The Maori name for French Pass is 'Te Aumiti' short for 'Te Aumiro-o-te-kawau-a-toru' which means "the swishing currents of the shag Toru", the place where Kupe's path-finding shag was drowned.

The shag Te-kawau-a-toru led Kupe, a renowned explorer, to the French Pass passage after his encounter with a giant octopus in Cook Straight. As Kupe killed the octopus the octopus gouged out the intricate shapes that today typify the Sounds.

Abel Tasman was the first European to see the Marlborough Sounds in 1642. Captain James Cook made landfall in 1770 returning several times and taking on supplies from Whareatea Bay on the eastern shores of D'Urville Island. Cook introduced new crops and farm animals to Maori spending most of his time in Ships Cove.

Although Cook did not discover or venture through the French Pass the replica ship Endeavour sailed through the Pass on slack water in a moving display with local craft on January 17th 2000.

Other significant voyagers included Russian Thaddeus von Bellingshausen who in 1820 followed Cook to Ship Cove and made a detailed study of Maori life there.

In 1827 French Sea Captain Dumont D'Urville, on board Astrolabe, was the first European to tackle the treacherous French Pass between D'Urville Island and the mainland. This dramatic crossing was to become legendary. An account can be seen from the lookout which has been established overlooking the French Pass passage.

Pelorus Jack is also celebrated with large colourful panels telling his story at the Collinet Point lookout.