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Retrolens Historic Image Resource

A National Treasure Trove


Retrolens is made up of a treasure trove of aerial photographs that have been taken since 1936 through to 2005. It is a Crown archive and contains 500,000 images.



This Historic Image Resource came about as the result of a scanning project that was started in 2015 by partnerships between the Local Government Geospatial Alliance (LGGA) and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). The two organisations were concerned that the treasure was deteriorating and with fewer and fewer scanners worldwide able to read the images, something had to be done quickly before this significant slice of our cultural and geospatial history was lost forever. An initial pilot was undertaken to test out the viability of a full scanning project for the whole archive, then the project itself, led by LINZ began.



The Local Government Geospatial Alliance (LGGA) representing the geospatial section of New Zealand’s local authorities created area co-funding partnerships with LINZ to enable the funding for the scanning. The project began with three partner regions (Canterbury, Waikato and Bay of Plenty). Council partners continue to join the project progressively from across NZ as different areas became aware of the project and have funding to be able to join the initiative. It is estimated that the scanning of the Crown archive will be completed by 2021.



The photos were taken for a range of reasons such as land management and mapping. The value of these images is in showing change across New Zealand. Key drivers for having the images scanned broadly speaking are better decision making, complying with regulatory requirements and cultural heritage with specifics including using the images to support potential identification of “HAIL” contaminated land sites, accretion and recession of coastlines, changes in areas of significant vegetation and changes in river pathways.



The footprints of the scanned images have been made available on the LINZ Data Service. Some of the digitised surveys are available for download (1936 – 2005), released under Creative Commons Attribution. In time it is expected that more surveys will become available.​

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