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Topo50 anomolies

The last couple of days has seen some unusual news whereby the chief guide of the Manawatu Tramping and Skiing Club [1] has been pointing out that some of the new Topo50 maps [2] are wrong, following a trip they had in the Ruahines. In particular, the maps included incorrectly marked or missing tracks, and such.

The story was first penned in The Manawatu Standard [3], and it’s since been picked up by Morning Report on National Radio (streaming available in your choice of [Windows Media Player [4]], [MP3 [5]] or [Ogg Vorbis [6]] depending on your preference).

I don’t know what the errors are, and perhaps they’re especially bad. On the other hand, I wonder if the fact that the Topo50 series maps have errors means that they’re any worse than the 260 series. It’s hard to tell for sure without more information. It’s in everyone’s interests to have maps that are correct, but it’s common for NZ topo maps to have errors here and there, and sometimes it’s just necessary to accept this. The only way to really be sure about a region, short of asking someone trustworthy or going out with them, is to be prepared for anything, look at the landscape, be in a frame of mind to change plans if necessary and then learn about an area from experience.

I vaguely remember something from a while back (but can’t find a reference) in preparing Topo50, whereby LINZ was convinced to include older tracks and emergency routes that had been removed from some of the more recent 260 series maps. Prior to that there had been discussions about removing even more tracks from the map, but there was an outcry to the best of my recollection. We discussed this in our tramping triangle at work today, and someone suggested that perhaps the false or missing tracks are old tracks that were shown on older maps of the region, and have since been put back in the new Topo50 series.

The strength of topo maps (at least in New Zealand) has never really been about tracks, it’s terrain and topography. Keeping track of tracks and routes is a difficult thing to do, because they’re often difficult to see from the air, especially under trees. They change frequently, often without any official influence. People will sometimes go out expecting to find a good track or poled route based on a map, and find something quite different, but this isn’t something unusual with earlier maps and I’m not sure why it should be different with Topo50 maps. If you happen to go out expecting to find a track, but there isn’t a track, then clearly the map’s wrong. All it does it change the rules a little. it may make sense to continue depending on things like circumstances, experience, conditions and knowledge of the rest of the environment. If you happen to be not terribly confident with continuing, though, the obvious thing to do is something different. In other words, do what it takes to get back into whatever your comfort zone happens to be.

This may mean returning to where there was a track, and going back the way you came to return another day, or stopping and finding a safe place to camp for the night (unless you’re a victim of The Hut Fallacy [7]) to consider things properly with a clear head in the morning. I guess this whole philosophy implies some kind of good judgement, which isn’t always present and not because people are irresponsible. Sometimes people just have bad days, or groups make strange decisions that individuals might never make alone. I don’t know exactly what to do about this because there have forever been people getting into trouble for these reasons and most likely there will be in the future, irrespective of improvements to track details on maps.

Some good news with the switch to Topo50 is that changes and updates are likely to get into the mapping system much more rapidly. With its overhaul of mapping systems, LINZ also completely changed the way it publishes maps. Pre-processing is now all done in-house, such that LINZ can now run off a new map edition soon after updating their system. It won’t take existing maps with errors off the shelves, but it could mean that new orders from retailers sent to replace them have corrections. Previously, new editions only came out every decade or so, and each map had to be manually re-plotted and carefully examined (which is why some maps had inconsistent shadings), and was probably pre-printed in large numbers.

Hopefully the ability to correct maps more quickly will also lead to more people submitting corrections. There are enough people out tramping with good GPS devices these days that getting accurate positions of the tracks is becoming much easier, as long as you can trust the person providing the data, and trusting the data may be the most difficult part. For instance, I’m now trying to digitally track every time I go out for a walk, but just because my GPS has been somewhere doesn’t mean it’s a track. My GPS stops and starts, it takes short-cuts, it ventures off-track to look at interesting things, and sometimes it just leaves the track completely because there is no formed track to wherever my GPS wants to go. When I return, I don’t always have a reliable memory of exactly when I was and wasn’t on a track, or the standard of that track, but then that’s not my main motivation for digitally recording where I’ve been. I guess time will tell.

