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Remember the days you only took to the road with a road map when you went camping? Well, those days are over – if you know how to use your GPS, that is.
Two decades ago mainly armies, pilots and seafarers used a Global Positioning System – or satellite navigation – to find their way. With the dawn of GPS for general use, internet tools such as Google Maps, and smartphones changed this picture.
If you do a few basic things right, you never have to get lost and pitch your tent in the dark again, says Johann Groenewald of Tracks4africa in Stellenbosch.
YOU CAN WITHOUT GPS
Because most smartphones nowadays have Google Maps, you don’t really need a GPS if you’re only going to travel in the country, Johann says. “In the city I travel with Google. When I travel outside of the country and don’t want to deplete my data package, I use our GPS maps. I actually feel like advising people to stay on Google Maps if they’re only travelling between towns in the country. It works – even for some dirt roads. One of the biggest concerns with Google is that the driving times aren’t accurate, but if you stay on main and secondary roads, they’re not far off. Google Maps and Google Earth and free software like Garmin’s Basecamp that you can download on your computer, are also handy tools to plan routes.”
The choice is between a general street navigator and a more expensive outdoor GPS, which is meant for travellers who want to take the back roads.
Street navigators “The street navigator is built for urban navigation – it doesn’t give you much more than Google does. If you’re just looking for a GPS to get you from point A to point B, you can buy one of Garmin’s Nüvi GPSES. (Nowadays you can buy one with street maps you can annually update for free. This is a huge bonus.) “These GPSES hide information from you for good reason. When you’re driving in the city, there are way too many points to show on the screen.
The map is just simplified; the additional information is there if you want it on the GPS. If you want a bit more, you can upload maps with compatible Garmin-gpses (like those of Tracks4africa). “People think these are only for the 4x4 guys, but only about 15% of our data is for 4x4 roads – the rest are roads everyone can take. We specify points for travellers. We don’t currently have all the street names for the little towns, but we can tell you where you can get petrol, camp, eat, shop and where to go in an emergency.”
Outdoor GPSES “Outdoor GPSES, like Garmin’s Montana, also hide information, but you can set it to show points. When you’re driving in the middle of nowhere and there are only two roads and five points, it isn’t necessary to have the simplified map on the screen. Many of those roads don’t have names and we populate the name field with information to say it’s a dirt, sand or tow-track road, and we give information on things like gates, motor gates and bridges. “Outdoor GPSES give information that street navigators don’t. A street navigator won’t show you overgrown road in Mozambique and you’ll scratch your car. The outdoor GPS tells you this.”
GET IT RIGHT
To get to your camp site problem-free with your GPS you need to do two important things: Ensure the GPS’S settings are correct and ensure the coordinates for your destination are correct, Johann says. “Set your GPS for the fastest time and not the shortest route, and switch off the avoidances setting. Then you’ve already sorted out 90% of the problems.”
The settings “Almost all GPS maps are set up for the fastest time – to give you the largest, quickest and safest road. If you set yours for the shortest route, you’re making a mistake. For example, if you’re travelling from Cape Town to Upington, we all know the way: You take the N7. But if your GPS is set for the shortest route, it’ll take you on the Tankwa-karoo road and over Bainskloof. This may well be the shortest route, but not
the quickest. And you’ll get flat tyres if you go that way.
“Another mistake people make, is to use the function to avoid certain places. Your GPS may take you all over the place because you fiddled with the settings to avoid main and dirt roads and then there aren’t many options left. Don’t think that little gadget is always 100% correct – it’s only following orders,” Johann says.
Where to now? “The one problem with a GPS is that the map in your brain is lost, since you’re not part of the navigation process. This is dangerous. In the city you can quickly correct this, but if you’re in the middle of nowhere, you don’t want to travel 50km in the wrong direction with little fuel. “If you’ve worked out a route on your GPS, make sure the line of your route looks like the right way, for example see if there’s a mountain pass that’s inaccessible for your caravan.”
BE STRAIGHT TO THE POINT
That string of numbers indicating where a place is, remains problematic for many people since there are three formats for the same thing. And different people prefer different formats. For general navigation this isn’t really an issue, Johan says. The most important thing is that you’re able to distinguish between the different formats. You must know you get:
Decimal degrees (hddd,ddddd – indicated as d.d° on some street navigators)
Degrees, decimal minutes (hddd mm,mmm or d°m.m’) Degrees, minutes and decimal seconds (hddd mm s,ss of d°m’s”). An example for decimal degrees is S33.91129 E18.56942. In degrees and decimal minutes it’s written as S33 54.677 E18 34.165, and in degrees, minutes and decimal seconds as S33 54 40.6 E18 34 09.9.
“Guys use spreadsheets to convert one format to another, and a program like Garmin’s Basecamp has settings for the
format of your choice. You can also do the calculation to convert one format to
another, although GPSES can handle all the formats. Input the format the camping site gives you, even if it isn’t your preference – afterwards you can reset your GPS to the format of your choice, and then the GPS will convert it into the format you like.”
It’s important to know the coordinates the camping site gave you is the correct one. Sometime people don’t specify the format, or don’t even know what the format is, and that’s when mistakes can creep in.
“If someone gives you the coordinates for Hartenbos and doesn’t specify the format, make double sure. Check it on Google Maps or Basecamp to seen if that point is indeed Hartenbos. If it’s outside the town, you’ll know there is a mistake.”
DO THE MATH
If you really want to, you can do the math to convert from one format to another.
Decimal degrees to degrees and decimal minutes
To convert the decimal degrees S33.91129 E18.56942: Keep the S33; multiply the
.91129 with 60 (54.6774); also keep the E18 and multiply the .56942 with 60 (34.1652). The degrees and decimal minutes then read like this: S33 54.677 E18 34.165. If you want to reverse the process and convert from degrees and decimal minutes to decimal degrees, you divide the 54.677 and 34.165 respectively by 60.
Decimal degrees to degrees, minutes and decimal seconds
If S33.91129you want E18.56942:to convert Keepthe decimalthe S33, degreesmultiply the decimal .91129 with 60 (54.6774); keep the whole number 54 (minutes) and multiply the remaining decimal .6774 with 60 for the seconds (40.6); also keep the E18, multiply the .56942 with 60 (34.1652), keep the 34 and multiply the .1652 with 60 for the seconds (9.9). From this you can get the correct degrees, minutes and decimal seconds: S33 54 40.6 E18 34 09.9.
Degrees and decimal minutes to degrees, minutes and decimal seconds
If malS33 and you 54.677 minutesdecimalwant E18to seconds: convert 34.165 Keeptheto degrees, degreesthe S33 minutesand and deci-the 54 keep and the multiplyE18 and the the .67734 and with multiply60 (40.62); the .165 with 60 (9.9). The degrees, minutes and seconds are S33 54 40.6 E18 34 09.9. to convert back to degrees and decimal minutes you divide the 40.6 en 09.9 respectively by 60. Is this all too much for you? Let the GPS do the work for you!
go! Drive & Camp says Once you start enjoying it, navigation becomes a fascinating hobby.