What is the best mapping solution for outback navigation?

Find out what we recommend. ExplorOz has been a leading reference and supplier in this market for the past 16 years and we've worked with thousands of travellers so we know what works and what doesn't. .
Created: June 2016
Revised: November 2017
Latest Feedback: November 2017

What does "BEST" mean?

Due to the myriad of options, the "best" solution for each individual will ultimately come down to personal preference. However, your choices of maps and functionally will be determined by the device you choose to use, and for this reason, we've broken this article up into sections based on device type.

History & Trends in GPS Navigation

The increase in demand by travellers for digital maps has been a game changer in the mapping industry. Whilst digital mapping and real-time GPS navigation has been around for at least 15 years, this has really only been successful for enthusiasts with a high degree of technical competence up until fairly recently.

The complexities of mapping is three-fold because there are 3 parts to the system and lots of personal choice. The 3 parts are:- the device, the mapping engine (software), and the actual maps. Many people don't realise quite how these 3 parts all fit together and how making a choice on either mapping software or device might limit the use of certain maps.

For example, the use of handheld GPS units with inbuilt mapping became a popular option for people who didn't want to mess about with complicated software and map files, however the problem with these mapping GPS units is the limited screen size, and the restricted map availability - with Garmin, Navman, Magellan etc all restricted to use of proprietary maps. By locking out the ability to use the more popular Australian digital maps such as EOTopo and Hema maps, enthusiast travellers have mostly abandoned these GPS units.

Map Publishers - a bit of History


A couple of Australian mapping publishers were working in different directions around this time. Hema & WestPrint were the most notable of the paper-map publishers with an interest in going digital, whilst ExplorOz already had two decades of digital experience but had not been selling maps, rather providing them for free online viewing as a tool for trip planning (Treks, Places). It was the Australian Government mapping organisation (run by GeoScience Australia) who managed the source topographic data and this was provided to the map publishers under licence.

This whole-of-Australia data source was never utilised by any other publisher (other than ExplorOz) in its full extent due to the complexity of managing such a massive data source in a GIS mapping server. Instead, both WestPrint and Hema would select the segments of data that was of interest to them and then merge with their own IP - for WestPrint this was their outback historical knowledge and this was presented in a pleasing way on the maps to highlight points of interest to stop and appreciate a specific feature from that context, whereas Hema focused on producing in-house graphics, notations and markers to indicate the location of services/facilities of interest to the recreational tourist. Both these publishers omitted much of the topographic features and therefore produced "touring" maps to suit a niche market.

It was GeoScience who produced the first commercially available, digitally formatted, whole of Australia pure topographic mapset known as NATMAP250K (also referred to as Topo250). These data was a digital remastering of old paper map images that were actually "scanned" to become digital. The data was sometimes found to be very old but was the very best available as only the Government had ever put together such a project to document and collate the data. This whole of Australia "map" was distributed as multiple raster image files on a DVD for sale for around $100. This DVD could be purchased from good mapshops, including the one on ExplorOz but could not be used unless you owned OziExplorer mapping software (or similar). Note: "OziExplorer" is the name of a software program produced by D&L Software in Queensland. The OziExplorer software was developed for geologists and other technical users so was not built with a recreational tourist in mind but it was the only solution available if you wanted to use these maps. At the time, this mapping and software solution was widely purchased by the enthusiast 4WD community and continues to be used by those that had success with it as you have the freedom to add other digital maps into the system as they became available.

ExplorOz was licensed to access, modify, develop and use for commercial purposes the entire whole of Australia topographic data provided by Geoscience at this same time. Unlike the other map publishers at the time, ExplorOz had the technical capability to take on the full dataset in our GIS mapping server where we had the ability to produce this into a map that our audience could view online, in a fully seamless, zoomable system showing more detail and features as you zoom closer up to a scale of 144K. Over the past 2 decades we have carefully crafted an enormous database of driven track data, which is used together with other opensource data to update the roads layers.

History of SatNav


It was around this time that Google produced their online map system and SatNav systems running Google's street maps were being factory produced in vehicles or sold as portable SatNav units, such as Tom Tom, and Navman. But it didn't take long for users to notice how poor these maps were for detail in regional and outback areas, which put demand back on the provision of digital topographic maps to be released by these suppliers but this did not come soon enough and the market began to develop in yet another direction.

