Picton is the base for cruising in the Marlborough Sounds, the labyrinth of waterways that formed when the rising sea invaded a vast area of river valleys at the northern tip of the South Island. Backed by forested hills that rise almost vertically from the water, the sounds are a wild, majestic place edged with tiny beaches and rocky coves and studded with islands where native wildlife remains undisturbed by introduced species. (Operators run tours to several of these special islands). Māori legend tells how the sounds were formed when a great warrior and navigator called Kupe fought with a giant octopus, Te Wheke. Its thrashings separated the surrounding mountains, and its tentacles became parts of the sunken valleys. These waterways are one of the country's favorite areas for boating.
Much of the area around Picton is native or exotic forest-covered country, broken by sheltered bays and deep waterways, some has changed little since Captain Cook found refuge here in the
1770s. There are rudimentary roads on the long fingers of land jutting into the sounds, but the most convenient access is by water. Many properties only have boat access. Some mail operators take visitors along for the ride as they deliver the mail, groceries, and farming supplies to isolated residents and farms. Both Beachcomber and Cougar Line run from Picton and travel throughout Queen Charlotte Sound. From from Havelock the Pelorus mail boat, Pelorus Express, delivers mail and supplies to outlying settlements scattered around Pelorus Sound. To get on the ground in and around the sounds, you canwalk or ride part or all of the scenic Queen Charlotte Track.