French Pass Lookout Track

French Pass Lookout Track


11 Rankers Reviews

11 Face-to-Face

4 Havelock

Your Nature Guide

Marios Gavalas's avatar

Marios Gavalas

Author And Researcher

Nau mai, haere mai

Nau mai, haere mai

I'm Marios, delivering the best of Aotearoa's nature walks to your device.

I've personally walked hundreds of New Zealand's tracks and spent months in libraries uncovering interesting information on New Zealand/Aotearoa. And you'll find a slice of that research on this page - enjoy!


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Boat sailing through the treacherous pass


approx 1 km return |15 minutes return

Once you’ve seen the confused frothing waters of ‘Passe de Francais’, you will conclude that only a Frenchman would be crazy enough to sail through.

This track takes you to a viewpoint over historic French Pass, where the tide rushes back and forth like a river, at mid tide whirlpools can be big enough to swallow small boats!


Getting to French Pass is part of the experience here. 800 metres north of Rai valley on SH6, turn into Opouri Road, signposted Okiwi Bay and French Pass. 600 metres on keep left and Okiwi Bay is 23 km. After 39 km the seal ends and French Pass is signposted to the left. After 48 km, just after the cattle stop the fun really starts.

Don’t look left if you have vertigo. The road descends, entering French Pass Scenic Reserve after a cattle stop. 200 metres further on the left is a small parking bay with the signposted start of the track. The road continues a further 1 km to the settlement with shop and DoC campground.


After 3 minutes the track branches. Right continues the narrow zigzag through forest to a lookout over the pass. You can see the swirling waters and beacon. An information panel relives the day D’Urville navigated the channel.

Left is a slightly steeper path to a narrow soft shingle beach.


The currents swirling through French Pass travel at 5-7 knots. The uneven sea bed and meeting of the Current Basin and Admiralty Bay waters forms eddies and whirlpools. At change in tide this can catch the fish unawares and they float to the surface.


From 1888-1912 one of New Zealand’s most famous dolphins, Pelorus Jack, met all vessels who passed by the area at day and night. He was immortalised in a poem by Dennis Glover.

Polynesian History

Once Kupe had finished wrestling his octopus he was tired and weary. He sent his pet pigeon Rupe into the forest in search of sustenance and Te-Kawau-a-Toru, his trusty shag to learn the ways of the sea currents. Te-Kawau-a-Toru plummeted to his death in the frothing waters between Rangitoto Island (D’Urville Island) and the mainland.

European History

D’Urville Island is named after Admiral Dumont d’Urville. In 1825 the French Government promoted him to Commander, giving him charge of La Coquille, later renamed Astrolabe. His mission was to explore the south seas and find out what happened to the ill-fated 1788 voyage of La Perouse. Late in 1826 he sighted New Zealand and in early 1827 he surveyed the French Pass area. On January 24th a tidal rip arose ‘like a seething sheet and water rushed into the basin (Current Basin) and formed whirlpools of incredible violence.’ After successfully navigating the channel it became known as ‘Passe de Francais’, later translated to French Pass.

This was the preferred shipping route from Wellington to Nelson as it obviated the need for rounding D’Urville Island. Navigation of this treacherous channel has always been a bain, so from 1854 a rudimentary signal known as an ‘iron perch’ was erected by Bryon Drury of HMS Pandora. In 1881 this was replaced by a beacon, erected by Marine Department engineer Mr Thomspson and Wallace Webber, a local farmer. This was destroyed around a year later in a collision with SS Grafton. In 1883 a new beacon was set up by Captain Fairchild of SS Stella. This lasted 24 years.

In 1883-4 the New Zealand Marine Department constructed a lighthouse on the mainland. This was officially lit on 1st October 1884. The beacon light continued to be nurtured by Wallace Webber who rowed out at slack tide, cleaned the seagull scats, and refilled the light with oil. Sometimes if the light on the beacon was extinguished, Webber would row across at night. A new beacon was finally installed in 1907, replaced by an automated light in 1927. The lighthouse was automated in 1952.

Stephens Island was named by Cook in 1770. The Maori name was Takapourewa.

A road was approved from Croisilles by the French Pass Road Board in 1953 for a tender of £2,797 by Bryant Brothers of Pelorus Valley. It was completed in July 1957 with a bulldozer driving through the ribbon at the opening ceremony.


Feature Value Info


DOC Marlborough

Central government organisation


South IslandMarlboroughHavelock


  • Walking
  • Free


Rik van der Niet's avatar

Rik van der Niet


Ranking: 9/10

Great views, winding roads, beautiful nature, please drive carefully.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in November 2016

Marine's avatar



Ranking: 10/10

Just amazing.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Anthony's avatar



Ranking: 10/10

Nice road, cool place to fish and stay one night.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Thank You - to the thousands of travellers that have contributed to our Top Voted NZ Activities Map - it's free from Rankers.

Jacob Winchester's avatar

Jacob Winchester

United States

Ranking: 9/10

Intensely beautiful sounds studded with cows. A must see for the Marlborough region.

Reviewed almost 6 years ago and experienced in February 2016

Marco's avatar



Ranking: 8/10

I went there with a friend and the views were amazing. We enjoyed a day at the beach, I saw a lot of stingrays as well as some sharks. The drive took a while but it was worth it.

Reviewed almost 6 years ago and experienced in February 2016

Lea Kisbye's avatar

Lea Kisbye


Ranking: 10/10

Long drive on a gravel road, but a very, very beautiful and spectacular drive with views of the sands and mountains.

Reviewed almost 6 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Alice and James's avatar

Alice and James

United Kingdom

Ranking: 8/10

Great walks around local farmland. The drive to get there takes you through the clouds and is astonishing. it is a long way but it is definitely worth it.

Reviewed about 6 years ago and experienced in January 2016

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Martin Kolodziej's avatar

Martin Kolodziej


Ranking: 6/10

Nice view of the Marlborough Sounds, but a bit difficult go go there. But there is nothing there, only the view.

Reviewed about 6 years ago and experienced in February 2016

Amy Stafford's avatar

Amy Stafford


Ranking: 9/10

Stunning views. Highly recommend.

Reviewed about 6 years ago

Jonas's avatar



Ranking: 9/10

If you walk up the hill, there is a beautiful view. The hill is surrounded by water and you can see really far. Amazing!

Reviewed over 6 years ago

Franziska & Katrin's avatar

Franziska & Katrin


Ranking: 10/10

Awesome view!!

Reviewed about 10 years ago and experienced in February 2012

DOC Managed

Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍

Cymen Crick's avatar

Cymen Crick