The NATMAP topographic maps were respected for their detail in the outback and were of value to a vast range of industry groups - from defence, to mining, and of course recreational users but these maps but there was no provision of a simpler user-interface to use these maps in any environment other than via the complication software like OziExplorer and so only some recreational travellers could use them and others kept looking for an easier solution.

An Easier Solution


In the 4WD market, the release of the Hema Navigator device became the popular alternative. Unlike other SatNavs units it had its own Hema Maps for use when Street Maps were insufficient however the price point and limitations of this device not being internet connected meant it was only popular for a few years and then the uptake of smartphone and app technology took over.

It was unfortunate that at the time ExplorOz didn't have the means to be an early app producer in this market but we did manage to produce raster map files to deliver via download (and USB/SD). This was the EOTopo200K raster mapset produced in 2013. The EOTopo200K rastermapset however was released at a time when the NATMAP250K product had ceased to be valuable due to lack of updates and inherent road data errors. The base data became freely available and Hema and other publishers used this to release their very first "whole of Australia" map, Hema's Topo250. ExplorOz however put an extensive update project together and the EOTopo200K 2015 release was the most uptodate whole of Australia topographic map available on the market at the time.

The EOTopo200K raster mapset was also available to purchase as an in-app purchase through the Memory-Map app. And finally in 2016 we released our own app - ExplorOz Traveller. Our app, like Hema's Explorer app is a fully optioned navigation app however there are vast differences between the function and styling of the two apps.

The Only Map & Navigation System You'll Ever Need


ExplorOz Traveller is now fully released on all 3 mobile device platforms through the Apple App Store, Playstore, and Windows store. The app features extensive access to all ExplorOz resources on your device when you are offline - being the Places, Treks, and Comments databases as well as the EOTopo mapset in a 144K scale zoomable map. When online you also have access to use satellite maps and the exceptional quality Streets & Paths map. When setting up the app, you download the databases and maps to your phone. The data interfaces seamlessly with the maps as a separate layer that users can filter/hide or view. Users can also create their own Places and Treks, and add photos, more information, and reviews to existing Places. The crowd-sourcing allows the content to be updated naturally from the user-base and is verified at the ExplorOz office daily. This data appears on the maps meaning much of the traveller-facilities and service information is updated live in the app, leaving just the road lines subject to change requiring bi-yearly update.

The existing EOTopo dataset is undergoing a major such roads layer update with an online preview release date expected before Christmas 2017 with a view to release EOTopo200K 2018 in the new year and flow-on map release thereafter for the Premium Offline EOTopo Traveller Mapset.

Options for iPhone/iPad Users

GPS Capability


Typically all iPhones and the cellular capable iPads have an inbuilt GPS. Wi-fi only models do not have an inbuilt GPS Receiver, so you will need to purchase an external Bluetooth receiver to use with these devices, but choose carefully to make sure they are iOS compatible.

Navigation Apps


The ExplorOz Traveller App has been developed specifically to provide navigation and tracking for iPad and iPhone, and enables you to access ExplorOz Places, Treks, & Maps and navigation tools - all offline. This is the first app to provide auto-routing in some of Australia's most remote areas, and allows you to make custom route plans for your trip directly on your device. Available maps are the excellent ExplorOz EOTopo (online and offline versions), as well as Online Map options for Streets/Paths and Satellite. Find out more about the app on the ExplorOz Traveller Page.

Alternative Options


EOTopo maps are so highly sought after that we've made versions that are compatible with two other navigation apps available for the iOS market. Users of the Mud Map app can import the MMR files (available only by purchasing the EOTopo Download product). Users of the Memory-Map app can purchase a version of EOTopo maps that is customised for use exclusively in Memory-Map. This is purchased direct from Memory-Map (either through their website or as a Memory-Map in-app purchase). Purchase of EOTopo maps through Memory-Map is not compatible/recognised for use in the ExplorOz Traveller App.

Options for Android Device Users

GPS Capability


The majority of Android devices have an inbuilt GPS but you can check this by looking for mention of "location services". Look for terms including GPS, Glonass or A-GPS.

