NWP105A: Use maps, plans and drawings

Natural features


Topographic maps also show other kinds of natural features such as mountains, vegetation and rivers using contour lines, colours, shapes and numbers.

Besides providing information about height and gradient, the contour lines on topographic maps also indicate the landform types and landscape patterns.

How would you draw the symbol for a volcano on a topographic map?

Landforms can be raised like mountains, hills and plateaus and recessed like valleys, gullies and ravines. By looking closely at the contour shapes and the distances between them you can identify whether the land is hilly or flat, have gentle slopes or steep hills and valleys.

Click on the images to see what type of landforms they are.

  • Knoll
  • Valley
  • Saddle
  • Cliff
  • Summit

1. Knoll: A small usually rounded hill which occurs often on the side of larger hills or mountains.

2. Valley: Shows up as v-shaped patterns in the contour lines.

3. Saddle: A neck or ridge of land connecting two mountains or hills, sometimes called a 'col' or 'pass'. Contour lines look like a bandit's mask.

4. Cliff: Contour intervals are very close together converging showing a vertical gradient.

5. Summit: Marks the highest point of a hill or mountain, with the land falling away on all sides. Some summits are pointed, some flat or gently rounded.


Natural vegetation legend symbols for scrub, burnt or fallen bush, and tropical rainforest. Also introduced vegetation legend symbols for orchard, pine plantation and windbreak.

You can find out what type of vegetation is on a map by using the map's legend. The different types of vegetation are shown using colours and symbols.

You will notice the difference between natural and introduced vegetation when you begin to look at topographic maps.

Common natural features include dense, medium and scattered forest and scrub land.

Introduced vegetation is what people have planted. For example, pine plantations and vineyards, which are planted in long straight rows. This kind of growth doesn't happen naturally.

Introduced vegetation is usually planted in the more fertile areas that are not hard to get to, while the natural vegetation is found on top of steep hills.

You can find clues about the climate and types of soil an area has from the vegetation that is shown on maps. To get a fuller picture you also need to think about how far north or south an area is.

To find this out you can look at the lines of latitude and longitude.

Please download the Adobe Flash Player from www.adobe.com to view this interaction, or use the text alternative instead.

Water flow

Water flow can be as simple as the flow of a single water course, such as a small stream, or it can be a whole network of drainage and flow patterns. The direction in which water flows will depend on the shape of the high points of the landscape. As the water flows downwards, it develops into streams which create channels and then form rivers.

Flow patterns are affected by the climate of the area. Click on the images to find out how.

  • Lake
  • Dry riverbed

1. Permanent If an area receives regular rainfall, then water bodies such as rivers, lakes and streams are considered to be permanent or perennial features.

2. Intermittent But if an area only receives some rainfall, these water bodies might often be dry and are considered to be intermittent or non-perennial features.

Drainage patterns are formed depending on:

  • the type of landforms
  • the arrangement of landforms
  • the type of soils and rocks.

Look at the images below to find out about six common drainage patterns.

Trellis pattern
Rectangular pattern
Unco-ordinated pattern

Human made pattern
Dendritic pattern
Radial pattern

You can tell which way water is flowing by reading the contour lines.