Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

What is Surveying?

Employment as a surveyor allows you to work indoors and outside, has substantial variety, provides opportunity for overseas travel, and is well paid. It is a career that crosses the boundaries between science and the arts, and can involve work as diverse as:

  • Designing the land parcel layout for a new subdivision.
  • Creating visualizations of built features in three dimensions.
  • Doing road and highway alignment and leveling.
  • Surveying underground mining transportation tunnels.
  • Helping to resolve land boundary and ownership disputes from individual land parcels to international frontiers.
  • Working with aerial and hydrographic surveys.
  • Accurately measuring displacement and uplift as a result of geological processes.
  • Appearing before planning bodies as an expert witness.

Surveying is a varied and exciting career that requires students to learn and use design skills, scientific measurement skills, and interpersonal and management skills as well as the ability to transform data collected in the field into information that can be used in land management and planning. It is a profession that is in constant demand both in New Zealand and abroad.

The New Zealand surveyor's work typically falls into four broad areas:

Measurement science

Surveyors are expert in the science of positioning and measurement – this can involve applications from creating an accurate topographic map, monitoring movement on or below the earth’s surface, or ensuring that the foundations for a new high-rise building are in the correct location. Some surveyors choose to specialize in the field of hydrographic surveying which might involve activities such as precise oil rig positioning, accurate bathymetric mapping and charting of harbours, and marine navigation.

Urban and rural design

Surveyors are also experts in land development set outs and design work. This might involve taking an area of land and laying out the roads and infrastructure such as water, sewage, and power supply that will support a new community. This process includes preparing planning consents, undertaking the engineering design for the roads, storm water and sewerage systems that will service the community, and then supervising its construction.

Defining land boundaries

Surveying is the only profession allowed by law to define the physical extents and locations of land boundaries. Licensed cadastral surveyors determine where boundaries are located, and can adjudicate title in terms of determining who owns what land areas and who has rights over the land. Surveyors become define boundaries from single properties in a city or rural area right up to international boundaries between countries. New Zealand surveyors educated at the University of Otago determined the boundary between Kuwait and Iraq after the Desert Storm war in 1992 and more recently between between Ethiopia and Somalia after the cessation of cross border hostilities.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Surveyors must also be knowledgeable in how to take data about the land or the sea-floor and transform positional and descriptive facts into information that can be used to address a wide range of needs in planning. To achieve this level of knowledge, work with geographic information systems (GIS) is integral to an education in Surveying. Some surveying graduates from the University of Otago have chosen to specialize in this field and currently run large GIS consulting enterprises in New Zealand.