Tips on Using “Maps Past”

In Maps as a Resource: New Zealand’s “Maps Past”, Part One and Part Two, I demonstrate ways in which the “Maps Past” website provides maps of interest to researchers. The following is a step-by-step introduction to using the website for those who might find it useful.

Step One: Go to The following (or something similar) is likely to open as the home page:

01 home page

The next two steps are aimed at getting rid of unnecessary material from the screen before zeroing in on a location of interest.

Step Two: Get rid of the “Select basemap” pop-up menus by clicking on the “x” on it (circled in black on the image below): 

02 home page base map pop up

Step Three: Remove the text material from the lefthand side of the page by clicking on “Mapvv” (partly circled in black in the image below) which is on the righthand margin at the top:

03 home page margin

This then should leave you with a map of New Zealand  and seven icons at the left top of the page:

04 home page simple

The seven icons are:

05 icons

From left to right:

White plus and minus signs on blue background = Zoom in/Zoom out.

Three layers icon = “Select basemap” = Brings up list of 14 options, most of them decades.

Cog icon = “Map options, Coordinate format” = Brings up list of 11 options.

White i in blue circle = “Show mapsheet details for current series when you click on the map”.

Clipboard list with white i in blue circle on bottom right corner = “List all available mapsheets at point you click on the map”.

Magnifying glass with three arrows = “Zoom to extent of current mapsheet/series”.

Two chain links = “Show URL of currently displayed map”.

Below I will discuss the use of four of these icons – the first, second, fourth and fifth. I have found that I can achieve what I want through using these four. 

Step Four: Use the “Zoom in” icon (white plus sign on blue background at top left of screen) to zoom in to the location you want to examine. You are likely to also need to move the map to bring your intended location to the centre of the screen – move the cursor to somewhere on the screen, click and hold, then move the cursor – this will move the map. I have chosen to zoom in on Riverton at the bottom of the South Island (see below). At the bottom right hand of the screen are some figures, the scale of the map on screen, the map sheet or series, and co-ordinates of the cursor. In this case, for example, there is “Scale = 1 : 27K” (27K = 27000) and “NZTM2000” map series. This information may or may not ever be of use to you.

06 Riverton11


Step Five: Once you have zoomed in to the location you want, at the scale or level of detail you want, you can then click on the “Select basemap” icon (three layers icon) at the top left to choose which map you want to see.


07 Riverton select basemap start1111

I decided to try to find the earliest map. I clicked on the fourth last map “NZMS13 1899”. The list then disappeared and the screen went blank. This means such a map does not exist. I clicked again on the “Select basemap” icon to bring the list of maps up again, and clicked on “NZMS13 1909”. Same blank result. When I next clicked on “NZMS13 1919”, the following map came up:

08 Riverton 1919

 The 1929 map was the same. The 1949 map was not at a good level of detail:

09 Riverton 1949

But the 1959 map was a good one:

10 Riverton 1959

And we could go on, choosing more recent maps or the air photo…

Step Six: Finding out what maps are available for the location. To do this, you click on the icon of a clipboard list with white i in blue circle on bottom right corner – this is to “List all available mapsheets at point you click on the map”. This icon turns green when you click on it. You then click on a point on the map and a popup list appears which you can scroll down. This lists all maps that have been published or are available for this location. 

11 Riverton map series avail

The earliest map listed for Riverton is Series: NZMS13 Sheet: SD58, Printed: 1910. This will be why no map came up earlier for 1909 but one came up for 1919 when I was using the  “Select basemap” icon. 

Step Seven: Finding out which map you are viewing. When a map is on the screen, you can use the icon of the white i in blue circle = “Show mapsheet details for current series when you click on the map”.

12 Riverton map being viewed


This icon also turns green when you click on it. You then click on a point on the map and a popup list appears which identifies the map that is being shown. In the case above, the 1910 map is identified even though the map came onto the screen originally when I was using the “Select basemap” icon and had chosen “NZMS13 1919” from its menu list. In other words, the decade menu list that appears when you click the  “Select basemap” icon does not mean that the map that comes up was published the year shown (1919 in this case) but it may have been earlier (1910 in this case).

It was the use of these steps that helped me obtain the material discussed in the Posts Maps as a Resource: New Zealand’s “Maps Past”, Part One and Part Two, and which has proved useful in my local history and family research.

Maps as a Resource: New Zealand’s “Maps Past”, Part One

Over the past few months, I have been doing some research on the district in which I grew up, around Waikaka in Southland, and on the members of my family who first settled there in the 1870s and their involvement in farming and gold dredging. This is an area I return to from time to time, and from which I collect stones. Recently I have been seeing what is available online in terms of historical maps. One very useful website I have discovered is “Maps Past” which, oddly enough, does not have a page giving details of who has produced the site.

The opening page of “Maps Past” presents a map of New Zealand, and it is possible to zoom into any particular part of the country. Then you are able to click on different dates (set as decades, starting at 1899 with only 1939 not available) and bring up maps from that time of the area on your screen. Sometimes as you go from one decade to another, the same map will be presented, depending on when new maps were constructed. I will illustrate this by showing the different maps available for Waikaka and the area to the south which includes “The Mains”, the farm on which I grew up. 

There are nine different maps that are available for the Waikaka area, one of which is a recent aerial photo. The following are thumbnails that will expand when clicked on (there is a “View full size” underneath the expanded image in the viewer – you may need to scroll down to see it):

This first part of this Topic will deal with the first four of these maps. The other five are dealt with in Maps as a Resource: New Zealand’s “Maps Past”, Part Two. Note that the following map images are not expandable – use the thumbnail above for a more detailed view of any of the maps.