Navigation Apps


The ExplorOz Traveller App has been developed specifically to provide navigation and tracking for Android, and enables you to access ExplorOz Places, Treks, & Maps and navigation tools - all offline. This is the first app to provide auto-routing in some of Australia's most remote areas, and allows you to make custom route plans for your trip directly on your device. Available maps are the excellent ExplorOz EOTopo (online and offline versions), as well as Online Map options for Streets/Paths and Satellite. Find out more about the app on the ExplorOz Traveller Page.

Alternative Options


We've made EOTopo maps available with three other App options. Our EOTopo Maps are available in OZF map file format for use in OziExplorer Android (purchase through our online shop on SD card, USB drive or Download). We also include MMR files with the EOTopo download product (which can be imported into the Mud Maps app). In addition we have the EOTopo Maps licensed to the Memory-Map app, which you can purchase direct from their website, or as an in-app purchase. NOTE: Purchase of EOTopo maps through Memory-Map is not compatible/recognised for use in the ExplorOz Traveller App.

Options for Windows Users

The ExplorOz Traveller App has also been developed specifically for Windows 10 devices.

GPS Capability


If you have Windows 10 Mobile device (eg. phone/tablet), it should have have an inbuilt GPS but you can check this by looking for mention of "location services". Look for terms including GPS, Glonass or A-GPS.

If you are using a Windows 10 computer such as a notebook/laptop then you will need to connect an external GPS receiver in order to utilise the active navigation and tracking features in the app. However, you can still use the app on Windows 10 desktop computer without GPS purely for trip planning and research purposes.

If you have your notebook/tablet already setup with a serial/USB or Bluetooth GPS then please note that you will still need need to make some GPS configuration setup adjustments in order for the ExplorOz Traveller app to detect that device as a "Windows Sensor". This is due to the requirements of Microsoft in the provision of the ExplorOz Traveller app to Windows users via the Microsoft App Store. We recommend that you download GPSComplete (www.turboirc.com/gps7). There are two variations of this product one called Direct and another called Reverse (comes separate or in a bundle). If you intend to use another program with your GPS like OziExplorer or TrackRanger than you will need the Bundle. Direct connects the GPS to Windows 10 and Reverse then makes another Serial port from the Direct connection (allowing you to connect back to your existing program). If you only want to use Windows 10 Store apps with the GPS then you only need the Direct product. You can download and run this product in evaluation mode so it won't cost you any additional money.

Navigation & Mapping Apps


The Windows Store version of ExplorOz Traveller has been developed specifically to provide navigation and tracking for Windows 10 devices, and enables you to access ExplorOz Places, Treks, & EOTopo Maps and navigation tools - all offline. This is the first app to provide auto-routing in some of Australia's most remote areas, and allows you to make custom route plans for your trip directly on your device. Available maps are the excellent ExplorOz EOTopo (online and offline versions up to 144K scale), as well as Online Map options for Streets/Paths and Satellite. Find out more about the app on the ExplorOz Traveller Page.

Maps & Mapping Software for Windows


The EOTopo mapset is also available in raw map files in numerous file formats to suit the variation of mapping software solutions such as OziExplorer, TrackRanger, Memory-Map and others. This solution is an alternative to using the ExplorOz Traveller app.

To find out more, see our EOTopo Help and FAQ page and open the EOTopo with TrackRanger and EOTopo with OziExplorer (Full PC Version) sections to decide which software suits your needs best.

Paper Maps & Road Atlases

Navigation apps and GPS units are becoming increasingly invaluable for travellers, however there will always be a place for the tangible product, especially from a safety perspective. There is always a risk of device breakage failure, so having a back-up method of figuring out where you are is crucial.

For this reason, all travellers are urged to continue to pack a paper map for the most remote area that they intend to travel, plus an overall map/atlas that covers your entire trip route.

Another advantage is that a map's surface space is much larger than that of a device screen, so referring to these will also give you a greater idea of your surrounding area at a quick glance.

Comments & Reviews(3)

Post a Comment
You must be registered and logged in to post here.



Registration is free and takes only seconds to complete!
Loading...

Article Resources

Popular Content

Related Products (10)