MapCarte 274/365: The Milford Track by Roger Smith/Geographx, 2014


Despite the almost incessant claims that print cartography is dead nothing could be farther from the truth. While we are seemingly inextricably linked to our digital mobile devices there’s something eternally useful about a paper map. The batteries never run out in the middle of nowhere. They suffer to a lesser degree in rain or bright sun. They can be crammed into your backpack…you can even damage them and not break the bank! That doesn’t mean that print cartography cannot develop.

In this example from Roger Smith, he applies his unique graphic approach to the creation of a series of maps designed to support planning as well as hill walking along some of New Zealand’s most famous and spectacular walks. Here we feature perhaps the most famous, the Milford Track, designed for outdoor use to support the need for navigation and information along the track.


Smith uses a pseudo-natural looking base map which contains a lot of textures. The usual flat depiction of terrain (e.g. a solid green fill for forested areas) gives way to textures that mimic the environment. Here, he’s providing some sort of naturalistic look that falls short of the visual clutter associated with draped satellite imagery. The fills and textures are consistent and help to demarcate different vegetation types and the colours, browns and greens and rich and earthly.

The hill shading and attention to detail gives a dark, brooding appearance and helps give a sense of awe to the magnificent landscape. If ever a map evoked an environment then this is it. The Milford track itself is prominent and depicted in bright yellow (as in ‘follow the yellowbrick road’) that contrasts well with the background. The contours are also prominent and help to show how the track rises and falls with the topography. Typography is generally printed in light colours to contrast with the background and a hint of shadow is used to lift it which works better than the somewhat standard approach of using a halo.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the map is the design of the material. It’s printed not on paper, or even tyvek…but ona water-proof, insect-proof and tear-resistant product made of crushed mineral deposits. It’s printed on crushed rock and that means you can do pretty much anything to it and it’ll survive. You can’t do that on your iPad in the middle of a 4 day hike in the middle of nowhere.