2 Comments (Open | Close)

2 Comments To "Topo50 anomolies"

#1 Comment By Robb On 4 March, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

Kia ora Mike,
No one should head into NZ back country on only the basis of having a map to go by. Like any preparations, planning, and gathering of gear, it does not take much to ring DOC, or stop in, or find someone well traveled in a particular area, and simply inquire as to conditions or changes to tracks, routes, ect.
Having written that and read the article highlighting the mistakes, it can no doubt be misleading to the unwary user to think that ahead lies a track, when there is not, or a track (route) marked as maintained is not. Again, individuals have to take responsibility, but there is no reason to send poeple into the bush with two strikes against them, as I see it. Some of the errors, in my view, are not of particular concern. For example the route off the ridge on Parks Peak down to Barlow NOT being included. Well not such a big deal really. For years there was an orange marker the only identifier of what was then a very rough track down, now there is a sign there I believe. My point being it is not going to interupt anyones plans other than discovering a track down to the river far before Parks Peak hut.
There is also reference to a track from Iron Gate to Triangle going up into the bush, then down to the river and up to Triangle being incorrect. I have to write that is actually very correct. One goes upriver to the first creek, then up a marked rough track up, then up and over a steep spur back down to the river. Then up river 20 minutes or so to Triangle. Up river all the way takes one into gorge territory I would not want to get into, and reporting a track that is correct as being wrong is also not good information sharing.
Two possible errors that would concern me is a track in the Ikwatea area as being maintained when it is not, and has not been in years. That is perhaps some of the more remote and rough areas in the park, very bluffy, and the river with a few very large water falls. Going into such terrain thinking one will find a track, and not, and perhaps not having the skills, or equipment to cope is danger. Again I know people should be responsible for such things, but we know at times they simply are not.
The other big concern I see is calling the route from Sunrise to Top Maropea a track. It is not a track. My concern there is the many many groups of school, clubs, tourists, ect, that tramp up to Sunrise and generally venture no further. Looking on a map and seeing a nice solid line leading from Sunrise to Top Maropea I feel could easily lead to a false sense of security. To be sure, on a nice day it would present little problem, and be one of the most enjoyable hour plus high walks in the Ruahine, if not the North Island. But as someone who has crossed that saddle 30 plus times I know that rare days are fine there, and on the wrong day visibility can be zero, and the wind deadly. Many times I have waited it out an extra day at Top Maropea to cross the saddle, or vice versa at Sunrise.
In any case, best to get the maps corrected as quickly as is possible. Myself, well when I get back to it, I have many old haunts to visit and I think my old maps here will serve well for a bit yet. But if I were to venture into new terrain I will get a new map, check with DOC, and most important find out from either people I know whom have been there, or can direct to me someone, and get the real dope as it were. Happy tramping Mike.

#2 Comment By Mike McGavin On 9 March, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

Hi Robb. Thanks for the local knowledge and good points. In the back of my mind I’m hoping that the new systems LINZ has will make it much easier to create updated maps on a whim.

I guess I am now coming to wonder if they are very bad errors given what you’ve said and what I’ve heard and having let the thoughts roll over a few times in my head. I notice on Stuff that today’s Manawatu Standard [14] where one of the Manawatu Tramping & Skiing Club (I wish they’d call it by its correct name) members believes a SAR operation 6 weeks ago was directly related to a map error.

As a side thing, it’s interesting to read the final line in that article, which notes that LINZ has an arrangement with DOC to have DOC review new map editions prior to publication. This could be good as long as DOC has qualified staff on hand to comment, but I also hope it doesn’t lead to situations where DOC asks for legitimately represented features to be removed, such as structures they’d prefer people didn’t know were there, which has been a tendency of some circles in DOC in the past. Ideally the LINZ maps should be as accurate a representation as possible, or otherwise where do you draw the line with people complaining about features and roads being shown on their private property?