The Far North has a new dog bylaw after almost two years of division and controversy.

The new Dog Management Policy and Bylaw, passed at Thursday's council meeting in Kaikohe, is on the whole a win for lobby group Bay of Islands WatchDogs, which has put in a dogged effort since the first version was released in early 2017.

The draft bylaw was thrashed out by councillors on November 27, when proposed rules for beach and reserve access were loosened dramatically, but Thursday's meeting saw a flurry of last-minute changes.

The draft bylaw proposed allowing off-leash access to all council reserves unless otherwise specified, but council staff pointed out that would contradict laws such as the Reserves Act.

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As a result the bylaw was modified so that dogs have to be on-leash in most council reserves unless it's a designated off-leash area.

To compensate, the number of off-leash dog exercise areas was boosted from two to five. The list now comprises Roland's Wood, Sammaree Pl Reserve and Waitotara Reserve in Kerikeri; the old landfill at Lindvart Park in Kaikohe; and Waipapa Domain, except during sport events when the on-leash rule applies.

The biggest controversy was the last-minute inclusion of Te Wahapu Peninsula, an intensive pest-control zone near Russell, as a prohibited area.

Councillor Kelly Stratford said that would stop people walking their dogs from the carpark to the beach, while community board chairman Terry Greening argued it would ''shut down'' the Okiato to Russell walkway, part of which passes through Te Wahapu.

After much to-ing and fro-ing — some members of the public described it as a dog's breakfast — councillors decided to ban dogs from the peninsula's three reserves, but to allow dogs on-leash in the carpark and on the walkway.

Ahipara Beach was pulled from the proposal and added to a list of bird-nesting beaches requiring further consultation. All councillors voted in favour of the amended bylaw except Dave Hookway.

Members of the lobby group Bay of Islands WatchDogs filled the gallery and came prepared for a celebration with signs and inflatable dogs. Their mood afterwards, however, was less than festive.

Spokeswoman Leonie Exel said the new bylaw was ''infinitely better'' than the ''very anti-dog'' version of 18 months ago. However, the group was unhappy that a new area, Te Wahapu, had been added at the last minute without consultation.

''Our involvement with this process has taught us there is a plethora of problems with this council ... This was always about dogs and democracy.''

Group members would now talk to ''bird people'' in beach areas due for further consultation to come up with local solutions.

Conservationists' key concern about the new bylaw is that it gives almost unfettered off-leash access to the district's beaches, apart from a small number of ''special character'' beaches with high wildlife or cultural value.

Mayor John Carter said the new bylaw was only a first step. The council would continue working to provide suitable walking areas, to encourage good dog ownership, and to be better at policing.

''When you look back there were a lot of things we could have and should have done better ... but this isn't the finish, this is the first step. If we find we didn't get something exactly right we'll come back and fix it.

''You're never going to please everybody but I think we've struck a pretty good compromise. In the main the consensus is that we've got it reasonably okay,'' he said.