It's the last stop in the South Island, but it's worth a visit, says Elisabeth Easther

Where is it?

At the very top of the South Island.

Origin of name: Named for Sir Thomas Picton, one of the Duke of Wellington's comrades in arms who was killed during the Battle of Waterloo, sometimes referred to as the Hero of Badajoz.


Population: 4500, a figure that doubles in summer.

Town slogan: Visit Picton.

Town mascot: There isn't an official one, but the glorious harbour with the ferry sailing in could do the trick.

Way back: Humans settled in Picton as far back as 1530.

Most famous local: Chris Cairns, and Lance, too. Joseph Sullivan who won gold for rowing at the 2012 Olympic Games in London also sprang from Picton.

Best local websites: or
Biggest businesses: The Port of Marlborough and tourism.

Source of pride: Picton's a New Zealand Icon Heritage Site on account of Captain Cook anchoring the Endeavour here in the 1770s so his crew could gather provisions and make running repairs. Aside from his hometown of Whitby in England, Captain Cook was said to have spent more time at Ships Cove than anywhere else on Earth.

Town events: Picton Maritime Festival, the Queen Charlotte Classic (a big multi-sport event) and the Picton Festival held each March to help raise funds for the Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary.

Best reason to stop: The Marlborough Sounds are amazing and Picton is the gateway to the gorgeousness.

Here for a short time: Just sit on the foreshore and lap up the atmosphere, it's magic.

Best place to take kids: The waterfront — admire the boats, play on playgrounds or visit EcoWorld Aquarium for the fish, penguins, tuatara and turtles.

Best playground: The main one on the waterfront has a big wooden pirate ship, slides, swings and in summer there's a paddling pool for the smaller kids.

Best park: The one at Waikawa Bay is super for playing and running around.

Wet your whistle: Le Cafe is dreamy for a drink, and the views are gobsmacking. Seabreeze has wicked vistas too, or pop round the corner to Waikawa Bay marina and have a wine and a giggle at The Jolly Roger.

Best food: Gusto's breakfasts are super. At night time you'll want to head to Cafe Cortado, its gourmet pizzas are molto buono.

Tops for coffee: Gusto again, or try the new joint, Red Salt, which is said to be excellent. Ditto Dog N Frog cafe.

Get baked: Picton Village Bakery has everything from pies to sweet treats, making it the perfect place to stock up before embarking on a big hiking adventure.

Best museum: Picton Heritage and Whaling Museum is open seven days a week and boasts more than 2000 items pertaining to Maori and colonial history, whaling and maritime adventures and local heritage.

Cover your arts: The Diversion Gallery, right on the waterfront, is where you can stock up on fine art by contemporary New Zealand artists.

Best shop: When a couple of shops lost their tenants, the landlord offered them to the town's artisans, thereby creating a rent-free collective where visitors can buy local art. The Marlborough Creative Artisans Store has a really good feeling.

Best walks: Queen Charlotte Track is not an official Great Walk as it goes through patches of private property, but is one of the most amazing walks in the country, with coves, camping and breath-taking forests; 71km from end to end, you can do the lot in one go, or use water taxis and do a segment here or there. Exploring Victoria Domain also makes a wonderful wander, once inside you can head in any one of 10 different directions, and you can easily get high (as in up) and enjoy views out over Picton.

Best views: From the Tirohanga Track summit if you're up for a hearty stroll or from the top of Victoria Domain if you're feeling lazy.

Best place to pull over: If you're coming from Havelock on the Queen Charlotte Drive it's all so astoundingly beautiful; you'll have no choice but to stop regularly.

Best facilities: The musical toilets on the waterfront — they play tunes and every tourist, having spent a penny, emerges with a smile on their face.

Best kept secret: Essons Valley has beautiful bush walks and native birds galore, although locals seem to go there more than tourists.

Best swim: Harden up and take a mid-winter plunge on Picton's waterfront or wait for summer and take a 10-minute stroll to Bob's Bay where, you should be warned, clothing is optional.

Best wildlife adventure: Dolphin Watch and Nature Tours can take you to Motuara Island on a dolphin cruise, and if you're game you can even swim with them.

Other adventures: Try kayaking in the sounds, enjoy a fishing charter or walk until you can walk no more.

Best mountain biking: At certain times of year you can mountain bike the Queen Charlotte Track.

Green with envy: There's a big push right now for Picton to become an eco town, which will include seeing the town go plastic-bag free — proof the locals are well aware what a treasure their town is.

Wildlife: Hectors Dolphins, orcas and whales are seen round here, plus there's native birds galore including some really rare species such as the king shag.

When a local has visitors staying: They'll get them on the water in some shape or form and certainly a trip to Lochmara Lodge Wildlife Recovery and Arts Centre will be in order. This place is a 10-minute boat ride from Picton and it's awesome for a meal or to stay a night or two.

Safety warnings: Weather conditions in the Sounds can change with little warning, so boat sensibly and be prepared.

Visitors say: We picked Picton.

Locals say: Picton picked us.

Thank you to Richard Briggs, who knows a good place when he lives in one, and also to another local who chose to remain anonymous to speak frankly.