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Picton, New Zealand facts for kids

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Waitohi (Māori)
A view of the harbour in Picton
A view of the harbour in Picton
Picton is located in Marlborough Sounds
Location in Marlborough Sounds
Country New Zealand
Region Marlborough
Ward Marlborough Sounds Ward
 • Total 9.16 km2 (3.54 sq mi)
 (June 2020)
 • Total 4,730
 • Density 516.4/km2 (1,337.4/sq mi)
Picton With Rail And Port Connection
Picton from the air
South Island Tour 932
Picton, a park at the coast

Picton (Māori: Waitohi) is a town in the Marlborough Region of New Zealand's South Island. The town is located near the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound / Tōtaranui, 25 km (16 mi) north of Blenheim and 65 km (40 mi) west of Wellington. Waikawa lies just north-east of Picton and is considered to be a contiguous part of the Picton urban area.

Picton is a major hub in New Zealand's transport network, connecting the South Island road and rail network with ferries across Cook Strait to Wellington and the North Island. The Picton urban area has a population of 4,730 (June 2020), making it the second-largest town in the Marlborough Region behind Blenheim. It is the easternmost town in the South Island with a population of at least 1,000 people.



State Highway 1 links Picton southwards to Blenheim, Kaikoura, Christchurch and beyond, while the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive (shorter in distance but usually slower than via State Highways 1, 62 and 6) winds westward to Havelock.

Picton Railway Station 2006
Picton Railway Station in 2006.

The Main North Line railway opened on 17 November 1875 between Picton and the Opaōa River just north of Blenheim (the bridge over the river wasn't completed until 1880). The full line south to Kaikōura and on to Christchurch wasn't completed until 15 December 1945. The line's climb from Picton to Elevation saddle required a steep 1-in-37 (2.7%) grade and a viaduct across the Waitohi River. The original viaduct was the largest wooden structure in the southern hemisphere at the time of its completion, and lasted until 1963, when it was replaced by the current concrete and steel structure. The original Picton railway station was located on London Quay; the platform still exists, bisected by the Memorial Archway steps. The current station on Auckland Street was completed in 1914. It is a standard class B station, of weatherboard and tile, and has been listed NZHPT Category II since 1991. The Coastal Pacific long-distance passenger/tourist train from Christchurch made a daily return trip to Picton during the summer months until it scheduled passenger services were terminated in December 2021.

Roll-on/roll-off (RORO) ferries link Picton with Wellington, forming the main link between the North and South Islands across Cook Strait. The two main shipping companies operating this route are the Interislander and Strait Shipping, with both taking passenger and road vehicles, and, for the Interislander on one ferry, rail wagons. There have been proposals in recent years (the latest in 2011) to relocate the ferry terminals from Picton to Clifford Bay, south of Blenheim, to reduce travel times. However these plans never got past the design proposal, and were eventually dropped. In 2019, consultation began on a redevelopment of the ferry precinct ahead of Interislander introducing new and larger ferries in 2024.

Cruise ships regularly visit Picton between October and April. During the 2018–19 season, 44 ships carrying 85,000 passengers visited Picton.

Picton Aerodrome at Koromiko 7.4 km to the south of the town has regular services to Wellington with Sounds Air and charter flights around the Marlborough Sounds.


The Picton Borough Council established the town's first electricity supply in September 1917. Electricity was generated by a Pelton wheel on the Waitohi River, which was later supplemented by suction gas engines, and was reticulated to customers using a 230/460-volt three-wire DC system. The Marlborough Electric Power Board (MEPB) took control of the town supply in 1947. Between 1947 and 1950, the town was re-reticulated with the national standard of 230/400 volts three-phase AC, and a 33,000-volt line was built from Picton to Springlands in Blenheim to connect the town with the rest of the MEPB's distribution network. Today, Marlborough Lines (the successor to the MEPB) owns and operates the distribution network in Picton and the wider Marlborough region.

Water supply and sanitation

Picton's main water supply is from a bore at Speeds Road in Koromiko; during high demand, this is supplemented by a stream-fed supply in Essons Valley. The average daily water demand in the town is 3,800 m3 (130,000 cu ft), with demand in summer peaking at 5,770 m3 (204,000 cu ft).

Prior to the commissioning of the Picton wastewater treatment plant in 1999, all the town's sewage was discharge raw into Queen Charlotte Sound. The town's wastewater system was upgraded in 2017, with a replacement main along Waikawa Road between Waikawa and central Picton and a bypass treatment plant to treat excess sewage that can't be processed at the main treatment plant.


