Geospatial Case Study: Recreational users and landholders on the same path

Geospatial information and technology enables New Zealand to enhance access to its great outdoors.


Hiking image

Before the launch of the Walking Access Mapping System (WAMS) in 2011, many people interested in outdoor recreation were concerned about the lack of information telling them where they could and could not go. Useful information about public land and private land was not readily available.

The New Zealand Walking Access Commission resolved this by using GIS technology and data from government and private sector sources to develop a free-to-use national online mapping system that identifies publicly accessible land and its boundaries. WAMS  plays a central role in ensuring the Commission fulfils its statutory function of compiling, holding, and publishing maps and information about land over which members of the public have walking access.

It’s a two-way street

WAMS combines detailed topographical maps, high quality aerial photography and New Zealand cadastral boundary information to make it easy for the public to identify publicly accessible land such as Crown-owned land, marginal strips, esplanade reserves and unformed legal roads. It plays an important role in helping the Commission to provide leadership on access, resolve access disputes and respond to public enquiries.

Questions about access and requests for assistance to resolve access disputes can be lodged directly through an automated form on the system for investigation by the Commission. Ready access to geospatial information about areas in question makes dispute resolutions faster and easier for all involved.  Both desktop and mobile versions of the system are available.

The unique use of geospatial information on WAMS also helps to inform decision-making and trip planning for users, from the overseas visitor eager to find the perfect fly-fishing spot to sea kayakers seeking an idyllic place to stop for lunch. This will only improve over time as the Commission continues to build a network of data suppliers that upload and administer other useful outdoor access-related information on the mapping system for public view. Data supplied by other organisations includes Department of Conservation tracks and campsites, Fish & Game New Zealand river access points, and tracks and walks from local government.

Location, location, communication

The Commission’s role is to ensure free, certain, enduring and practical walking access to the outdoors is enhanced in New Zealand and our country’s access culture and heritage is strengthened.

Walking for enjoyment is one of the most popular recreational activities in New Zealand creating economic, social and environmental benefits through tourism, sport, community, educational and other activities.

The public is looking for easy to use, timely, accurate and reliable geospatial information and WAMS is the ideal means of doing so. People can share and print maps with layers of geospatial data designed specifically for their needs (e.g. route planning, highlighting points of interest, calculating areas and distances). WAMS gives users a greater awareness of their environment by accessing high quality, accurate, national cadastral, aerial and topographic information.

WAMS enables the public to obtain this information at no cost, when it suits them. They are able to easily identify public land and its boundaries, removing ambiguity about legal entitlements.

WAMS gets top marks

WAMS is the New Zealand Walking Access Commission’s most visible product and is visited by more than 110,000 people per year. It has grown steadily in popularity since its launch in July 2011. Enhancements in 2012 included a mobile-friendly version, an improved user interface, and functionality allowing other organisations to upload and administer their own access-related information on the system.

A survey of WAMS users in 2013 found that 98% of respondents believed the information on the system was useful and 93% said they would recommend it to others. Nine out of ten people said the system was easy to use.

What’s next?

The Commission will continue developing WAMS to ensure it remains the authoritative source of data on land over which the public has walking access.

The GIS environment has evolved considerably in the time since the mapping system was launched and there are now many other mapping information suppliers. Rather than duplicating their work, the Commission will focus on maintaining and improving the system’s public access areas information to ensure that Crown land, legal roads, marginal strips, esplanade reserves, conservation land and other public access reserves are displayed in an accurate and consistent fashion.

The Commission has released its mapping information showing publicly accessible land across the country to website and app developers under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Fish & Game New Zealand was the first organisation to make use of this and is now using public access mapping information from the WAMS website on its own web maps to show angler and hunter access points around the country.

By releasing its mapping data publicly, the Commission is improving access to government data for the public and business, in line with the Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017, the New Zealand Geospatial Strategy and the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government.

Project summary

Project Walking
Access Mapping System


New Zealand Walking Access Commission


Project objective
Using GIS technology, government and private sector data sources to provide a free online mapping system that identifies publicly accessible land and allows the public to submit inquiries

Fast facts

Project duration: 8 months

Completed: 21/07/2011

Project steering group: Recreational and landholder representatives

Information providers:
LINZ Data Service and Terralink aerial photography

Technology: ESRI ArcGIS