Topo Maps

Then and Now

Topographic maps- systemical mapping of our cities, terrain and bushlands by government agencies every year reveal how much our places have changed over those years. These maps are mostly used for specific functions, eg. surveying, hiking, yet it is still very easy for general public to appreciate them like normal maps, and go on a journey of compare and contrast.

Sydney and Surroundings

The NSW government publishes topo maps of the state in varying scales. The eastern coast gets more precise mapping and the far west gets less. The maps are mostly printed on demand these days, yet some common ones (around blue mtns) are still easily purchasable from hiking gear shops. 

A whole stack of decades old map, some dating back to the 1980s were found in a massive clean-up, giving a great chance to dive back into history.

Topo maps (1980s)

Katoomba: The suburban sprawl is slightly larger but urban boundaries remain mostly the same.

Lithgow: A lot of old mines in this area. Blue Mountains has a coal storage and while mining activities have ceased, subsidence is still an issue and is constantly monitored. Some of our cool attractions (eg. the inclined railway in scenic world, Katoomba) were used for transporting coal back then.

Includes a bit of Clarence. Glowworm Tunnels Rd, Old Bell's Line of Rd are dirt roads linking up to Newnes visible on top of the map. Old Bell's Line of Rd starts at the top of zig zag railway, where trains used to descend near Newnes Junction (bottom right). Now the Main Western Rwy takes a smoother alignment through the Ten Tunnels Deviation round Clarence and down to Lithgow (this is also probably the most scenic part of Blue Mountains Line. Lithgow is served by intercity trains in 2 hours interval, plus several XPT trains).

On the other side: Great Western Hwy heads slightly north and towards Bathurst. Castlereagh Hwy branches off at Lithgow, forming a more direct link to north eastern NSW (the highway is named after Castlereagh River way up north). 

A rail line branches off the main western line and runs up from Lithgow to Mudgee and to Coonabarabran. The rail line runs roughly parallel to Castlereagh Hwy with rail heritages at small towns like Ben Bullen and a silo at Dunedoo (read more: Warrumbungle Nat Pk trip). No passenger services run nowadays and the rail line is partly abandoned.

Trains in Australia still uses the old alignment centuries ago. The map shows some realignments but nothing is done close to the year this map is published.

The Gt Western Hwy appears to be realigned. Now it's just a 30min drive from Lithgow to Bathurst.

Hartley Historic Site. In the map legend this font indicates an historic site.

Mitchell Ridge- the Gt Western Hwy still uses this steep descent. Plans are made to bypass this with a tunnel but it is still at the proposed stage. 

Mt York and the ridgeline forming the scenic drive down from Mt Victoria to Lithgow. Coxs River Rd and Jenolan Caves Rd branch off the main highway.

Colo River in lower blue mountains run into Hawkesbury River.

Jenolan: Kanangra is massive with the caves on the left.

"Great Dividing Range" is often used on maps despite it being over 1000km long, stretching along Australia's east coast.

Kanangra: the wild dogs are there. The shape of the mountains look really good on topo. This map is certainly usable even to this day, though the tracks have been a lot more overgrown.

Topo + Sattlelite maps (2000s)

Warragamba: the massive dam that supplies drinking water to Sydney. Recent years sees government proposal to raise the dam wall for flood prevention downstream at the Hawkesbury floodplains, which may lead to ecological damage in the southern Blue Mountains. Not much has changed here.

Hills District: Sydney has been sprawling out a lot over years and now some suburbs are fully built up

Rouse hill is now built up with a shopping centre and metro station

Kellyville and Bella Vista sees the same story. Sydney Metro follows through A2 Old Winsor Road and while it opened in 2019, the station precincts still remain undeveloped.

Back to standard topo. Westlink M7, a motorway linking western sydney wasn't built yet with land reserved.

Upper hills remains fairly unbuilt even till now

There used to be an aerodrome in Schofields. It is now demolished making way for more suburban sprawl.

