Maps and other references

  • Map scales
  • Types of maps
  • Topographic maps
  • State and territory responsibilities
  • Sketch maps
  • Your map collection
  • Other references

Map scales

A map is a scale representation of the earth’s surface. Map scales are usually shown as a ratio e.g. 1:50 000. This scale expresses the relationship between a unit of measure on the map compared with the number of units of measure on the earth’s surface. So in the case of the 1:50 000 scale map, one centimetre on the map would equal 50 000 cm (or 500 m) on the ground.

The best scale to use is determined by the intended use of the map (Table 4.1) and is affected by the intended method of travel through a given area. Someone flying over the alps would consider using a 1:1 000 000 map, a person four-wheel driving may use a 1:100 000 map, and a person walking may choose a 1:50 000 or a 1:25 000 map. A larger scale map (e.g. 1:25 000) can show more detail than a smaller scale map (e.g. 1: 1 000 000).

Types of maps

There are a number of different maps available for planning trips in Australia. An understanding of the different types will assist the leader in choosing the best map for the job.

Topographic maps

Topographic maps are the most commonly used maps by people venturing into the outdoors. This is because of the accurate method of representing the elevation and shape of the ground, through the use of contour lines. Due to the complex and expensive methods of production required for topographic maps, often including satellite imagery, most of these are produced by government agencies. In Australia this responsibility is divided depending on the scale of the topographic map being produced.

The 1:250 000 and 1:100 000 scales are coordinated by the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group (AUSLIG) and are predominantly conducted on a national level (although some states produce topographic maps at these scales, such as the New South Wales Land Information Centre (LIC) 1:100 000 series). The topographic maps produced by AUSLIG at both these scales are known as the NATMAP Topographic Map Series.

The 1:250 000 scale is the only topographic scale which covers the entire continent. AUSLIG have produced a series of over 530 maps covering 16 500 km2 each with a contour interval of 50 m. These maps provide a valuable resource for trip planning. The 1:100 000 series currently offers 1640 published maps, of the over 3000 maps required to cover the continent. The coverage is predominantly around the coastal areas of Australia, with Victoria and Tasmania being the only two states entirely covered by published 1:100 000 NATMAPs, while the Australian Capital Territory is covered by a specially produced 1:100 000 NATMAP. Each NATMAP 1:100 000 series covers an area of about 2500 km2 with a contour interval of 20 m.

Production of these maps began in 1970 and the areas intended to be covered were completed in 1996. The updating of these maps is irregular, and as such the age and accuracy of the map being used should be carefully checked. Reprints with updated detail are made from time to time, but care should be taken, as some reprints do not update detail, but simply reprint the old map. With the use of satellite imagery to compare current data with digitally-stored data from previous prints, future reprints should contain the most up-to-date information available.

Table 4.1 Some of the more commonly seen scales and their uses
ScaleUses1 cm on the map equates to:
1:250 000Trip planning. Car travel to/from trip.2500 metres or 2.5 km
1:100 000Trip planning. Car travel to/from trip. Walking/ski touring (on track). Four wheel driving trips.1000 metres or 1 km
1:63 360Previously known as the 'inch to the mile' scale. No longer produced in Australia. Roughly interchangeable with the 1:50 000 scale.634 metres
1:50 000Walking/ski touring (on or off track). Four wheel driving trips.500 metres
1:25 000Walking/ski touring (on or off track). Rogaining. Four wheel driving trips.250 metres
1:15 000Orienteering150 metres
1:10 000Orienteering100 metres

State and territory responsibilities

The responsibility for 1:50 000 and 1:25 000 scale maps lies with the individual states and territories. Due to the differing policies from state to state there is no consistent plan for mapping or availability at these scales.

Australian Capital Territory
Maps at 1:25 000 and 1:50 000 covering the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) are produced for the ACT government by the New South Wales Land Information Centre. The ACT is in the boundary region between NSW’s 1:25 000 and 1:50 000 series.

New South Wales
New South Wales maps are produced by the Land Information Centre (LIC), formerly called the Central Mapping Authority (CMA) and many maps are titled CMA. The department produces maps of differing scales depending on the distance from the coast. The area along the coast is covered by a 1:25 000 series and includes most of the Great Dividing Range. A band inland from that is covered by a 1:50 000 series, including the Kosciuszko region. The rest of the state is covered by either LIC or NATMAP 1:100 000 series.

Northern Territory
The Department of Lands Housing and Government produces a 1:50 000 series covering the northern part of the territory. Around Alice Springs, the Conservation Commission produces a set of special maps for the Larapinta Trail. The remainder of the territory is covered by the NATMAP series.

