Walking the French Pass Lookout Track, Marlborough Sounds
Driving the road to French Pass should be on every traveller’s Marlborough Sounds itinerary, but what can you actually see when you get there? The little settlement is nothing special (and in peak season it’s tough to even get a park there), but the French Pass Lookout Track takes you to an awesome viewpoint as well as one of the best beaches in the Marlborough Sounds. The tracks to the viewpoint and the beach start at the same little roadside car park and it only takes around 45 minutes to see them both.
The French Pass Lookout
French Pass separates D’Urville Island from the mainland. The track descends through the forest to a clearing above the coast where you can see great views of D’Urville Island and the clear blue waters of Kenepuru Sound. I just read that the tide “rushes back and forth like a river” — we must have missed that particular phenomenon though! You’d assume you’d be able to get down to the beach from there but you’ll have to walk most of the way back up the track and then down again.
French Pass Beach
I can’t find a name for this beach anywhere, so I guess I’ll have to unofficially crown it as French Pass Beach (or possibly Jon’s Beach could work). It’s easily in the top three beaches we visited in the Marlborough Sounds — the sand is pretty fine (most beaches in the region are rocky) and the water is clear and calm. It’s a small beach but we had it all to ourselves in the height of summer — most people obviously haven’t heard what a cool place it is.
The Other French Pass Lookout
The other viewpoint above French Pass is a little closer to the village and you can drive straight to it. From there you can see the village, Elmslie Bay, some tropical looking water and the tree-lined shores of D’Urville Island.
Driving to French Pass
The road to French Pass (people usually start in Picton, Havelock or Nelson) is one of the most scenic in New Zealand. There’s also an offshoot road which goes to Bulwer — definitely take this detour as there are some great views along the way. From Nelson it takes around two hours to reach French Pass — the last section is gravel (and pretty narrow and winding in parts), so drive carefully! The start of the French Pass Lookout Track is a few kilometres from the village — there’s a small car park on the left as you drive towards the village.
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