A display of maps illustrating the evolution of topographical mapping in New Zealand has been mounted on the Ground Floor of the General Library. The display runs until mid-May.
The New Zealand Department of Surveys started issuing inch to the mile topographical maps as early as 1884. These remained the standard topographical maps until the NZMS 1 series commenced publication in 1939. A report in 1925 noted however that very little contoured topographical mapping had been done, although “topographical surveys are in hand, and maps will be published as the surveys are completed”. The topographical maps published in the period after 1884 were often used as base maps by the Geological Survey of New Zealand.
The first of the NZMS 1 inch to the mile sheets was published in 1939, although there was no indication on the sheet that it was part of a national map series. The Napier and Hastings sheet came about for a number of reasons. The 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake destroyed most of the survey and land title records for the Hawke’s Bay Land District. Re-establishment surveys, including triangulation and precise levelling, were undertaken between 1931 and 1936. At the same time Piet van Asch was experimenting in Hawke’s Bay with aerial photography, and in 1936 he formed the New Zealand Aerial Mapping company. That same year the Lands and Survey Department established a small photogrammetric unit (re-named in 1940 the Aerial Mapping Branch). Political and military developments in eastern Asia during the 1930s highlighted to the New Zealand Government the paucity of adequate mapping in this country. (This was not unique to New Zealand – the Australians were equally aware of the poor coverage for northern Australia).
The threat of war in the Pacific saw an acceleration of inch to the mile topographical mapping and sheet publication. Thirty-three sheets were published in 1942, a further 63 in 1943, and 35 in 1944.
The noted geographer Ken Cumberland wrote of these maps:
“Speed had priority over accuracy and completeness; and although on some sheets contouring is not carried beyond a certain elevation and sometimes the drawing and printing are rather coarse beside the more painstakingly drawn cartographic achievements of the Ordnance Survey or the United States Geological Survey, the series marks a spectacular and praiseworthy-if belated-advance over [previous] maps….
It is safe to prophesy that the recent development of geography in New Zealand as a discipline worthy of study at the university level will be strengthened and extended through the issue of these splendid sheets. In the past the geographer has had to get along without them, but in the future his work should be easier and his achievements should reach higher standards”. (Geographical Review, 1946, 36: 135-136.)
After the War map production tailed off, partly because the threat of invasion had abated, and partly because many of New Zealand’s surveyors were engaged in the War overseas. After the War the issuing of new inch to the mile maps was slow, only 18 new sheets being issued between 1946 and 1950.
In 1948 a revised Land Act recognised the Department of Lands and Survey as the official mapping organization for New Zealand. Mapping was set on a proper footing administratively, and a New Zealand Mapping Service (NZMS) series numbering system was introduced. The inch to the mile topographical series became NZMS 1. The inch to the mile coverage for the North and South Islands was completed in 1976. There was no coverage of Stewart Island at this scale.
Metrication in the 1970s saw the need for a new map series. The Land Amendment Act 1972 determined that surveying measurements from 1 January 1973 would be metric, and a New Zealand Map Grid (NZMG), derived from mathematical analysis by W. Ian Reilly, was introduced for topographic and cadastral mapping. This replaced the separate National Yard Grids for the North Island and the South Island. It was decided that this new series, which became known as NZMS 260, would be entirely redrawn, and a 25 year programme was commenced for its completion. The first sheet to be published was T12, Thames, which appeared in 1977. The first South Island sheet was K30, Punakaiki, which was issued in 1979. The final sheet to be issued in this series was B43, Dagg, in 1997, which covered part of Fiordland. Coverage was provided for the whole of New Zealand, including Stewart Island, Chatham Islands, and Auckland Island as well. The NZMS260 series was published initially by the Department of Lands and Survey, and subsequently by the Department of Survey and Land Information and then Land Information New Zealand.
In 2009 the NZMS260 series was replaced by a new Topo50 series. The most obvious change is one of appearance – whereas former maps had a landscape format, this new series has a portrait format. The Topo50 series uses the New Zealand Transverse Mercator 2000 (NZTM2000) projection. The NZMS260 series had used a different projection called the New Zealand Map Grid. This means that the point of reference for latitude and longitude and the grid coordinates of geographic features have changed. Geographic coordinates, longitude and latitude, have changed by approximately 200m, 190m in a north-south direction and 10m in an east-west direction. Grid coordinates, northings and eastings, have changed by over 550,000m in the northing and 900,000m in the easting. This difference is sufficiently large so that coordinates of the NZMS260 and Topo50 maps will not be confused.
Each Topo50 map covers slightly less area than was covered on a NZMS260 map. This means that there are 155 more maps covering New Zealand and that each individual map covers a different area than on the NZMS260 maps.