Here are our top tips to help you work out exactly where you are!

Bill is driving along a track in the Victorian High Country, chatting to his ‘navigator’ Hillary, when suddenly they reach an unnamed fork in the road. Bill exclaims: “Where the bloody hell are we?”

Because Bill and Hillary were distracted by the conversation, they have no idea if they have missed a turn-off or if they are even on the right track.

What can Bill and Hillary do to work out exactly where they are? Here are some tips to make it easier for them to get back on the right track.






The best advice I can offer Bill and Hillary is to stay calm. Boil the billy and have a good look around. Look for significant landmarks… mountains, rivers, creeks, buildings.

A word of warning – never, never, never leave your vehicle. A vehicle is easier to locate than a person.


Bill pulled out a stick and impaled it into the ground. “Find me a couple of stones please Hillary, I need them to help me work out where the true direction is.”

“If you give me your watch Bill, I can work it out faster,”
Hillary challenged.

Bill placed a stone at the end of where his stick cast a shadow, then waited; knowing that within 15 minutes he would have his answer. Hillary was used to Bill being the rabbit, not the tortoise; and so she was confident that she would easily win this challenge.

Little did she know that time was against her. Bill’s watch had stopped, preventing her from using it to determine where north was. Had it been working, she would have been able to hold the watch horizontally with the 12 o’clock mark pointing at the sun. Then she could have bisected the angle between the hour hand and the mark to find north.

Fortunately for Hillary, clouds covered the sun – sabotaging Bill’s attempts to find where the new shadow tip had been cast. Had the sun shone as Bill wanted, he would have been able to draw a line between the two stones and determine the east-west line. He was shattered as he knew that the first object would have been the eastern end – allowing him to determine north, south, east and west.

As day became night, Bill and Hillary agreed that they had to work together and use the Southern Cross constellation to determine where south was. By locating the two brighter pointer stars, they projected an imaginary line through the long axis of the cross, beginning with the star marking the top of the cross. They then procured another imaginary line to bisect the two pointer stars down to intersect the line from the long axis of the cross. From the intersection, they drew a line to the horizon that pointed to the South Pole.


Paper maps may seem outdated, when in fact they still play an important part in navigation as Bill and Hillary knew. If they suffered a power, signal or technological breakdown (leaving their GPS, tablet phone and everything else useless), a paper map would save their bacon.

As seasoned campaigners, Bill and Hillary also knew that paper maps are handy for planning by providing a bigger picture of what is out there. However, with little experience in reading maps, here are a few things that would help them:

Work out the map’s orientation. Most maps are drawn with the top pointing to north.

Understanding the scale of the map is critical. Checking the scale will indicate the ratio of map distance to real distance.

Take note of the longitude and latitude lines.

Learn to read contour lines. The track that has lots of contour lines close together is going to be a steep, challenging track.

Check out the map legend

A great guide to assist Bill and Hillary to read maps is here


A compass can be a small, handheld physical device or an app on your phone. Unfortunately, Bill and Hillary had neither… but we will continue.

The benefit of the handheld units is that Bill and Hillary could have used one on a paper map to assist them in orienting to where they wanted to go. Most have a scale on them to measure distances on a paper map.

To use a compass, Bill would have to hold the device flat in his hand so that the needle could turn. He would then turn his body, hand and compass until the needle was aligned with the lines inside the compass housing, while making sure the compass housing didn’t turn.

For Bill to determine north, he needs to turn the compass housing so that the orienting arrow lines up with the direction of travel lines. He would then rotate his body (as above) until the red end of the compass needle is inside the orienting arrow.

The red part of the compass needle is always trying to point to the Earth’s magnetic north pole. Magnetic north is always moving, so the margin of error between true north and magnetic north is known as declination. Over short distances, this declination may only be a few metres; but over long distances it may be several kilometres.

It is advisable for Bill to move away from any form of local magnetic interference (such as his vehicle or staples in a map book) when trying to locate north.

Some great free apps that bring the humble compass into the digital age include:

Compass, Compass 360 Pro and Smart Compass (Android).

Commander Compass Lite, Compass 54 Lite and Compass° (Apple).


GPS is an anagram for Global Positioning System. It provides geolocation and time information to GPS devices where there is an unobstructed line of site to four or more GPS satellites. The Russians developed their own GLONASS system and some devices can utilise both systems, allowing connection to more satellites and better accuracy.

There are two main types of GPS unit: A small, hand-held device such as a Garmin eTrex, or the more common tablet-style like a Hema HX-1.

The hand-held units are better for tracking and showing your current GPS co-ordinates than for navigation; whilst the tablet style GPS units offer greater functionality and they have ability to navigate to a position on a map.

GPS units point to true north, following the Earth’s surface towards the geographical north pole.

The dilemma is that Donald Trump, now the Commander in Chief, can deny Bill and Hillary access to the GPS satellites. Controlled by the US Department of Defence, the system is provided freely to all… but as the Indian military discovered in 1999 it isn’t always like that.


Most mobile devices have inbuilt GPS technology that allows the running of apps for all navigation and mapping needs. A signal isn’t even required to run some of the software, allowing use of the mapping app offline.

Some of the most popular apps include Google Maps, Apple Maps, Mud Maps 3, Hema Explorer and Hema Maps – with most running on both iPhone and Android devices.

Users can create routes, navigate to a position and track where they are quite easily; as well as being able to zoom in and out of the current map.

Luckily both Bill and Hillary had a couple of worthy apps that allowed them to determine that they were still on the right track, with the turn-off they wanted just around the next bend.


The walls within the offices of Google Maps are covered with paper maps. If one of the world’s biggest GPS-based companies still uses them, you should too.

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