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The view from the Top

The view from the Top

3 October 2022

Trig 1427 Maungatautari

For many years keen trampers and hikers have trekked to the summit of Maungatautari and carved their names on the trig beacon at the top or rested on it as they enjoyed a drink or a snack.  Prior to the predator fence being erected it was a one and a half hour tramp from the end of Hicks Road, or a day trip from Tari Road via the over-the-mountain track.  In the 1970s the bush cover was more limited around the trig and a visitor could look out to Karioi to the west, Taupiri to the northwest, Te Aroha to the north, Te Weraiti on the Kaimais to the north east and Ngongataha to the east.  There were trig beacons on all these peaks.  In earlier times, trig stations on peaks to the south could also be observed.  All these lines had been observed in the national geodetic survey completed in this area between 1930 and 1949.

My first contact with Trig 1427 Maungatautari was in 1976 when, as a recently qualified surveyor, I was involved in an earth deformation survey stretching from Raglan to GisborneThe proposal was to precisely re-measure angles and distances over sections of the existing trig network to determine overall horizontal and vertical movement of portions of New Zealand since the geodetic survey had been completed, and also to provide a more accurate base for a comparative survey ten years in the future.  A Wild T3 theodolite weighing 12kg and a Geodimeter 8 laser distance meter weighing 26kg were used and together with 12V car batteries and camping equipment had to be carried to the trig stations for overnight observing.  In latter years the first iterations of GPS technology appeared so that the laborious task of triangulation observation was replaced by GPS techniques.

The first task on the 1976 project was to upgrade all the trig station beacons and station marks and to clear lines to the points to be observed.  My first visits to Maungatautari trig involved the removal of the existing beacon, placing new piles for the new beacon and replacing the ground mark with a new trig tube and concreting it in place.  Once this work was done a limited helicopter budget allowed us to build the new beacon at the end of Hicks Road and have it flown up to the trig position.  I subsequently spent a number of nights on the summit observing angles and distances and carting a lot of gear up and down the track from Hicks Road.

After 1976, the bush grew further around the trig, and the beacon slowly deteriorated until the Maungatautari GOFA team, of which I am now a member, took to it with a chainsaw and removed it to allow radio infrastructure equipment to be placed on the site.  This took place between 2014 when my daughter and I walked the over-the-mountain track and 2016 when Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) last visited the site.  I should point out that the beacon removal was approved by Land Information New Zealand as the trig beacon was bushed out and no longer visible for survey use.  The trig station, which is the iron mark found beneath the beacon was left undisturbed as required by LINZ.

So, what of the history of the Trig station.  I knew the beacon had been replaced in 1976, and I knew the mark was in the same position as that used in the 1949 Geodetic surveys. But I decided to find out more.  I was also aware that the geodetic survey used old trig stations wherever possible and that an earlier, less accurate triangulation had taken place throughout the Waikato by the mid 1880s.  Maungatautari trig would have been an obvious station to have been included as it had such extensive sightlines in all directions.  Shamefully my predecessor surveyors would not have balked at clearing a hilltop of bush to achieve these sightlines.  I tried to locate plans of the earlier triangulations but failed.  A lot of old government data has gone to storage facilities and is not well indexed and hard to find.  Also, a lot of survey data and field books to prior to 1875 were destroyed in a fire in the Auckland Survey Office in 1875.  However a search by a colleague of the “Papers Past” website uncovered an item in the Thames Advertiser of 15 September 1887 which reported as follows:

“In the latter end of 1864, and as far as our memory serves us it would be in the month of November of that year, the late Mr Maudesley, surveyor, was appointed by Government to erect a trig station on Maungatautari.  … … The old Maori track from Cambridge was, as a matter of course, used by Maudesley and party till the Aukati line was reached and then they had to take to the bush.”

Note that an Autaki line was a boundary determined by the Kingitanga movement during the Maori Wars as a line that should not be crossed.

As this article was written in 1887 and was a recollection, I hunted further and found a letter to the Daily Southern Cross newspaper of 13 December 1864 from a Cambridge correspondent who reported, amongst other things, that:

“A report is going the round here that a native war flag is to be seen from the Maungatautari redoubt, and as this report may be sent to town I may well mention that the flag is one put up by the surveyors, and not a real Maori one.   So, the men at the redoubt were not aware of the surveyors being so far inland as the place where the flag is to be seen.”

I have found a map from 1864 showing a Maori Redoubt on the north eastern flanks of Maungatautari and an English Redoubt further north on the banks of the Waikato from where the summit of Maungatautari would have been visible.

So, there is no definite proof that the Trig established by Maudesley is the same point as the current position of Maungatautari, but as surveyors like to use existing points where possible I would like to think the points are the same or very close.

I had not previously been aware of Mr Maudesley in old survey records but Papers Plus came to the rescue again.    The New Zealand Herald of 1 September 1865 reports:

“SUPREME COURT. – The September sessions of the Supreme Court commence this day.   There are nearly 50 prisoners for trial.  The following are there names, ages and offences:- … … Walden Maudsley, 38, surveyor, unlawfully shooting at two Natives…”.

My final professional visit to Maungatautari Trig was at the end of winter in 1976 when we were mopping up final observations on the EDS scheme.  During the day, staff had placed observing lights on trig stations to allow overnight angular observations from Te Weraiti on the Kaimai Ranges.  A colleague and I were carrying out distance measurements from the summit of Te Aroha.  These involved a set of measurements starting at dusk and another set at dawn.  We had completed our evening measurements by about 9pm when we had a request from the observers on Te Weraiti asking us to pop across to Sanatorium Hill as the light there was too bright to allow good observations.  We secured our equipment on Te Aroha and drove to Sanatorium Hill and dipped the light.  The observers then radioed us with the news that the light on Maungatautari was dim and getting dimmer.  So, we drove to Hicks Road, climbed to the summit and found the batteries to the light had been wrongly wired and had burnt out by the time we arrived.  We climbed the trig and rigged up a satisfactory light with our torch batteries while the observing party completed their work.  Once they were finished at about 2am, we climbed back down the Maunga in the dark and drove back to the summit of Te Aroha where we arrived just in time to commence our dawn observations.

I still smile when people suggest that life was easy in the Public Service!

Mark Smith


The remaining Trig Station Mark in 2022         


A portion of the 1864 Military map.