Picton & Blenheim, NZ South Island

Picton is a delightful small town at the terminus of Queen Charlotte Sound. Blenheim is in the heart of New Zealand’s largest wine region. Both are located in the South Island’s Northland surrounded by the Marlborough Sounds. The best way to travel between them is aboard a historic train called Marlborough Flyer.

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1 Picturesque Picton, New Zealand

Picturesque Picton is located in the northeast corner of New Zealand’s South Island. It is the gateway to the North Island by water. This small resort town of about 4,000 residents is called Waitohi in the Māori language. Its namesake is Sir Thomas Picton. He was a Lieutenant-General in the British Army when he was killed in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. This “I Love Picton” picture frame is a few steps away from the Picton i-SITE Visitor Information Centre. Let their knowledgeable staff answer all of your questions and help plan your visit to this delightful town.

The Foreshore, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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2 EcoWorld Aquarium and Edwin Fox in Picton, New Zealand

Two waterfront attractions are worth visiting. EcoWorld Aquarium showcases the marine life and wildlife of the South Island with a focus on the Marlborough Sounds. Children are fascinated by the creatures in The Touch Tank, The Shallows and the Main Marine Tank. The star performers are a centenarian tuatara lizard – a very rare reptile endemic to New Zealand for over 200 million years – and Little Blue Penguins. Next door is the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum. Beneath the white hanger is the hull of the dry-docked Edwin Fox. This 1853 British vessel transported prisoners to Australia and settlers to New Zealand. It is one of the world’s oldest merchant ships.

1 Picton Wharf, Picton Foreshore, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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3 Water Activities in Picton, New Zealand

If you are a water enthusiast, then you have plenty of choices for having fun around the Picton Foreshore Reserve. Consider renting a jetski, kayak, canoe, paddleboard or bumper boat. Try waterskiing, snorkeling or scuba diving. Hop aboard a water taxi, sightseeing cruise or fishing charter. Kids enjoy the swimming pool and water slides. The most popular activity is a leisurely stroll along the harbour promenade.

The Foreshore, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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4 Picton War Memorial in Picton, New Zealand

Over 100,000 New Zealanders served in World War I from 1914 until 1918. That was nearly 10% of the country’s population. By the end of the war, 16,697 soldiers had died and another 41,317 were wounded. 31 of those casualties were residents of Picton and Queen Charlotte Sound. The Picton War Memorial was created in 1925 to honor the local men whose lives were sacrificed.

War Memorial, 24 London Quay, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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5 Women Relaxing Harborside in Picton, New Zealand

Picton is quaint and small. There are a few boutique stores, restaurants and galleries. It will not take you long to explore these on foot. The primary allure is the harbour. A manicured lawn blankets the foreshore. The best seat in town is this park bench. Hopefully, it will be empty so you can sit down and relax while watching the sailboats bob plus the comings and goings of the ferries and sightseeing ships. This delightful waterfront was created in 1918. In 1923, after the death of Arthur Penrose Seymour, the park was named Seymour Gardens. Seymour was an accomplished member of New Zealand’s Parliament, the Superintendent of the Marlborough Province and a three-time mayor of Picton.

The Foreshore, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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6 Oxley’s Hotel Façade in Picton, New Zealand

Oxley’s Hotel provides a rare glimpse into Picton’s colonial heritage and is the eye-catching architectural gem facing the harbour. William Pugh built the Bank Hotel in 1870. In 1881, it became the Pier Hotel. When Francis Oxley purchased the property in 1899, she made major renovations and named the 29 room hotel after herself. In 2004, Oxley’s Rock Development gutted and rebuilt the interior. Fortunately, the Italianate Palazzo façade with its ornate lattice verandah was restored and is registered as a New Zealand Historic Place.

1 Wellington St, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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7 Craft Fair in Picton, New Zealand

Picton hosts several outdoor events during the peak summer months of January through March. Included in the lineup are a longboat regatta, wine festivals, free concerts, and Sunday farmer’s markets. On Thursday nights in January is the Picton PowerHouse Night Market featuring the specialties of local artisans and cooks. In March is Art in the Dark showcasing creative works from the neighboring town of Kaikoura. On the left is an arts and crafts fair held along the harbour to the delight of visiting cruise ship passengers.

2 Wellington St, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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8 Arched Pedestrian Bridge in Picton, New Zealand

A flat bridge was built in 1907 connecting Picton’s foreshore and Victoria Domain. During the construction of the marina in the 1970s, the beloved span was replaced with this arched pedestrian bridge. Locals affectionately call this the Coathanger Bridge. Its height accommodates the passage of tall sailboats. The summit also provides wonderful, elevated views of the harbour and Picton.

