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Resources and environment

Following the successful establishment of coastal settlements, interest turned to the New Zealand interior. The search was on for gold, coal and other valuable minerals, for timber, new pastoral lands, and for overland transportation routes to link with other parts of the colony.

Missionaries, prospectors, and surveyors played a role but this story is really about the pursuit and study of natural sciences. The New Zealand Geological Survey was established in 1865. Initially under the directorship of James Hector, it spearheaded scientific research efforts in the field. It was joined by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) in 1926.

Today the interest in our physical resources and environment has widened and is spread across several scientific disciplines. Much of the responsibility for investigation, mapping, and monitoring falls to three of the crown research institutes established in 1992.
GNS Science continues the traditions of the NZGS. In 2012 it completed the QMAP project, a new 1:250,000 geological map of New Zealand, now available both online and in print. GNS Science is also responsible for the measurement of New Zealand's magnetic field, and monitoring of earthquakes, volcanic activity, and crustal deformation.

Landcare Research has a focus on environment, biodiversity and sustainability issues. It hosts the Land Resource Information System, a web interface for digital land information resources, including the New Zealand Land Resource Inventory (NZLRI), New Zealand Land Cover Database (LCDB), and S-map, a new online soil spatial information system.

The National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) also works on environment, biodiversity, and sustainability issues. It is responsible for mapping the seafloor out to the limit of New Zealand's territorial boundaries, and inshore environments to better manage freshwater and marine ecosystems. NIWA also undertakes atmospheric modelling and research into climate change.

1873 Geological sketch map of New Zealand

Surveyed by Ferdinand von Hochstetter (1829–1884) and others. Drawn by Augustus Koch (1834?–1901)
London: Ravenstein, 1873  MapColl 830caq/1873/1383
Surveyed by Ferdinand von Hochstetter (1829–1884) and others. Drawn by Augustus Koch (1834?–1901) London: Ravenstein, 1873 MapColl 830caq/1873/1383

James Hector was the Government Chief Scientist and founder of the New Zealand Geological Survey.

Hector compiled the first geological map of New Zealand in 1865, based on surveys by Ferdinand von Hochstetter (Auckland, Nelson), J Coutts Crawford (Wellington), Julius von Haast (Canterbury), and his own mapping in Otago. The 1865 map was never published but three updated versions were issued in 1869, 1873, and 1884.

The 1873 map seen here was prepared specifically for the International Vienna Exhibition in 1873 and sent to London for printing. It is arguably the finest of the four both from an aesthetic and a scientific viewpoint.

2015 South Island Geology

2015 South Island Geology map
Edbrooke SW, Forsyth PJ, Jongens R (compilers), David Heron (cartography and map design) Lower Hutt: GNS, 2015 MapColl 830caq/2015/54674

The GNS Science QMAP project was completed recently. This twenty-year project has resulted in the publication of twenty-one new 250:000 scale geological maps (plus extensive documentation) covering the entire country. QMAP project was the first national geological mapping project in the world to be designed, built, and completed using Geographic Information System (GIS) software. It is accessible in print and digital format.

This recently published print map at 1:1,000,000 is a distillation of South Island QMAP data.

Unfolding the Map

Te Ahumairangi Ground Floor of the National Library, Wellington, until October 2017

The exhibition is open for viewing from 8.30am – 4.45pm Monday – Saturday.

Related Exhibition: What's in a name?

Tiakiwai Lower Ground Floor, Wellington, until October 2017

Aotearoa New Zealand has over 50,000 place names. Names that celebrate people, describe our landscape and acknowledge our diverse cultural roots.

They are a powerful record of our history and our encounters within Aotearoa New Zealand. This exhibition looks at how places are named, what some of those names refer to, and some quirky facts about place names.

Also open for viewing 8.30am – 4.45pm Monday - Saturday

Free Public Programmes

A full programme of talks and other events is being developed to accompany the exhibitions. 

Visit our events page to see details of events.

School Visits

We offer curriculum-based learning programmes for school groups of any year level. Although bookings are required, these programmes are free of charge.

Email kate.potter@dia.govt.nz to arrange a visit.