Getting lost in the beauty of the outback might mean a spiritual awakening of a work-dulled soul — or it could mean a scary experience as you try to retrace your way through a confusing network of intersecting tracks.
Learning the required skills to read and plan your route on a big paper map on the dining room table is a great way to start exploring the outback.
Start with a large-scale map of WA and you’ll get an immediate sense of how long it will take to travel as far north as Karijini in comparison with a run down to Margaret River.
You can mark up the basic route and use the map as a record of your trips.
Having a decent map and a touring guidebook allows you to orient yourself before the zoomed-in world displayed on a 7-inch screen.
It also provides a reliable backup in the event of device failure. A good road atlas will include maps with roads and tracks plus useful information such as 24-hour fuel locations and camp sites.
Two reliable go-to favourites to check out are Hema’s WA Road and 4WD Track Atlas and Camps Australia Wide.
If you’re looking for more than just maps then the locally produced 4WD Days Explorer Series provide detailed trip notes for specific historic or scenic routes, include historical anecdotes and interesting notes on anything from local flora and fauna to geology, plus driving and recovery tips that are useful to those starting four-wheel-drive 4WD adventures.
Once you’ve got the appropriate maps sorted for your destination, you might like to consider a handy GPS mapping tool. When it comes to venturing off-road where there are no clear street signs, it’s easy to get confused about which track is which.
You can choose a dedicated off-road GPS such as the Hema Navigator, Polaris or VMS systems. As a dedicated tool you get the benefit of all-in-one support and purpose-built GPS hardware — but they are usually limited to only the pre-installed software, you can’t add other apps.
If you already have a tablet device with a GPS — or plan on buying a new tablet — then you get the benefit of being able to load multiple apps from multiple providers plus use the tablet as an ereader and internet browsing device.
A wi-fi only device won’t have a GPS and you don’t need to pay for a SIM in order to use the GPS as the apps will allow you to download the maps via your home wi-fi connection.
Before buying a new device keep in mind that some apps are only available with a single operating system, that is, Apple iOS or Android and in many cases you still need a compatible PC to do route planning.
When hiking, remember to carry your phone with its in-built GPS and a cheap map app that operates offline. It’s a great way to reduce the risk of getting lost.
Most camping stores sell a range of maps and guidebooks. Take the time to find a style and level of detail to suit you. For a wide range check out mapworld.com.au or visit them in Willetton.