The National Library has one of the few specialist map collections in New Zealand. Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull’s own collection of early maps of New Zealand and the South Pacific by settlers, sailors, missionaries and government surveyors formed the foundation of the collection.
The collection steadily grew from 11,000 items in 1972 when the Library gained legal deposit status, and now has around 82,000, including digital static images of maps. While the majority are published maps, manuscript maps are a particular rich and significant part of the collection, and number about 16,000.
At core of the collection are maps of New Zealand, the South Pacific and Antarctica. To support study into the history of cartography and to understand the development of cartography of New Zealand, the library also holds a selection of cartographic materials and reference works produced in or about other countries, especially countries that have been influential in cartography.
The collection contains cartographic materials from a wide range of genres and subject areas such as:
- Maps relating to Māori
- Exploration, discovery and charting
- Town planning, Surveying and Cadastre
- Subdivision and Real-estate plans
- Topographic and Aerial photographs
- Electoral and Census
- Hydrographic and Bathymetric
- Geology, Land use, Metrological and Climate
- Military maps
- Recreation, Tourist and Road maps
- Pacific maps
- History of cartography
- Maps of the world and from other countries
Searching the catalogues for maps
Because the Cartographic Collection has both published and unpublished maps, the best place to start your search is the advanced search engine (with the Cartographic Collection selected).
Most materials in this collection can be requested and viewed in the library's first floor reading room in Wellington. If you have any enquiries you can contact us via Ask-a-Librarian, for other contact details go to the library’s Contact us page.
Digital images of maps
The library has approximately 24,000 digital images of maps available.
You can request copies of maps from the Cartographic Collection and you can take your own photographs of maps if visiting the library. Maps from the Cartographic Collection are not photocopied however so you will need to order high-resolution digital photographs: see our page about Making copies.
Please note that where necessary, you will need to obtain copyright approval in writing from the copyright owner before copying can start. Talk to our staff to see how we can help with making copies and contacting copyright owners.
Concept of cartography for the purposes of forming the Cartographic Collection
Cartography is the art, science and technology used in the process of making graphic representations of geographic information. For the purposes of selecting for the Turnbull's Cartographic Collection, the key features of cartographic materials are that information has a geographic location and is usually depicted graphically. Such representations may be created as plans of towns, settlements, maps, charts, atlases, aerial and remote sensing photographs or images, globes and digital spatial data.
There are obvious overlaps with materials in other collections within the Turnbull Library, and there are many cartographic materials held within other collections or are part of other documents. When doing a comprehensive search for maps in the Turnbull Library collections, it is always worth doing a keyword topic search and including such terms as “map”, “plan”, “sketch” and “view”. Learn more about the Library’s Cartographic Collecting Plan 2016-2018.
You’ll find more documentary heritage relating to maps in other Turnbull Library collections, including:
Access to the Cartographic Collection during the building redevelopment
- Most original materials in this collection are available from the Reading Rooms.
About half the maps in the collection are described online and some can be seen online as digital images. Zoom functionality enables maps to be seen at full original size.
Maps in other collections
Gazetteers, place-name indexes, aerial photographs and architectural plans are held in other sections of the Library.
You can also access copies of some historical maps held at Land Information New Zealand and Archives New Zealand in our map reading room.
History of the Cartographic Collection
Alexander Turnbull’s own collection of early maps by settlers, sailors, missionaries and government surveyors forms the basis of the collection. The first map curator was appointed in the 1960s. In 1972, when the Library gained legal deposit status, there were about 11,000 items. The collection continues to grow through purchase and donation.
Get copies of items in this collection
You can order colour or black and white copies of most maps, if copying doesn’t harm the original or breach copyright.
We provide photocopies, aperture cards (microfilm printouts), low and high resolution scans (any size), laser copies (to A3 size) and inkjet prints (to A2 size).
Copying maps with a personal digital camera is also permitted in most cases.