The ‘Queen’s Chain’ is the popular term for publicly owned land along the banks of rivers and the shores of lakes and the sea. The term takes its name from Queen Victoria’s instructions of 1840 to reserve land in public ownership. In essence it involves the reservation of a strip of land in public ownership for public use.

In New Zealand the ‘Queen’s Chain’ is comprised of segments of marginal strip, public road and esplanade reserves which were usually established at the time the Crown disposed of adjoining land.

Today it is unclear as to just how much of the ‘Queen’s Chain’ actually exists. Some reports suggest that the ‘Queen’s Chain’ covers 70% of the shores. Even where it is clear that a ‘Queen’s Chain’ exists the size and extent of the chain can vary depending upon the measure that was applied at the time of its creation.

It is also unclear what impact the ‘Queen’s Chain’ has on any existing Māori Customary Rights to the foreshore.

In recent times debate about the foreshore, seabed and Māori Customary Rights has resulted in various community sector groups expressing their concern.

The Crown has also entered the debate announcing that it will pass legislation to clarify the position to ensure that the foreshore and seabed are not subject to private rights of ownership and to recognise and protect Māori customary rights.

The Crowns approach is based on the following four principles:

  1. The foreshore and seabed should be public domain with open access and use for all New Zealanders;
  2. The Crown is responsible for regulating the use of the foreshore and seabed, on behalf of all present and future generations of New Zealanders;
  3. Processes should exist to enable the customary interests of whānau, hapu and iwi in the foreshore and seabed to be acknowledged, and specific rights to be identified and protected.
  4. There should be certainty for those who use and administer the foreshore and seabed about the range of rights that are relevant to their actions.

The Crown is seeking comments on its proposal and requires submissions to be filed by Friday 3 October 2003.

Anyone wishing to make a submission may do so by making a written submission to Foreshore and Seabed Submission, PO Box 55, Wellington. Submissions can also be made online at