Ownership of the coast

Following European settlement, the Crown asserted ownership over most of the coastal marine area, which includes the land and water extending from mean high water springs to the edge of the territorial sea (12 nautical miles from shore). Small areas of foreshore and seabed became privately owned as a result of their historical incorporation into land or seabed titles or as a result of the sea eroding away land.

Māori customary rights over the foreshore and seabed are discussed in another part of this section, including the effect of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 and the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011. The latter Act introduces the concept of the “common marine and coastal area”, encompassing all of the marine and coastal area which is not conservation land, a reserve, national park or privately held. Neither the Crown nor any other person is capable of owning the common marine and coastal area and public access to it is guaranteed.

Much of the landward coastal environment is privately owned. Publicly owned land on the coast includes national and regional parks, esplanade reserves, other reserve areas, railway land and roads. These enable the protection of important natural areas and provision for public access.

There is a long tradition in New Zealand of creating reserves along coastal margins, although their coverage around New Zealand’s coast is patchy. These are sometimes referred to as ‘the Queens Chain’; reflecting Queen Victoria’s instructions to set land aside along waterways. Esplanade reserves or strips are usually created under the Resource Management Act when land is subdivided into small lots. Marginal strips are retained in Crown ownership when Crown land is disposed of. For further information on esplanade areas, see here

Last updated at 4:02PM on February 2, 2018