2 Wellington St, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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9 Picton Marina in Picton, New Zealand

Picton Marina was first established along the eastern bank of the harbor in the 1970s then expanded into an inner, protected basin. The marine facilities were extensively refurbished in 2013. It now has 254 berths along a dozen jetties for docking sailboats and pleasure craft up to 115 feet in length. The attached Waikawa Marine Centre provides a range of maintenance services. Even if you are not a sailor, the catwalks around Picton Marina are worth visiting.

Picton Marina, Waikawa Rd, Picton, 7220, New Zealand
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10 Shelley Beach in Picton, New Zealand

On the other side of the bridge and marina is Shelley Beach Reserve. This stretch of sand and lawn is only a ten minute walk from the Picton foreshore. In addition to providing a scenic view of the Picton Ferry Terminal, this shoreline provides a place to swim plus a boat ramp and toilet facilities. Shelley Beach tends to remain uncrowded even on days when Picton is filled with tourists.

Shelley Beach, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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11 Victoria Domain Walking Trails in Picton, New Zealand

Hikers of all skill levels – from the experienced to the novice – will enjoy the Victoria Domain trails. The 500 acres of forested land runs parallel to the harbor and provides elevated views of the foliage, seascape and several bays. The footpaths begin at Shelley Beach and extend to The Snout, a long finger defined by Queen Charlotte Sound and Waikawa Bay. Walking the full distance round trip requires a 3.5 hour commitment. This protected reserve was named in 1887 in honor of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, the monarch of the United Kingdom for 63 years. Serious hikers may wish to consider the Queen Charlotte Track, a 44 mile ridgeline pathway between Queen Charlotte Sound and Kenepuru Sound.

Victoria Domain, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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12 Waitohi Wharf in Picton, New Zealand

In the background is Picton’s Waitohi Wharf. These three docks serve ferries, large sightseeing and fishing boats plus small passenger ships. Large cruise ships berth at Waimahara Wharf in Shakespeare Bay on the other side of Kaipupu Point seen in the background. Picton is located at the terminus of Queen Charlotte Sound. This protected and very scenic waterway stretches for 22 miles before reaching the Northern Entrance. This leads to Cook Strait separating New Zealand’s South and North Islands. Queen Charlotte Sound is a small part of Marlborough Sounds, a labyrinth of inlets, bays, sounds and islands comprising 1,500 square miles.

Bay View, Victoria Domain, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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13 Bob’s Bay at Victoria Domain in Picton, New Zealand

To reach Bob’s Bay at Victoria Domain is about a thirty minute walk along the Cliff Track. While standing along this shoreline, you can see why today’s Picton was an attractive ancestral settlement named Waitohi for the Te Āti Awa, a tribe of the Māori people. In the background is Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary. This mainland island was encircled with a 1,970 foot, predator-proof fence in 2008 to become a reserve for Marlborough Region wildlife. You can reach the sanctuary on Kaipupu Point by water taxi and then enjoy a 1.7 mile walking track through the forest.

Bob's Bay, Victoria Domain, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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14 Interislander Ferry in Picton, New Zealand

Interislander is one of two ferry companies providing regular transportation between Picton on the South Island and Wellington, the country’s capital on the North Island. This 3.5 hour, 58 mile Cook Strait journey is fabulous! From the Picton Ferry Terminal, you will first sail through the calm waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. This drowned river valley is home to seals, sea lions, humpback whales and five species of dolphins. You will marvel at the changing landscape including lush greenery, steep hills and small islets. The ship then moves into the Tory Channel before crosses the often tumultuous Cook Strait for about 14 miles. This waterway between the islands was named after British navigator James Cook. This captain of the HMS Endeavour was the first European to visit and map New Zealand’s coast in 1770.

Snout Track Car Park, Joseph Sullivan Dr, Victoria Domain, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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15 Marlborough Flyer Steam Engine in Picton, New Zealand

Marlborough Flyer is a scenic, 17 mile train trip between Picton and the town of Blenheim. This fun, heritage adventure lasts about an hour. You can also book a return trip to Picton. When the Ab608 was built in 1915, the steam locomotive was the first operated by New Zealand Railways. Ten years later, it was named Passchendaele. This honors the 1,500 New Zealand soldiers who were killed within a few days in 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium during World War I.

Picton Railway Station, 5 Auckland Street, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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16 Marlborough Flyer Engine Driver in Picton, New Zealand

The crew of the Marlborough Flyer is fabulous. This jovial and welcoming engine driver is Danny Green. He is wearing traditional bib overalls, hat, leather gloves and a bright smile. In New Zealand, the train manager is called a guard instead of a conductor. He and the ticket collectors are informative, helpful and seem genuinely thrilled to have you aboard.