Liverpool: Bushwalkers have this map for no reason. There isn't bushwalks here.

Hong Kong

Australia's national library in Canberra has some archives of old Hong Kong topo maps from the 70s, in 1:10k. Dive into how much Hong Kong has developed from urban to rural. Lands Department of Hong Kong uses an odd ratio of 1:20k, instead of the international standard of 1:25k.

This Sun-On District map from 1866 is commonly mentioned as the earliest maps of Hong Kong.

Legend of the map from 1970.

Tseung Kwan O: the new town is reclaimed from the sea so it never existed. Villages like Hang Hau and Tiu Keng Leng already existed, which is now used more commonly in the reclaimed area. The name Junk Bay originates from a nearby landfill which is still in operation to this day.

Tiu Keng Leng used to be a settlement of Kwomingtang refugees. The village is now demolished but the old English name, Rennie's Mill, can still be seen on very old road signs on Po Lam Rd South.

Current Tseung Kwan O.

Kowloon Bay Station's name originated from a bay named Kowloon Bay. Kwun Tong was designated as an industrial area south of Kwun Tong Rd, and residential north of it. Sau Mau Ping estate is there while Anderson Road quarry is still in operation. The land is now flattened and used as public housing (current On Tak, On Tai).

Current Kwun Tong.

Hiking maps. This area still remains the same. Part of Clear Water Bay Road is rerouted with a more favourable gradient but the old road is still kept.

Before reclamation the tram line runs almost on the coast. The main street of Sai Wan Ho is now no longer close to the sea.

Current Island East. Orange marks the main road shown in the map.

Central and Western HKI: initial reclamation pushes the coastline to about where HKCEC is at, and the new airport project sees the coastline pushed even further. Demolition of Queen's Pier still remains controversial to this day. Kellet Island is now no longer an island and is where the entrance of Cross Hbr Tunnel is. 

Current map. The yellow main road (Gloucester Road) used to be the coastline in the map above.

The bit near Sha Wan is now Cyberport, a failed project by the government to boost IT development.

Kowloon now looks nowhere what it used to be after years of reclamation. The main line is pushed back from Tsim Sha Tsui to Hung Hom with only the clock tower being preserved.

Modern days Kowloon. The metro line (Green & Red lines) run along Nathan Rd, the vertical main road in the map above.

Kai Tak, the old airport, still remains fairly barren to this day. The Kowloon Docks is now Whampoa, a residential development.

Diamond Hill and Chuk Yuen were still messy clusters of squatter structures. Public housing originated as a form to remove these dangerous structures and offer residents with proper housing. Also notice the roudabout at Choi Hung- it is now a stack interchange. Roundabouts are good for traffic flow but they do have limitations.

The entrance to Lion Rock Tunnel is now a highway interchange. If it were to be a roundabout there will be a massive traffic backlog.

The viaduct of Route 5 after Mei Foo used to pass through the sea. This is now reclaimed to be the container pier.

Now: Straight coastlines for container pier. Yellow main road is Kwai Chung Rd, the main road above.

Same as Stonecutters Island. It is no longer an island now.

Lantau Island: The island is still largely undeveloped now. The sea border between Hong Kong and China used to run along the coastline but it is now pushed back, allowing Hongkongers to go for a swim without being in mainland China.

Smuggling through speedboats were really common in these waterways, particularly during the time when China imposed sanctions on Australian lobsters.

The original coastline of north Lantau Island no longer exists as land was reclaimed to construct North Lantau Expressway. Disneyland sits in reclaimed Chok Ko Wan, and Discovery Bay in reclaimed Discovery Bay.

Tung Chung was a small village before the airport was built. Farmlands were since purchased by property developers, the government built roads and now it is the gateway to the airport. Construction of Chek Lap Kok airport involves flattening Chek Lap Kok Island and using the soil to reclaim land from the sea.

Now: reclamation of Tung Chung to the east. Several public housing projects are built and more to go. This land will be the source of future housing supply in Hong Kong. Airport's 3rd runway is completed and a new artificial island for Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. The Brothers still remain on the top right corner.

