Using OS Maps to plan walking routes in Australia or New Zealand? Not all maps are made equal!

Update 2022: You can now use the OS Maps app to explore the USA as well as Australia and New Zealand. Beaverhead National Forest anyone?

We can but dream.

In my case of being able to visit my family in New Zealand again.

But there are all kinds of dreaming, and I like to plan my trips to anywhere around walking routes. Especially if I’m visiting one of the most glorious countries in the world.

Mind you I’ve never been to Australia.

They have biting, stinging things there. But they don’t show them on the maps.

At least not on the maps I’ve been looking at.

OS Maps – Australia and New Zealand

Copyright Ordnance Survey 2022

OS Maps is Ordnance Survey’s online mapping app. Because part of my freelance work involves writing walking routes for magazines and websites, I use it all the time.

If you haven’t found it yet, you’re in lonely company. Available in web version, and for Android and Apple, and with over 3.5 million subscribers in Great Britain, most people who love getting outside have given OS Maps a go.

Most of them stay with it!

Take a look at our advice and tips on how to plan a walking route on OS Maps.

Ordnance Survey’s latest version (January 2022) of OS Maps includes some innovative updates but the most exciting of these has to be the ability to plot walking routes in Australia and New Zealand.

Both if you enjoy long-distance sea swimming!

Australia and New Zealand maps are not the same as GB ones

If you’ve ever been on an international walking holiday, you’ll be nodding your head here. It’s perhaps not until you leave the shores of Great Britain that you really start to appreciate the quality and depth of information we have available on Ordnance Survey maps.

That said, it’s fun comparing the different styles.

Here are five map symbols I spotted on the New Zealand and Australia map legends that you might not find on a GB Ordnance Survey map. There are many more so get ready to become totally absorbed.

Please prepare your inner map geek!

Desert map symbols

We’re a bit short of deserts (but not puddings) in Great Britain, which is probably why I’ve yet to find a symbol for Sand Ridges on our map legends. The map above shows Alice Springs (Mparntwe) with the Simpson Desert to the south. The desert is 176,500 km². England is only 130,279 km². Those ridges are enormous (some up to 200 km long).

Glacier map symbols

Although New Zealand isn’t quite as good at Australia at deserts, it definitely wins when it comes to glaciers.

Which means it still has areas of snow and ice that remain all year. Which means that, although most of New Zealand’s ups and downs are, as in Great Britain, shown as brown contour lines, if you look closely, you’ll find some rather cool-looking (in both senses of the word) blue contour lines. These are perennial (not perineal) snow and ice contours. Guaranteed to make any map reader want (but probably not manage) to explore!

Fishy map symbols

I was looking for wrecks (which have their own map symbol in NZ and Australia) when I found this one. I’m not sure if UK charts show fish shoals but here, off the coast of Curtis Island in Queensland, I spotted a strange blue circle with the words ‘Bass Shoals’. It’s around a kilometre across, apparently eight minutes, and lots of fish, in a canoe.

All a far cry from our British blue fish symbol.

The filled-in blue shape shows a reef, something Australia has plenty of. If you look inland, you’ll also spot the black lines that represent a levee (dyke).

Geothermal map symbols

When it comes to hot springs and geothermal excitement, New Zealand surely has to beat both Great Britain and Australia. Which is probably why I found at least three map symbols showing some kind of geothermal activity.

If you look closely here in the Whakarewarewa Thermal area (not as hard to pronounce as you might think), you’ll see two brown crosses. They show fumaroles, which apparently are hotter than hot springs (smaller brown crosses) but not the same thing as geysers. Having visited Whakarewarewa some decades ago, I can confirm that the water there is indeed hot.

And very smelly!

Intermittent and dry lake map symbols

As a general rule, in Great Britain a lake has water in it. Of course we do have a few upland locations called ‘Lake’, which are far more like boggy grass than anything pretty and blue. We also have a district called ‘Lake’, which appears (during my visits anyway) to have as much water in the sky as on the floor.

In Australia however, they have dry lakes (brown dots inside a blue line) but even more fascinating are intermittent lakes (blue dots inside a blue line). The map above shows Lake Eyre, which despite being 15 metres below sea level, is blocked off from the sea, and in an area of very low rainfall. It only fills when the nearby rivers are in flood, and has a crust of salt.

Great for chips but tricky if you want fish as well!

Maps make me want to explore

So there we have it. I’ve just spent a very pleasant afternoon pouring over some of the most fascinating maps I’ve ever looked at. I’ll probably carry on this evening.

And then, of course, I’ll want to explore.

That’s what maps do to you!

How to plan a walking route… For someone else

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