Picton Railway Station, 5 Auckland Street, Picton 7220, New Zealand
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Marlborough Flyer’s Open Platform in Picton, New Zealand

The Marlborough Flyer billows black smoke while chugging along the Para Wetlands and Wairau River Valley. The red, wooden-bodied train carriages were built in 1909 and 1912. These vintage train cars are comfortable and afford great views of the scenery as it whizzes by your window. The most exhilarating experience, however, is standing on the open platform. This position lets you feel the vibrations and the wind on your face.

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Sheep Scattering Beside the Marlborough Flyer in Picton, New Zealand

Sheep are the predominate livestock raised in the Marlborough Region of New Zealand’s Northland. It is estimated there are 38.5 million sheep in the country compared to less than five million people. So, it is common to see herds grazing in the fields or along the hills. They look so peaceful and docile until the Marlborough Flyer rumbles by. Then they scatter to the protective cover of the nearest shrub.

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17 Marlborough Wine Region in Blenheim, New Zealand

As the Marlborough Flyer approaches Blenheim, you will see plenty of vineyards. This is the fertile heart of the Wairau River Valley and the center of the Marlborough Wine Region. David Herd from Scotland was the first to plant grapes here in 1873. The industry did not begin to blossom for one hundred years. Now there are over 150 Marlborough Region wineries. These vineyards produce more than 75% of New Zealand’s wines. The famous varietal is Sauvignon blanc. Chardonnay and pinot noir are also very popular.

2540-2520 SH 1, Grovetown 7202, New Zealand
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18 The Wine Station in Blenheim, New Zealand

Blenheim Railway Station was built in 1906. In 2018, Michael and Angela Wentworth transformed this historic rail terminal into The Wine Station. Inside you can sample among 80 of the region’s top wines while nibbling on platters of cheese and tasty delicacies. If this experience just whets your appetite, then consider following the Marlborough Wine Trail. Most of the 30 vineyards you can visit are a short distance west of Blenheim.

Wine Station, Sinclair St, Mayfield, Blenheim 7201, New Zealand
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19 WWI Aviation Museum at Omaka Aviation Centre in Blenheim, New Zealand

A three-mile drive from Blenheim is the Knights of the Sky Exhibition at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. This must-see airplane museum displays 16 World War I aircraft. Most are operational replicas. An example is this Etrich Taube named after its designer Igo Etrich. Taube means “dove” in German. This weaponless airplane was used for reconnaissance during the early years of the Great War. Also visit the Dangerous Skies, an adjoining exhibition of WWII aircraft

79 Aerodrome Road, Blenheim 7272, New Zealand
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20 DH.2 and Fokker Dogfight at Omaka Aviation Centre in Blenheim, New Zealand

You sense the pending showdown between these two WWI aircraft over the Western Front. On the left is an Airco DH.2 replica. This single-seater fighter designed by Geoffrey de Havilland entered the war in 1916. Over 300 were flown in combat by the British Royal Flying Corps. The adversary is the dreaded Fokker E.III designed by Anthony Fokker. Starting in 1915, German pilots began dominating the sky in the Fokker Scourge, meaning a plane that caused great suffering. This catfight is one of the many incredible displays at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre.

79 Aerodrome Road, Blenheim 7272, New Zealand
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21 Realistic Dioramas at Omaka Aviation Centre in Blenheim, New Zealand

The dioramas at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre are incredibly realistic. This one features a Morane-Saulnier BB biplane built in France for the British. You sense the horrible demise of the dead pilot, the struggles of the soldiers carrying the wounded observer and the deep mud beneath the waiting Ford ambulance. All of the displays at the Knights of the Sky Exhibition were designed by Joe Blakeley and built at Wingnut Films. This movie studio is owned by Sir Peter Jackson, the producer of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Weta Worshop created the mannequins

79 Aerodrome Road, Blenheim 7272, New Zealand
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22 Death of Red Baron at Omaka Aviation Centre in Blenheim, New Zealand

Manfred von Richthofen was the most feared fighter pilot with the German Air Force during World War I. He is credited with shooting down 80 enemy planes. The leader of The Flying Circus was shot with a single bullet to the heart on April 25, 1918. This scene at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre reenacts the crash site of the Red Baron’s Fokker Dr.I 425/17 near Vaux-sur-Somme in northern France. The exhibit shows Australian soldiers removing the pilot’s boots and ripping apart the triplane for souvenirs.

79 Aerodrome Road, Blenheim 7272, New Zealand
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