French Pass: The End of the Road
Situated at the end of one of New Zealand’s most spectacular roads, the little village of French Pass nestles comfortably between the torrent waters of French Pass and New Zealand’s 8th largest island, D’urville Island.
With a small DoC Campsite, and a boat ramp metres away, an annual trip to the Pass to fish and enjoy the pristine environment is always high on our agenda.
Getting to French Pass is a big part of the fun. While the road is well maintained, it remains a true ‘kiwi’ road, gravel in most places, with one lane bridges, and sheers drops alternating between the east and west. Sheep and cattle roam freely over the hillsides, and cattle stops (and gates) are frequent. You will quickly secure all drawers and loose items after passing over your first cattle stop!
The views from the road are stunning. I read in one travel guide that the drive takes 2 hours from the turn-off from State Highway 6. I suppose it would if you drove non-stop. We normally allow 3 – 3.5 hours for the drive. We stop often, take photos, and make a cup of tea (or two) along the way. If you are driving from Nelson, add 45 minutes to reach the turn-off, or coming from Blenheim, add 1.5hours.
After a long drive, it is always a pleasure arriving in French Pass. The road winds dramatically as you make a short, sharp descent into the village. After a long drive at elevation, it always comes as a bit of a shock to suddenly be at the beach. The views to D’urville Island are always stunning, and the jetty is a welcome site after a long, dusty drive.
The DoC camp is located on the waterfront, and has 18 sites. It is always a good idea to reserve a site from November through February as the place fills with Kiwis escaping for a week or a weekend during the warm summer months. If you bring a boat, there is boat parking along the waterfront (for larger boats) and smaller ones can be kept with your vehicle in the campsite.
If you are keen to experience the outdoors, French Pass has a large number of activities. Boat-based wildlife tours (seals, dolphins, whales) are available, as are fishing charters and bird watching excursions. Hiking tracks are numerous and range from easy to difficult. Ask the local shop owner for some suggestions if you aren’t sure which direction to head.
Of course, fishing is a priority for many visiting French pass, and the jetty is a perfect place to drop your line.
Making time to to visit French Pass should be on everyone’s list of “must do’s” for their Kiwi campervan adventure. Sure, it takes a bit of time to get there, but that is the point. Taking time ensures you really ‘take in’ what’s around you. French Pass will rank as one of the most beautiful, and memorable, journeys on your road trip.