Picton was the first stop on the South Island. When Stephen and I visited NZ 20 years ago, Picton was one of our favorite stops. In fact, it was the only town we stayed for two nights. We have a photo album detailing that first trip to NZ…but it is back in storage in the US. I wish I had shared it with E&S in more detail before we left.
We boarded the ferry in Wellington with beautiful weather and hoped for a gentle crossing. We crossed with Bluebridge simply because the crossings fit most conveniently with our schedule. The cancellation and rebooking was handled swiftly and with little hassle; so I would strongly recommend them based on customer service alone! The ferries are quite large with sleeping cabins (for a price), several lounges with chairs/tables, food, beverages, and a movie room. The ferry spends the first 30 minutes leaving Wellington Harbor and the last hour sailing through Marlborough Sounds. The transition into the Cook Strait made for jolting 30 minutes but luckily it quickly passed to calmer waters. There is something mystical about passing through Marlborough Sounds. There must be dozens of bays hidden along the coastline. It is quoted that one fifth of NZ’s coastline is by Picton (thanks to Marlborough Sounds). Although Picton receives multiple ferries from Wellington a day along with large cruise liners, it has managed to maintain a sleep quiet fishing village atmosphere.
Marlborough Sounds is a collection of ancient sunken river valleys that have been filled in by the Pacific Ocean. The waters are surrounded by steep forested hills. There are three main bodies of water: Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, and Pelorous Sounds. Some of the islands are predator-free for native wildlife and plants. Water taxis and boat hires depart Picton Harbor to several points in Sounds throughout the day.
We had initially planned for two full days in Picton but since our ferry crossing was delayed we had only one full day. A must in Picton is exploring the Queen Charlotte Sound. The Queen Charlotte (queen-charlotte-brochure) is one of several multi-day hikes throughout NZ. We has just a few hours to appreciate the Track! We were able to arrange a water taxi for drop-off (Mistletoe Bay) and pick-up (Anakiwa). The day did not disappoint with the constant changing coastline and scenic views. We had a mixture of coastline hiking, bush hiking, and forested areas. We avoided some of the steeper hikes and opted for a lower mileage with E&S. We started at our drop off point which was a simple dock in a quiet bay. We quickly discovered that it is one of the camping sites for the several day hike option. We had not calculated the additional 1.5 miles from the dock to the actual hike start point, so our total mileage for the day had just gone up slightly. Luckily this initial part was most of the serious climbing for the day. We had a longer slower incline later, but not as steep as the first section. Even though we were skirting different bays, we were not constantly ascending and descending (like our Waiheke adventure hike). It was a warm summer day and the water breezes and shade was welcomed! E&S had surprisingly upbeat attitudes for this hike; I think they knew it was an all-day hike and the return water taxi was already booked for a particular time. Stephen and I also had packed a wide assortment of snacks and we stopped every few kilometers for a bite. We didn’t stop to swim in any of the bays since the track was elevated above the water but hoped we would have time at the end. By the time we arrived at Mistletoe, the water taxi had already arrived and we had just a few minutes to board.. Stephen managed a quick dip but E&S were more interested in ice cream than swimming.
And this was our reward! The best fish and chips (Fergies Fish and Chips) we have had ever! We made a point to stop here on the way back to the South Island.
And off again! I became the tetris master of our car on packing mornings!