The bustling port of Picton is the terminal for inter-island ferries, and gateway to the ‘Mainland’, the South Island’s self-proclaimed nickname.
Picton is 30 km north of Blenheim at the head of the picturesque Queen Charlotte Sound. The town dates from 1827 when John Guard established a whaling station in the sounds, and soon after the port began to ship produce from the Waiau Plains.
Today it serves mainly as a transit centre for Cook Strait travellers, and boasts a wide choice of accommodation and fine restaurants with delicious seafood fresh from the sounds. There are indoor/outdoor cafés on the waterfront and a good selection of arts, crafts and souvenirs. The placid waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound are a playground for all manner of water sports.
Launches, yachts, powerboats and sea kayaks can be chartered or hired. Fishing, diving and scenic trips are available and water-taxi services run on demand. A regular shuttle takes trampers to various points on the beautiful Queen Charlotte Walkway, which is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The 67 km walk starts at Ship’s Cove, which was Captain Cook’s base in New Zealand on his three voyages of discovery, and ends at Anakiwa near Picton.
Local sights begin on Picton’s attractive foreshore, where visitors can enjoy splendid views up the harbour from picnic benches set among the palm trees. Picton Museum has relics from the whaling era and a fascinating old sailing ship, the Edwin Fox, which is being restored. The ship was built in 1853 for the British East India Company and is the sole survivor of the original immigrant ships on the New Zealand run. Another fascinating old ship is the coastal scow Echo, which plied the Wellington to Picton run many years ago. To see this craft and the maritime museum tourists can follow an interesting walking track from the Picton Marina to Bob’s Bay.
Picton is an open door to a whole new experience of unspoilt nature, in these tranquil waters, where magical hideaways and private bays can be reached by water-taxi.