Interislander can be booked through InterCity for your convenience and they also offer countrywide TravelPass options that include both Interislander ferry and TranzAlpine train travel.
To experience the ferry within a short itinerary or as part of a weekend break, you may can fly onwards from Marlborough Airport. The airport, located in Blenheim, has daily flights to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Paraparaumu.
Picton was originally a Māori settlement named Te Wera a Waitohi, established in 1828 by the Taranaki tribe, Te Āti Awa. In 1850, the Te Āti Awa agreed to sell the land to Thomas Dillon on behalf of the New Zealand Company. The tribe promptly moved to nearby Waikawa Bay and the land was surveyed and sold. Over the following years, there was much debate about what the Anglicised name of the settlement should be. It was named Horne Bay and Newton for a time, whilst the names Cromwell and Beaconsfield were recommended. Eventually though, the town was named in reverence of Sir Thomas Picton, an English war hero who had fought and died under the Duke of Wellington in the Battle of Waterloo.
In 1859, the Province of Marlborough was formed and Picton became its capital. However, many plots of land had been bought by land prospectors who were expecting a vital road link to be built to the Wairau. The road was never built and the town's population never really took off. Meanwhile, neighbouring Blenheim was proving far more popular, with its central location on the flat plains of the Wairau Valley providing excellent farmland.
In 1865, one of New Zealand's first railways connected Blenheim to the port at Picton and trade began to flow through the small town on it's way between the North and South Island. With Blenheim better populated, better positioned and well-connected by rail to the port, the Provincial Council moved to Blenheim, leaving Picton as the region's port - which remained an essential link in the days before air and even trucks!
Main North Line - the Christchurch to Picton railway
The conflicting interests of Provincial Government and indecision about the route, plus two World Wars and two Great Depressions, meant that the Picton to Christchurch Railway wasn't completed until 1945 - some eighty years after work began. The name still reflects those early plans, where New Zealand's most powerful province, Christchurch, was looking north to supplement the Main South Line to Invercargill.
By the time it was completed, New Zealand, like most of the world, was gripped by post-war austerity. Coal shortages meant that the daily Picton Express train was cut to a thrice-weekly service within a month of opening. By the time the economy recovered, the shift towards the freedom of car ownership and road improvements meant the Picton Express train never enjoyed the fanfare and booming trade of the other great railways of New Zealand.
In 2013, KiwiRail Scenic Journeys transformed the existing "TranzCoastal" long distance passenger train into the Coastal Pacific train experience. Finally on the cusp of greatness, the Coastal Pacific train had to be suspended following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake!
The birth of the Interislander ferry
In 1962, the first Wellington Picton ferry was introduced by the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR) to compete with the Union Company's overnight steam ship from Wellington to Christchurch - which bypassed the railway!
Called "The Cook Strait Inter-Island Rail and Road Service", the Interislander ferry GMV Aromoana enabled rail wagons and private cars to rolled on and rolled off (RORO). Transport between New Zealand's main islands now took just 3h 20m and the journey from Wellington to Christchurch was also reduced, from 11hrs by Union steam ship to 9hrs by rail and ferry. The service was an incredible success and remains so to this day!
The port at Picton, which was already a busy hive of trade and industry, was now the gateway to the South Island for freight and tourism. Of course, compared to global standards, the Port of Marlborough welcomes very little traffic and Picton town remains a tranquil fishing town that just happens to welcome 400,000 Interislander passengers to the South Island each year as they disembark our ferries!