Topo Maps


If you’ve ever walked or hiked anywhere of any consequence you will already know the value of topo maps, wikipedia defines a topographic map as “a type of map characterized by large-scale detail and quantitative representation of relief, using contour lines…” They are a little bit like using Google Street Maps to find a specific shop, but are more likely for when you are a long way from any actual shops, or roads for that matter…

I used Google Earth a LOT when doing virtual recces for my time on Shodoshima (as per the screenshots above) but when doing recces for shoots in New Zealand I discovered this excellent site: which as the name suggests provides high resolution, zoomable topographic maps of all of this beautiful country I live in & love. I’ve used that site for a year or so, but I just discovered a fantastic new feature, which motivated this post…

Websites are all well & good, but most places I want to go shooting or recording are remote, as far away from human activity as possible (at the time) so while virtual TopoMaps are a great idea, they would fall over at the first hurdle of no cell phone coverage… Except they aren’t stupid – I’m not sure who funds the site but they allow you to download the TopoMaps to your device: check the little pop up menu that is available when you zoom in suitably close:


So if you were planning a hike to anywhere in New Zealand, you can happily download a high resolution TIFF image of the Topo Map, free of charge! Brilliant, thank you… but wait it gets better!

I’m not sure what a Georeferenced TIFF is, I know Garmin make car navi systems & I dont own one so that doesn’t matter, but hang on: a Google Earth overlay? for real??? As I posted in an earlier Detritus, Google Earth Pro is now free (go here) and I’ve been using it lots…. But how does it work with these Topo Maps?

There’s only one way to find out, I am headed back to the Waitakere Ranges soon for a month of shooting & recording so I have been spending lots of time with Google Earth Pro investigating locations etc but it relies on standard low rez mapping and satellite photos (the latter often are thwarted by New Zealands original name Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud… long white clouds that like to block satellite photos)

As usual I figure if something is well designed I shouldn’t need to read the manual, so I go download the eight or so Topo maps that cover the Waitakere Ranges, I boot up Google Earth Pro & drag & drop all the KMZ files from TopoMaps onto Google Earth & wait…


Wow, look at the little grid forming as each of Topo Maps I downloaded gets mapped into Google Earth as layers… It slowly renders, and in I zoom…


You can see where the Topo map starts & ends, as Google Earths normal layers are revealed underneath…. but look at all the phenomenally useful detail available thanks to the new Topo map layer!! Awesome – now I can actually plan on what access to some locations will involve (i.e. how much sweat vs how much gear I can carry etc)

I used to think those wireframe 3D building layers in Google Earth were cool, but this is much better AND much more useful… Thanks TopoMaps for being so open & collaborative!!!




UPDATE (after actually reading the info on the Topomaps site)

Mobile: Visit on your mobile device to view a mobile optimised version of NZ Topo Map.

There’s also an app available for Windows Phone allowing topos to be used offline: NZ Topo Map for Windows Phone

NZ Topo Map is an interactive topographic map of New Zealand using the official LINZ’s 1:50,000 / Topo50 and 1:250,000 / Topo250 maps.

There’s an ongoing cost associated with providing this free service. If you’re feeling generous and want to sponsor the service any donation is greatly appreciated.

Click here to lend your support to NZ Topo Map and make a donation at!

Purchasing advertising space is another way you can sponsor this service.

The service has a strong NZ outdoors focused user base interested in activities such as tramping, hunting, fishing, climbing, mountaineering, 4wd’ing and kayaking. The 468 × 60 map ad is available for NZ$20 +GST CPM ($100 minimum order). Please use the contact form to make an enquiry.


2 Responses to Topo Maps

  1. John says:

    a Georeferenced TIFF is used in mapping software such as OziExplorer or mudmap (for iPad). It allows for moving map display in vehicles. I use them a lot when driving in the desert regions of South Australia

  2. John says:

    In OziExplorer for example, there is an accompanying text file (for each tiff) that list coordinates in the tiff (usualy xy pixel positions) and it’s corrosponding lat/long equivilant.

    I’ll often calibrate a tiff file given to me by the company I’m driving for of an area using know locations in the image with corrosponding lat/long positions.

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