French Pass

Kia ora welcome to French Pass, Te Aumiti, once home of the legendary Dolphin Pelorus Jack known to Maori as Kaikaiawaro.

French Pass is situated in the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island. The road from Rai Valley to French Pass was built in 1957. The drive is spectacular. Overseas visitors rate it the most scenic drive in the country surpassing Milford and Queenstown. The road is partially unsealed but in good condition and takes the traveler through forest, farmland and on to breathtaking sea views of the French Pass and d’Urville Island.

Give yourself a minimum of two hours for this stunning drive. Evening sunsets are particularly spectacular.

The timeless French Pass village sits opposite D'Urville Island and the turbulent piece of water known as the French Pass Passage. Here the water races through on each tide at up to eight knots creating whirlpools, eddies and currents, a truly awesome passage feared and respected by mariners. Once navigated by Maori in canoes it proved more difficult for French Seafarer Dumont D'Urville. In 1827 he spent several days investigating the passage before venturing through it. He described the sea as a seething sheet where great precaution needed to be taken. On his journey through he clipped the reef twice before ‘floating majestically into Admiralty Bay.

Today the French Pass settlement is a quiet fishing, farming and tourist village with a safe swimming beach, picnic areas and DOC campsite.

There is a garage with essentials, diesel and petrol. During the summer the little store has many food items. Qualmark 4 star accommodation and back packer accommodation is available. Activities include sea kayaking, fishing, Island walks, seal and dolphin swim, sailing and wildlife discovery tours. French Pass is the gateway to D'Urville Island which is possum free and offers a cafe, bar and accommodation.

The French Pass School is now used by Wellington High who bring groups through the school season. You can read more about the history of French Pass here.

Rich upwellings from the Cook Straight provide nutrients for a wide variety of fish, seabirds, dolphins, seals and other marine life. View our handy dolphin and whale identification information here.

Click to see French Pass accommodation and here for tours. We have some useful links here and videos and resources here.