Survey of New Zealand maps: a general review


This information is taken from Sheen N146, of the 1st Series Survey of New Zealand dated 1950

In the 1st Series of the 1940’s the Surveyor General was R G Dick.

The sheet is large.

The OSNZ which here calls itself the NZS, used a transverse Mercator projection at a point of origin which is 175 degrees 30’ east and 39 degrees South.

This map shows 175 degrees exactly on the eastern edge so the datum is 1/2 a degree east of this map area.

This map is at 41 degrees and 27’ 58” south on the bottom edge so this datum is north of here by some 2 1/2 degrees.

The map is called N164, I guess that this N represents: North Island and that the others would have neen coded S followed by a sheet number.

The Grid is somewhat like a British Cassini grid in metre squares and the false datum for this New Zealand grid is 210 km west of here and 100 km south of her (bottom south west of this map). I assume that this false datum is used for North and South Islands but that latitude figure of only 100 km from the datum might suggest that the NZS is using a different datum for the two islands.

The most unusual aspect, from the point of view of an inhabitant of the Northern Hemisphere, is, of course, that the latitudes increase north to south- not decrease.

Assuming that the Meridian for Longitude is Greenwich in London/Kent, this map is, at its south easterly corner, almost exactly 5 degrees shy of the true antipodean 180 degree meridian: though that may not be the same as the Date Line.

The printer on the examined sheet was Mr R Owen of Wellington- the Government Printer.

This series was called the “1st Edition.”

There were no N sheets west or south of that examined, which showed the city of Wellington: that north was N160. That north east was N161; that due east was N165, and that south east was N168.

There was a reliability table printed on NZ surveys and this map rates A which means Aerial Photos, Ground Control and Plotting Machines.

B is Aerial photos and Plane table.

C is just a Plane table

D is Existing Survey records.

Contours are at 100 ft intervals- and the scale is One Inch to a mile so here, as in England, one has a rather curious amalgum, of metric and Imperial. The survey work is probably metric, the National NZ Grid is Metric but the altitudes and scale gloss are Imperial.

The True Origin in the Transverse Mercator Projection was indicated at 175, 30’ E Longitude and 39,00’ Latitude. But the False Datum used for co-ordinates is here expressed as 300,000 yds west and 400,000 yards to the south of that true origin.

Looking at the key to symbols one notices a few differences between this survey and an England and Wales one. One also notices differences in language: that is in the use of the English language:

Bush: a New Zealand term perhaps for woodland.

Stopbank: which might mean a dyke or a levy or embankment. Plantation: the symbol for this looks like a England &Wales Ordnance Survey symbol for an orchard: perhaps “plantation” means “orchard”.

Caves: a dot with a horizontal short line under it.

Water Race: Ditch or irrigation canal?

Swamp: Marsh?

Mining Tailings: Slag Heaps?, but this suggests a certain moving manner of excavating for ore.

Scattered Scrub: heathland?

The hydrographic symols differ as follows:

Sandhills: Dunes

Mangroves: you don’t get them on a n E&WOS map so there is no symbol.

Depression Contours: These are a very gooid feature, presumably these are below sea level and seem not to occur on E&WOS even where they should do in Cambridgeshire.

The full name for the cartographic body is:
“The Land and Survey Department of New Zealand”.


An interesting aspect of the map is the extensive use of two languages in the toponyms.

Generally the names in towns such as Wellington, and of local bays in the precincts of the city are in English or Scots. The majority of the geographical features without thye city are in a native tongue which is presumably a form of Maori used iun this part of the North Island. Maori was the majority language in this archipelago until 1860. Maori is a Polynesian language. It was classified with three dialects, South Island (extinct), Western North Island and Eastern North Island. In the south west of North island (seen on the examined sheet) the sub-dialect used “h” as a glotteral stop. This has led to the changing in spelling of some place names over the years. Toponyms in New Zealand may therefore change over cartographic history due to the current politically correct stance on a given English , Scots, Maori, or Maori dialect use.

When a Maori name is used, the explanatory suffix defaults to New Zealand English. As has been already discussed with the map key, it is useful to differentiate between Standard English and New Zealand English between which meaning and usage might shift significantly.

Examples of an NZE gloss on a Maori name are: “Oteranga Bay”, “Cape Terawhiti”.

The largest rivers tend top be Maori such as Orongorongo River, the smaller steamns tend to be English such as Cameron Creek or Thistle Steam or Catchpole.

The large coastal hills tend to be Maori such as Ohau, Te Kopahou, Waimarara. And these differ from bays and rivers as not having an explanatory affix in English. The fells of the interior (of this map tend to be named in English or Scots: White Rock Hill, Hawkins Hill, Mt Misery. The use of “Hill” and “Mountain” are markedly different from English standard or regional usage.

Very often the district names in a city are Maori such as: Karori and Hataitai in Wellington.

Of the districts of Wewllington 7 are Maori names and 6 are English Scots or perhaps even from the Indian sub-continent in the case of Berhampore.

One wonders, looking at the Maori names if they are tautologiucal : so a (for example Oteranga Head) may actually contain an element meaning promontory in the Maori which is then doubled in the explanatory English affix.

The common Maori affixes are:

Au: current

Awa: river

Iti: little

Kai: food

Mānia: plain

Manga: stream

Maunga: mountain

Moana: sea, or large inland lake

Motu: island

Nui: big

Ō: ‘of’ (a person)

One: sand, earth

Pae: ridge, range

Papa: flat

Poto: short

Puke: hill

Roa: long

Roto: lake; inside

Tai: coast, tide

Wai: water

Whanga: harbour or bay

Thus on the examined sheet map, one can see that Oteranga Bay is indeed a tautology, and Taputeranga Island is probably really the name of the bay.

Likewise Wainuiomata River seems to have a word for “river” as its prefix “Wai”- again rendering the map’s bi-lingual name tautological. This process is very common in toponyms. In England, for example, Dun Mail Raise is a triple tautology as one language replaced another. “River Avon” is another famous English example of a simple topographical tautology.

The style of a place name, its form and spelling, are determined by who is asked. Thus on the Survey of Ireland would ask local people for toponyms, but they would be a) middle class professionals: doctors, lawyers, land holders, teachers, priests, and b) anglophone. This affected the names written on the first full survey and caused a kind of anglisised Gaelic. A similar process might be observed anywhere such as here in New Zealand. The problem is that those initial surveys tend to fix toponyms “in aspic.”

It is interesting how on the examined map settlement quickly ended without the town’s limits, and much larger regions lying without the town had very few signs of human construction: Old Hut (2) Old Mine (2) Yards, Horse Track. And little else except for geographical toponyms.


It is interesting that the settlers of the area studied seemed to have had no particular nostalgia for their home villages or towns in Scotland or England; or at least none that was refected in place-names. The names are almost explusively those of people: surnames; and of the very few place names one was Gibraltar (probably from a superficial resemblance) and the other is Dorset Point (a point perhaps superficially like Portand. Eastbourne Point may have had a superficial resemblance to Beachy Head: these are places named from the sea by sailors not settlers.

One Scots toponym was seen: Kilbirnie: but generally these settlers left the British Isles behind both geographically and emotionally and this is quite unlike the pattern seen in the USA or Canada.

The South Island (excepting its north western coasdtal provinces) was extensively settled by Scots and the North Island by English. The dominence of Catholicism in centreal west North Island and north west South island might suggest Irish settlement in those places.