Picton, New Zealand
The town itself is full of charm. It’s built around a sheltered harbor, whose curved flanks hold the sparkling blue waters in their dark green embrace. The seafront here has several spots to sip a drink, have a bite to eat and take it all in. There are several galleries and shops too, when you can tear your gaze away from the views. You may even have a chance to appreciate Maori traditions at the Omaki Marae, a local meeting house that often showcases elements of their rich culture.
Should you intend to be more at one with the natural beauty all around you, the Queen Charlotte Track is a major local attraction. It has a variety of trails you can follow on foot or by mountain bike through stunning countryside and with frequent viewpoints onto the water.
The water in question belongs to the Marlborough Sounds, an expanse of ancient river valleys that now creates over 900 miles of Pacific shore, where forested hills rise steeply from the sea and curve around sandy bays. Exploring by kayak or paddleboard is an energetic yet immensely peaceful way to admire nature’s work close up. Penguins and fur seals frequent the waters, alongside various sea birds. Dolphin watching cruises are popular and keen divers might consider descending to numerous sites around these parts.
Step aboard the Edwin Fox, one of the oldest ships in existence. Built in 1853 of teak and saul timber, her service included transporting troops and other personnel during the Crimean War, and Florence Nightingale is said to have been among her passengers. Various other duties included carrying convicts to Western Australia, before she retired to Picton in 1897. She has remained there ever since and now forms a maritime museum.
Picton occupies a point at the edge of an alluvial plain between the ocean and the rippled valleys, where the Maori once hunted and grew crops. In 1873 a Scot planted the first small vineyard here. Exactly a century later, recognizing the harmonious blend of conditions, viticulture arrived on a commercial scale. The area now accounts for up to three quarters of New Zealand wine, and has achieved worldwide acclaim thanks to its sauvignon blanc and pinot noir in particular. It would seem almost churlish not to call at one of the wineries here for a tasting.