Hapu will be able to exercise property rights by granting or denying public access across their private land abutting the foreshore and seabed.

The Government has stressed in repeal legislation due to go before Parliament this month that public access to the tidal area is protected.

But Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson said people would not have an automatic right to reach the open area by walking across private Maori land.

Thirty per cent, or 6032km of New Zealand's 19,833km coastline is bounded by privately owned land. Maori own 10 per cent or 2053km.

In Northland - the first region put under the spotlight in a five-part Herald series starting today - much of the Maori freehold land adjacent to the coast is in isolated areas.

Tribal and whanau groups own 668km of 3523km of coastline on the peninsula, or 19 per cent of the total as measured by Land Information NZ.

Mr Finlayson said there were many areas that could be accessed only by sea or across private land.

But there was likely to be some blurring in the public perception that all beaches were fair game.

"There may be some confusion presently, because people will generally only see beaches that are easily accessible through public roads or land.

"But the situation for existing owners of land near beaches is the same as for many big country farmers - while they may be happy to let the public through their private property, there is no legal requirement for them to do so."

He said the overwhelming majority of iwi told him during consultation rounds this year that they did not want to exclude the public.

In the Far North at Taemaro Bay, where the year-round population is 12, Ngati Koha owns a 40ha block adjoining the foreshore.

Resident Sandra Heihei says hapu members do not mind public visitors using their private road to get down to the beach, but they must stick to simple rules, such as taking away their rubbish and tying up their dogs.

A neighbour, Rod Language, who also shares part of that road, locks his gate and does not allow access. He told the Herald the beach was accessible by sea but vandals and burglaries meant he would not be unlocking the gate for protection reasons.

Not all foreshore is public domain - 12,499 privately owned parcels of land would, at least in part, be within the boundary of the foreshore. Where title applies to the foreshore, public access is not guaranteed.

It was conceivable, said Mr Finlayson, that a stretch of foreshore which had customary title attached to it (meaning Maori owned it but it must be open for public use) could then morph seamlessly into private foreshore, which the public were not entitled to do anything on.

Asked if it was a fair situation, Mr Finlayson said the Government "does not believe it can correct one injustice - such as the Foreshore and Seabed Act - by creating a new injustice against existing property holders".