TASMAP have produced a series of 1:25 000 scale maps covering almost the entire state, with the few missing ones all in the South West National Park, and the whole of the state is covered by the TASMAP 1:100 000 series. TASMAP also produces many useful 1:50 000 maps of national parks and popular recreation areas.

The Department of Lands produces a series of maps under the SUNMAP title. A mixture of 1:50 000 and 1:25 000 topographic maps exist for the most popular recreation regions. Only a small portion of the state is mapped at this scale and outdoor leaders also regularly use non-topographic maps produced by the Forestry Commission.

South Australia
The Department of Environment and Land Management produces a series of 1:50 000 maps to some of the state. This series concentrates on the regions south of Adelaide and from Adelaide north along the Flinders Ranges. The rest of the state is covered by the NATMAP series.

Western Australia
In Western Australia, the Department of Land Administration produces detailed topographic maps of selected regions. A variety of 1:50 000 and 1:25 000 maps cover the coastal regions. The southwestern corner of the state is fairly well mapped, with the remainder of the state being mainly covered by the NATMAP series. There are also special maps produced, such as the 1:75 000 series of the Bibbulmun Track.

In Victoria, maps are produced by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment under the label ‘VICMAP’. Most of the state is covered by a mixture of 1:25 000 and 1:50 000 maps, with the 1:50 000 scale maps predominantly covering the alps in the east and the desert areas to the west. Mapping is not quite complete with a few

1:50 000 scale maps yet to be published covering the northwest of the state. VICMAP also produces the Outdoor Leisure Series covering some of the more commonly used areas of the state. These are often ideal walking maps with coverage designed to fit with users’ needs, rather than cartographic boundary rules.

Sketch maps

In outdoor terms a sketch map means any map which is not a topographic map. This can range from diagrams made in the sand with a stick (mud maps) to high quality maps showing relief by hachures or shading. Sketch maps often contain specific information about the area they cover and are made with a particular user group in mind. Several bushwalking and ski-touring clubs and groups over the years have taken on the role of mapping their favourite areas with walkers and skiers in mind. These maps often show details such as reliable water sources, camp sites, huts and areas of interest. They also show tracks which are often not indicated on the standard series topographic maps and are formatted to cover the area of interest to walkers on one sheet.

Some examples of these maps are:

  • Bush Maps Victoria (VMTC)
  • Adventure Maps (Ghost Town Series), Victoria
  • New South Wales Ski Association Maps
  • Hema Maps, based in Queensland, covering many of the national parks in northern Australia.

Your map collection

All leaders should maintain a collection of maps, from small-scale touring maps, through selected 1:250 000 topographic maps, to the accumulated maps acquired for various trips. Your collection is not only for use in the bush, but also as a reference for trip planning and preparation.

Most government mapping agencies produce index sheets setting out the maps available at different scales. Usually free and updated once or twice a year, these key index sheets are invaluable not only as a guide to what is available but also for the description of the required map.

Other references

There are many and varied guidebooks available (see Appendix 3 for some suggestions). Guidebooks contain information, some in great detail and others simply as a suggested route, for a wide variety of walking and skiing areas in Australia. Some factors to consider when using a guidebook to plan a trip include:

  • when was the information last updated (year of publication)
  • how much detail is included
  • reputation of the author(s)
  • word of mouth recommendation.

There are a number of outdoor magazines available. Some have their tracknotes and surveys vetted by other experienced outdoor enthusiasts, others do not. They can be useful for walking and ski tour trip ideas.

Bushwalking clubs
Many clubs keep a record of past trips, and some publish these. These can provide a new club leader with ideas and some detail of the trip, such as how long it took a group to walk to the campsite, water availability at that time of year, etc. Word of mouth is also a good way get ideas of where to lead trips, and most most bushwalkers and ski tourers are only too happy to talk about their trips.

There are now many websites with information on outdoor activities, maintained by individuals, clubs and other outdoor organisations. They can be a very useful and, most often, current source of information.

Further reading

1988. Map Reading Guide. Central Mapping Authority, Bathurst, NSW, Australia.

1997. Map Reading Hand Book, 3rd Edition. Land Information Services, Department of Environment & Land Management, Hobart, Tasmania.

Brown, I. 1995. Bushwalking and Camping, 14th Edition. Paddy Pallin Pty Ltd, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Phillips, N and Phillips, R. 2000. Rogaining.vOutdoor Recreation in Australia, Melbourne, Vic, Australia.

Randall 1994. Outward Bound Map and Compass Handbook.