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I have a habit of wandering around isolated National and Conservation Parks.  It started out as a “get away from it all” type concept, but has ended up being almost an obsession.  Combined with my camping interests, it has reached the point where, if I don’t lose myself at least once a month, I start to feel very edgy indeed.

Trudging through the bush is a great stress reliever, particularly if you take notice of things around you, but it can also be quite dangerous.  Here in South Australia, a number of the parks are large and isolated and are situated in rather harsh environments.  Areas of the Simpson Desert are closed to travellers during the summer months because of the extreme heat and the danger the area poses to poorly equipped travellers. 

Other, smaller parks, particularly the mallee parks, offer sparse mallee scrub which covers low hills with little or no understorey.  Walking through these areas it is very easy to become disorientated and lose your way.  I walked a few metres away from the camp fire one night in a mallee park to try and spot some wombats amongst the burrows I had seen earlier in the day.  I found the burrows but could not find my way back to my campsite.  I was the only one out there and there was no moon.  All the vegetation looked the same and I had no idea which way the camp was.  I ended up walking right through the park and came out onto a road.  I managed to work out which way the entrance to the park was and trudged back to the camp site from there.  Very embarrassing, but no harm done.

That was years ago.  Technology has come to the rescue again and there is no need for this to happen to anyone now.

I’m in my element now.  I bought a basic hand held GPS unit.  A Garmin eTrex H.  Now I visit even more remote areas, park my car and head off into the bush without any fear of becoming lost.  I lock in my first waypoint (usually my camp site or my car) then off I go, marking in points of interest along the way.  The eTrex has a compass on it, so I always know in what direction I’m heading.  It also tracks distance, time I’ve spent walking and time I’ve spent stationary, average speed and maximum speed.  It also allows me to store the route I took, so I can retrace my steps when I visit the area again.  To get back to my starting point, I select my first waypoint (usually my camp site or my car) and press “goto”.  The direct route back to my starting point appears on the screen, complete with distance, direction and approximate time of arrival.

The eTrex is a very basic unit, but very easy to use.  It does everything I need it to do, the battery life is excellent, about 16 hours on two AA size batteries, and it’s relatively small, light and ruggedly built.  What more do you need?  There is even the option of downloading maps, storing them on your unit and marking your own route and waypoints on it.  Very handy if you are planning a visit to an area for the first time.

Of course, as good as this unit is, it is still necessary to carry a magnetic compass and maps of the area as backup tools, just in case the technology fails.

As stated the eTrex is a basic unit.  It does however, have another feature which I find interesting.  It has a “hunt/fish” menu.  For example, if you are at, or punch in the GPS co-ordinates to your favourite fishing spot, select the date and the eTrex will advise on the best times to fish on that particular day.  It uses the phases of the moon to make these predictions and, although I’m not convinced as to the accuracy of the predictions, it is interesting nonetheless and others actually swear by it.

Sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset are all there for any day you need them.

It really does have everything you need if, like me, you are someone who loves visiting out of the way, isolated locations and wandering off into the bush. 

You’ll never get lost again.

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