Regulars will know of my weakness for anything to do with maps. Some time ago, this manifested itself in the purchase of a Garmin eTrex Legend Cx. This device is brilliant, perfect for my needs… walking, riding or driving, and after a few hiccups I got it talking to my mac. The only thing I’ve never done is purchased a map.
Garmin charge a pack for their maps, and I’m sure they’re very good – especially for route finding and driving, but for my needs they are overkill in the city and not much good in the bush. So, I was on the lookout for alternatives.
Four fantastic tools have, between them, given me all the maps I could ever want – for free!
- garminmapsearch.com: where users contribute all sorts of bits and pieces. Sometimes useful POI files, sometimes full maps. I once found full Melbourne metro road maps here. Apparently the result of someone’s experimenting with a government map source. The licence must have been a little dodgy, because they disappeared before very long. You never know what you might pick up!
- Tracks4Australia: a basemap of government data with some user contributed content. There is a freeware and a pro version and it’s all in a nice slick package that installs into Mapsource. I think the Pro version has Topographic data. The map is good, but updates are very rare.
- ShonkyMaps: Shonky is one of those wonderful individuals on the net who put in hours of work for nothing. He has taken government map data (including contours!) and turned it into a usable Garmin file. Doesn’t sound like much, but it is a huge task and the map is fantastic! I am constantly amazed when I find a walking track in some far flung National Park is accurate down to metres on Shonky. The guy deserves a medal!
- OpenStreetMap: I’ve saved the best til last. Open Street Map is the Wikipedia of maps. It’s not the best map of Australia, or probably anywhere… yet! but each day, all around the world, thousands of people are adding to it. Refining, naming, annotating, tracing GPS tracks or the Yahoo aerial images. The coverage in Europe and the US is already excellent. All playing at being amateur cartographers in our lunch breaks! And so, each week the main dataset gets rendered and becomes available on the website. Someone converts that to a Garmin compatible file and places it on garminmapsearch for download. I can make edits on the website and within days I can have them as a map in my pocket… even on my mobile phone!
So, I guess the message to everyone is to get down to Open Street Map and join in the fun. I’ve been mapping my neighbourhood – most of it was already done – and also mapping my workplace as a bit of a favour to all those students who are about to get well and truly lost on campus. You can map your area too!