Food and Drink in Picton
New Zealand's menus are rich in the stunningly fresh and varied fruits of the seas that surround the country. The Marlborough region was formerly home to Maori fishing villages, so of course the local seafood is worth sampling. Watch out for king salmon and the succulent green-lipped (green-shell) mussels, a specialty of this region, which provides 70 per cent of New Zealand's export mussels.
Many cellar doors offer meals and snacks or bar food, so you will almost certainly find somewhere to dine (and wine) extremely well if you are out and about touring wineries.
For such a small town, Picton has a surprising number of good places to stop and eat along London Quay and Wellington Street. Seafood -- everything from the ubiquitous fish 'n' chips (sometimes with excellent kumara chips instead of potatoes) to the best local mussels or scallops you may ever taste.
Le Cafe: Don't be misled. Just because this cafe has wide waterfront views, it is more than just a pretty space. Green-lipped mussels in a garlicky broth are a specialty and these get rave reviews from diners. Forget all you thought you knew about mussels. These are giants, and a dozen makes a full meal. The cafe serves home-made ice cream, and most dishes use local and seasonal produce. What more do you want? Diners rank the friendly New Zealand service highly, too. (12-14 London Quay, Picton; 03 573 5588; open daily 8 am to 1 am.)
Cafe Cortado: This restaurant, cafe and bar has pretty much everything covered. Good coffee (maybe with a latte-art face and a tiny teddy biscuit on the side), great views across the park and beyond towards the harbour and, as the name suggests, a slightly South American-infused menu, which is firmly based on the local produce. We're talking pizza, green-lipped mussels, ceviche, clams, spaghetti vongole, and some good local wines. It's a popular place and things can get busy, especially when there's a ship in town, so grab a chair at a pavement table and kick back and admire the view. The food is worth some patience. (Corner High Street & London Quay, Picton; 03 573 5630; open 8 am to 8.30 pm and until 9.30 pm Fridays and Saturdays)
Seamus' Irish Bar and Restaurant: OK, so this place is yet another Irish pub. But it's a vegetarian-friendly gastropub that is regarded as one of the best Irish pubs in the world. The Guinness is poured perfectly and there's even a Bailey's Slushy. Of course there's a Guinness Hot Pot but you'll find green-lipped mussels and Marlborough Sounds' king salmon, too. (25 Wellington Street, Picton; 03 573 8994; open daily, 3 pm until 11 pm Monday to Wednesday and noon until late Thursday to Sunday.)
The Mussel Pot: Havelock is the centre of New Zealand's green-lipped mussel industry and this little quirky and unassuming place just 33 kilometres west of Picton has been serving up the region's best mussels for more than 20 years. The owners are proud to say their menus are based on fresh local produce that is sustainable, free-range and organic wherever possible. A favourite dish, particularly for groups, is a platter of mussels cooked in various ways: steamed, smoked, marinated, grilled and croquettes. (73 Main Road, Havelock; 03 574 2824; lunch from 11 am to 2.45 pm, dinner from 5 pm. Closed for winter from May to August.)
Don't Miss in Picton
Marlborough Sounds: There are many options for a cruise on Marlborough Sounds so ask at i-SITE Information Centre to see what's available. You may encounter whales and dolphins on the cruise.
Marlborough Wine Trail: The nearby wineries of the Marlborough comprise New Zealand's largest wine region, which sauvignon blanc put on the world stage in the 1980s. A tour of any of the wineries will reveal the diversity of varietals. Again the i-SITE Information Centre will have no shortage of tours.
Karaka Point: You won't have time to do the four-day Queen Charlotte Track hike but you can always take the self-guided walk out to Karaka Point for a nice shoreline hike with historic markers along the way. It's 8 km from Picton so you may wish to take a taxi part of the way.
Omaka Aviation Heritage: While the nearby waterways and wineries are tempting, the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre 5 km outside Blenheim is remarkable. The quality of the exhibits (personal items of Germany's Red Baron for example) reveals the input of filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings' fame. (97 Aerodrome Road, Blenheim; 03 579 1305; open daily 9 am to 5 pm in summer, 10 am to 5 pm in winter.)