Coromandal Walkway
Photo by Robert Engberg

Checklist of access rights and responsIbIlItIes

Public access

Not all rivers, lakes, beaches and mountain lands have public access to, along or around them. Where there is public access to the New Zealand outdoors, it can be one of many types, such as:

  • most foreshore (beaches), but some foreshore is private;
  • national parks, reserves and other conservation lands;
  • legal roads (including unformed legal roads);
  • walkways under the Walking Access Act;
  • marginal strips along waterways under the Conservation Act; and
  • easements across private land.

Different types of access have varying legal obligations and restrictions.

Private land

There is no general right of public access across private land. If land is fenced off or appears to be private and there are no signs indicating access, then permission should be sought. There may be valid reasons (such as lambing or mustering) for farmers to deny access, and refusals should be accepted with good grace.


The right to walk with a dog, including hunting dogs, depends on the rights that run with the type of access. On private land, permission must be obtained to take a dog. Dogs should be kept under proper control, and not allowed to frighten other people, worry farm animals or disturb birds or wildlife, unless they are game and hunting has been permitted. Dog faeces should be picked up and removed or buried.


The New Zealand Firearms Safety Code (Appendix 7) must always be observed, and permission must be obtained before shooting on any land. Even where you can legally carry a firearm, recognise how others may feel.

Motor vehicles

Access with motor vehicles can be much more intrusive than access on foot or on bicycle. Even where access with vehicles is legally allowed, such as on an unformed legal road, it is a courtesy to inform the adjoining landholder, especially where the access crosses unfenced farmland. Vehicles should be kept strictly to formed tracks.

Respecting other people’s property

Responsible behaviour includes:

  • leaving gates as they are found – open or closed;'
  • not climbing unsupported fence wires – in the absence of a gate or stile, going through the fence wires or climbing over at posts;
  • not blocking or obstructing gateways, tracks or entrances;
  • walking in single file around farm animals, without driving them;
  • walking around, rather than through, crops; and
  • reporting stock in difficulty, damage or anything suspicious to the land manager.

Limiting outdoor fire risk

Fires should not be lit without permission, and all fires fully extinguished before leaving.

Caring for the environment

The natural environment is an asset and should be treated with care by:

  • not disturbing stock or damaging vegetation, wildlife, historic places, pasture or crops;
  • taking litter home; and
  • burying toilet waste away from waterways.

Managing the outdoors

When those with authority as a landowner or manager are asked for access permission, it is appropriate to:

  • respond reasonably when people request permission for walking access;
  • explain the reasons for any conditions that are applied;
  • advise visitors of out-of-the-ordinary hazards arising from farm activities (for example, tree felling, blasting); and
  • respect people’s rights of public access, such as use of unformed legal roads and marginal strips. The exact locations of these can be hard to determine. Unformed legal roads may be unsurfaced, unfenced and indistinguishable from surrounding land, but have all the legal rights and obligations of formed roads.

Māori land

Whaia nga tapuwae o nga tupuna – Follow in the ancestors’ footprints

Māori land under the Te Ture Whenua Act does not generally have public access rights, so permission must be sought from the owners or those authorised by them, and the relevant tikanga8 learned and followed. Cultural offence may be caused by haere pokanoa (unauthorised wandering).

Tikanga are the customary values and practices that reflect Māori beliefs and provide the correct procedures to be followed. Tikanga knowledge rests with the respective tribes and must be checked for each place as there could be specific customs or requirements.

Being responsible

Outdoor access to both public and private land comes with obligations. These include:

  • taking responsibility for one’s own actions;
  • following any reasonable advice offered;
  • being considerate and respecting the interests of other people;
  • caring for the environment;
  • seeking permission for access to private or Māori land;
  • earning and respecting the tikanga Māori so that behaviour does not cause cultural offence; and
  • getting the correct permits for hunting and fishing.