The first map is for the decade ending in 1899. It is actually from a map of the Chatton Survey District published in 1888:

001 - NZMS13 1899

It is interesting to note the areas around Waikaka designated as “Auriferous Reserve” and “Gold Reserve”, and the area of dots to the southeast of the town labelled “GOLD WORKINGS” (though it is very difficult to see this label). Gold had been discovered near Waikaka in 1867 and the following 60 years saw various phases of panning, mining, sluicing and dredging. Section 30 of Block 3, located directly south of Waikaka, just below the centre of the map, was bought in April 1876 by Hugh Paterson, my great-great-grandfather. This was the beginnings of “The Mains” farm.

The second map is for the decade ending in 1929. It is actually from a map of the Chatton Survey District published in 1929:

002 - NZMS13 1929

One noticeable addition to the map is the Waikaka Branch Railway, constructed in 1907 and 1908 to provide faster transport of agricultural produce to markets. It was the last of the branch lines authorised in northern Southland. In “Waikaka Saga” (1962), Evans refers to James Paterson, my great-grandfather, as one of the “well-known characters” (page 191) on the train, one of the local land-owners who traveled to Gore (about 25 kms away) on Saturdays to do business. “All of these men were intensely interested in politics, religion, world affairs, agriculture, and so on. Even before the train had pulled out of Waikaka station, the argument had started and they had forgotten to buy their tickets, and so scrambled on at the last moment…[They] used to have great arguments and discussions on the train, so much so that it became quite an institution.” The railway line ran through “The Mains”, with the Pullar Railway Station (Siding) located just on the southern boundary of the farm. It is reported in the Mataura Ensign on 27 July 1909 that James Paterson was given 50 acres of the Waikaka Commonage (mining reserve) to compensate for part of The Mains being cut off from access to water. Due to competition from roading, the Waikaka Branch Railway closed on 9 September 1962 (Wikipedia). 

In the middle of “The Mains” was a rail bridge across the “Waikaka Stream”. Soon after the line opened, Leonard Paterson, my grandfather, traveled to high school in Gore by train which would slow down by this bridge so he could hop on (“Paterson Family Reunion 2002”, page 24). He was also a passenger on the final train from Waikaka in 1962, standing sixth from the right in the photo below, his wife Annie to his right. They had retired to live in Gore in 1957.

school centennial p71 last train
Source: “Waikaka and District Schools Centennial 1883-1983 Pictorial”, page 71

The third map is for the decade ending in 1959. It is actually from a map of the NZMS1 series published in 1946, the S161 “Heriot” Sheet. This is a topographic map, showing relief, using contour lines, whereas the previous two are land survey maps primarily concerned to present farm land boundaries. 

003 - NZMS1 1959

This is the same map with the approximate boundary (in black) of “The Mains”:

003 - NZMS1 1959 - Copy

Note that the road running east of the boundary of “The Mains” is called “Turnbulls Road” (after a prominent family) . In later maps this becomes “Turnbull Road”. Note also that “Tailings” are indicated in “The Mains” to the left of the railway line. Elsewhere on the map is reference to “Workings” and “Old Workings”.  These are old gold dredge tailings and sluicing areas. Most of the flat land along the west and east branches of the Waikaka Stream as far south as McNab (21 kms) was heavily dredged between 1896 and 1926. As reported in an entry on “Gold-Dredging in the Waikaka Valley” in “The New Zealand Mining Handbook” of 1906, “By means of a separating-box soil and sand are distributed over the tailings, which are left perfectly level, and when sown with clover and grass yield excellent grazing” (page 198).  In “Golden Reflections: A History of Waikaka Valley” (1992), J.F. McArthur reports: “Dredging operations disturbed the whole valley floor, which was completely turned over to the depth of 12 to 14 feet [3.7 to 4.3 metres]” (page 366). He refers to how the dredges lifted the top soil of the area about to be dredged and placed it, using an extended chute, over the area previously dredged (page 367). It has been claimed that much swampy land was improved considerably by gold dredging. Certainly I remember the tailings on “The Mains”, although prone to drying out in summer, provided great free-draining winter grazing and grew excellent lucerne (alfalfa). 

The fourth map is for the decade ending in 1969. The “Maps Past” website indicates this is based on the NZMS1 series “Heriot” Sheet published in 1957, again a topographic map:004 - NZMS1 1969

However, only parts of the railway line are indicated even though it was not removed until after 1962, when I remember my father dismantling the section that ran through “The Mains”. Maybe this is actually based on a later map. A new “Old Workings” label appears on the map to the south of “The Mains” boundary. These old gold dredge ponds on the Waikaka Stream existed even prior to the previous map.  I used to fish for trout there often as a boy, and we called it Turnbull’s Dam as it is located on Turnbull’s farm (even though it is a couple of ponds through which the river flows rather than a dam). It is interesting to note on this map that the road in the south-east corner is called “Sandy Knowes Road”. On later maps this becomes  the “Kelso Maitland Road” before becoming “Glenkenich Road”. Meanwhile, the road in the north-east is on this map called the “Waikaka Kelso Road” (the “Kelso” part can’t be read on this segment) and on the next map is called “Sandy Knowes Road”. (On all maps, “Garden Gully Road” connects these two roads.) There is potential confusion here for local historians when local people or documents refer to Sandy Knowes.

This Topic is continued in Maps as a Resource: New Zealand’s “Maps Past”, Part Two, where the next five maps are discussed. Another Post sets out Tips on Using “Maps Past” to assist you if you are not sure what to do to get started in using the website.