Lantau Peak is the highest peak on the island, a popular spot for hiking. Old Tung Chung Rd used to be very steep but the road was realigned and now low-floor buses can pass through without issue. The old road can still be seen from the new road but is closed to road traffic. This video documents the final days of the old road. 

Sai Kung East: this map is fully for hiking. Now a lot more hiking trails are mapped. Refer to this page for more.

A trail leads up to Sharp Peak only. Now  the trail extends through Mai Fan Teng, along with some less used ones across the whole mountain.

Pak Tam Chung used to have no road access. Sheung Yiu is only accessible through hiking trail to this day.

Pak Tam Road did not exist at this time. It was only till the construction of High Island Reservoir when the hiking trail becomes road for vehicles.

High Island Reservoir was built by damming the Kwun Mun Channel, draining the sea water and converting to a reservoir. Streams drain into the reservoir and nearby country parks act as water catchment. 

Same for Sai Kung: Tai Mong Tsai Rd ends at Tai Mong Tsai, Sai Sha Rd ends at Wong Chuk Yeung. Part of Sai Kung town centre is also reclaimed to relocate residents affected by construction of High Island Reservoir.

Ma On Shan's new town did not exist, tho Plover Cove Reservoir already exists.

Current Kwong Yuen sits near Siu Lek Yuen while current Siu Lek Yuen sits in reclaimed land.

Current day Ma On Shan and Siu Lek Yuen:

Kowloon Canton Railway (now East Rail Line): The section from Shatin to Tai Po runs along the coastline of Tolo Harbour. Some sections are straightened out (eg. no longer curving in at Cheung Shue Tan) after reclamation, enabling a line speed of 110kph. Current University Station still sits in its former location and the curvy platform remains to this day.

Sha Tin: most of the new town came from reclaimed land. Railway depot in Ho Tung Lau exists back then but is no longer on the coastline. Tai Po Road is absorbed into the expressway but the road and rail alignments remain fairly the same.

Now: same roads but different coastline. Almost everything seen in this image is on reclaimed land.

Tai Po: Most of the new town is reclaimed. The train station remains inland at Tai Po Market while the new town centre sits further to the north. The main street Tai Po Rd passes (ie. Kwong Fuk Rd) still remains as the old town centre.

For hikers: Tai Mo Shan area. Tai Mo Shan is the highest hill in Hong Kong

Tsuen Wan: more reclamation to the south. The area near Cheung Pei Shan is now public housing developments. Kwai Sing Estate was still construction in progress, same as current Shek Lei and Lei Muk Shue.

Current Tsuen Wan looks very different.

The days without Tuen Mun Rd. A bit of reclamation at Sham Tseung but everything remained almost the same

Yuen Long and Kam Tin used to be very simple. Kam Tin still remained as low density villages. Yuen Long's main street still runs along Castle Peak Road but now with Light Rail.

Tin Shui Wai, a new town built in the 2000s, is constructed out of reclaimed fishponds. Many fishponds remained till this day, some are part of Mai Po, a Ramsar wetland, and some are in the wetland park. Recent days Wang Chau is often bought to the table as the site of new residential development.

Castle Peak New Town, ie. Tuen Mun. Most of current Tuen Mun is built on reclaimed land but some village exist till this day, eg. Tsing Shan Tsuen. The hospital is likely Castle Peak Hospital, oldest and largest psychiatric hospital in Tuen Mun. 

Everything is named after a hill nearby- Castle Peak. The temple exists till this day and is an important landmark of the hike.

Northeast New Territories: Bride's Pool Rd now goes all the way to Luk Keng.

Fanling/Sheung Shui: The new town is built mostly from redevelopment so many things remain the same. The Wo Hop Shek railway branch is now abandoned.

The cartographers did map a bit into Shenzhen, which was still a small village at that time. 

The Hong Kong bit of wetland remained but not the Shenzhen bit.