Pink Roadhouse

Mapping and navigation tips

by Rudi Schwartz

We’ve got a big place to live

The continent of Australia is wide and big!  Just start travelling it and you will know.

Some perspectives:

  1. Travel from Brisbane to Cape York.  When you hit Townsville (1,300km) you would be halfway!

  2. From Hamburg in the north of Germany to Rome in Italy is 1705km, which about the same as from Sydney to Rockhampton in Queensland.

  3. From Edinburgh in Scotland to London in England is only 650km, about the same distance you will travel between Sydney and Armidale in NSW.

  4. Travel from Mt Isa to Townsville in Queensland and you will cover the same distance as those travelling between Amsterdam in Holland and Dublin in Ireland!

  5. Travel the 3740km between Darwin and Melbourne and you would cover the same distance travelled from Belfast via London via Bern via Paris via Rome via Milan to Marseilles!

So, you get the message: if you are not prepared to do the above distances in Europe without a map or navigation, don’t attempt the outback without it! 

You will appreciate that the outback is completely different:  most of the roads are not endowed with the black-top; they are not always maintained; distances between towns can be vast, and most of the towns don’t have the facilities of Paris or Rome. In the outback most trees are lava’trees!  But my experience is that women don’t like the idea very much so a Pota Poti is a great idea.


The most used and trusted navigation instrument today is still a good map - but it must be the latest map for the area.  It is no good to use an old map!

You need to look out for the date the map was printed.  For some reason mapmakers don’t always print the date on the map; they print the edition.  See that you’ve got the latest.

However, some roads in the outback have not changed since the day Len Beadell cut them with his bulldozer in the early 50’s!

Maps come in different categories:

Atlases—They give you the big picture, but iare really of no use in the outback, unless you want to teach the kids a lesson in geography (which you hated at school!)

Road maps—on these you will find the roads, towns, cities and the distances between them.  There are handy books available.  Try  HEMA for your mapping needs.  I particularly like the one with the ring binder: it is about an A4 size, it is made of good and durable paper, it’s printed in colour, and you can fold it open—it will remain open. (Saves you the battle with the missus over which page you should be on!)

You might also try your automobile association (RACV, NRMA, RACQ, RAA, etc.) for maps.  If you are a member, they might give it to you for free.  They also have informational regional maps.

Topographical maps—now we’re talking outback driving!  You want to know where the next river crossing is, or how steep a climb might be.  You need a topographical map. Once again HEMA will help you.  They’ve got it.  You might find the Australia Road & 4WD Atlas Spiral - latest edition very handy.

You can of course get some maps on CD ROM—also from HEMA.  Check them out.

Some State Departments will sell you topographical maps.  Geoscience Australia will help you with good maps, and if you register with them, they will even throw in a free download or two.

Visit ABC Maps or Getlost Maps for more maps.

Some will crucify me for mentioning WhereIs and Google Maps.  Unless you have a USB Wireless Broadband connection these sites will not be of any help.  But, what you can do on these sitesbefore you leave home, is work out distances between destinations, and find things to do in between.  If you have 3G mobile phone with Telstra, you might even find that WhereIs will help you to get from A to B—providing you have the reception, of course!

My tip:  Mate, remember this about a folding map: once it's open, it's open.  You just can’t fold the stupid thing back, even if you follow the lead of the creases. So, go for a reliable book  map.

Electronic maps

I’m moving onto a terrain of which I don’t know much.  But there has been an explosion of electronic helps for the outback traveler. I am only going to give you some links to follow up.

You need to have a computer, and a laptop or a pocket computer to access the maps of OziExplorer, but they are really something!  Us Aussies can be very proud of this lot providing some of the best electronic maps in the world!

Just something in between:  if you are going to use your laptop in the vehicle, make sure that you get the right inverter to do the job.  Pure sine inverters are the most expensive, but they are the best.  Some manufacturers of computers will just laugh at you if you told them you didn't use a pure sine inverter.


The field between electronic maps and GPS’s is very narrow.  Electronic maps lead you to GPS’s.  And about this field I don’t know too much either.

But what I do know is this:  the average NAVMAN or a similar instrument you buy in the electronic shops and department stores, won’t take you off-road.  They are virtually useless, but can be of some help if you are not too far out of civilization.

There are models on the market specifically programmed and designed for outback conditions.  Some are hand-held, and some you need to mount on your dash.  Most will work with battery power, which can be recharged through your vehicle’s cigarette lighter plug.

I am using GARMIN Nuvi 765.  What is good about some Garmin models like this one, is the software you can download from the Garmin website.  This can be used to load more maps, plan trips to upload to your unit and import information from your unit about trips you have done.  You can customise your maps with icons and other interesting stuff.

It seems the best on the market today is the HEMA Navigator.  Man oh man! For about $1,000 you get a dual system, which switches between street mode and topographical mode.  It comes preloaded with 4WD maps,  

And you would not want to pass GPSOZ.  This rich website will give you information making your ears sing and your knees rattle with excitement!

Also have a look at the CrossoverGPS from Magellan.  It probably does not have all the features of the Navigator, but you won’t be caught doing the wrong thing with this instrument.

You will have to find out if you need an external antenna for your device.  It sometimes just improves the reception dramatically—especially in mountainous areas and in forests.

So, there you’ve got it.  Come back to this page for possible updates.

Boys and their toys!