Author Katherine Mansfield spent time in Picton where her grandparents, Arthur and Mary Beauchamp, and her father Harold, lived for some time when they came from Australia. She included a reference to the port in her short story "The Voyage" (in the collection The Garden Party), which is "an account of a trip to Picton from Wellington on the Cook Strait ferry".

The town is also the usual starting point for holidays to the Marlborough Sounds. Highlights include fishing, walking, the Queen Charlotte Sound (New Zealand) Track, and Diving. A popular dive trip is to the 177m long wreck of the former cruise liner MS Mikhail Lermontov, which now lies at Port Gore, 37 metres underwater.

Other excellent dive sites in the Picton region Technical diving and TDI (Technical Diving International) courses can be completed in Picton, diving in the Marlborough Sounds.


Picton's economy is largely influenced by its status as a major transport hub, in addition to servicing tourists and residents in the Queen Charlotte Sound. At the 2018 census, the three largest industries (ANZSIC divisions) of employment for Picton residents were accommodation and food services, transport postal and warehousing, and retail trade.


Picton is defined by Statistics New Zealand as a small urban area and covers 9.16 km2 (3.54 sq mi). It had an estimated population of 4,730 as of June 2020, with a population density of 516 people per km2.

Historical population
Year Pop. ±% p.a.
2006 4,047 —    
2013 4,017 −0.11%
2018 4,503 +2.31%

The Picton urban area, comprising the statistical areas of Waikawa and Waitohi, had a population of 4,503 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 486 people (12.1%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 456 people (11.3%) since the 2006 census. There were 1,950 households. There were 2,277 males and 2,226 females, giving a sex ratio of 1.02 males per female, with 582 people (12.9%) aged under 15 years, 507 (11.3%) aged 15 to 29, 2,031 (45.1%) aged 30 to 64, and 1,383 (30.7%) aged 65 or older.

Ethnicities were 87.9% European/Pākehā, 18.3% Māori, 1.9% Pacific peoples, 2.5% Asian, and 1.9% other ethnicities (totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities).

The proportion of people born overseas was 17.6%, compared with 27.1% nationally.

Although some people objected to giving their religion, 52.3% had no religion, 35.0% were Christian, 0.4% were Hindu, 0.1% were Muslim, 0.5% were Buddhist and 2.6% had other religions.

Of those at least 15 years old, 465 (11.9%) people had a bachelor or higher degree, and 972 (24.8%) people had no formal qualifications. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 1,650 (42.1%) people were employed full-time, 687 (17.5%) were part-time, and 93 (2.4%) were unemployed.

Individual statistical areas
Name Population Households Median age Median income
Waikawa 1,464 609 57.4 years $30,200
Waitohi 3,039 1,341 54.0 years $25,000
New Zealand 37.4 years $31,800


The first school in Picton opened in 1861 at the corner of Devon Street and Broadway. A new school opened in 1882, and part of the old school was moved to the new site, but was destroyed by fire in 1928. A Catholic Convent school opened in 1915, and was replaced by St Joseph's in 1924. St Joseph's closed in 2017 due to a declining school roll.

There was no secondary education provision (Years 9 to 13) in Picton prior to 1965, with secondary school students from Picton commuted to Marlborough College in Blenheim (split into Marlborough Boys' College and Marlborough Girls' College in 1963). Queen Charlotte College opened to serve the town in 1965, while also taking over the town's intermediate school provision (Years 7 and 8) from Picton and Waikawa Bay schools.

Today, Picton has three schools:

  • Picton School is a state contributing primary (Year 1 to 6) school with a roll of approximately 138 students.
  • Queen Charlotte College is a state Year 7 to 13 secondary school. It has a roll of approximately 369 students.
  • Waikawa Bay School is a state contributing primary (Year 1 to 6) school in Waikawa with a roll of approximately 116 students.

Notable people

  • Judith Adams – Australian politician
  • Lance Cairns – Champion All-rounder for the New Zealand cricket team
  • Chris Cairns – Cricketer
  • Kip Colvey – Professional footballer with Colorado Rapids and the New Zealand national football team
  • Bruno Julio Dalliessi - Mayor in 1966, heavyweight boxing champion in 1955 and 1957, footballer with Marlborough Rugby Union
  • Nigel Hutchinson – Film producer and television commercial director
  • Tony Johnson – New Zealand rugby broadcaster
  • Nelle Scanlan – Best-selling New Zealand novelist of the 1930s
  • Joseph Sullivan – Double Sculls Gold Medalist at the London 2012 Olympic Games
  • William Henry Woodgate – Last person hanged in Marlborough

See also

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