Where to get topographic maps

This article is an additional resource to my book, How to Navigate – the art of traditional map and compass navigation in an Australian context. It provides links to the various Australian State Government mapping organisations, so you can buy topographic maps for your hiking, bushwalking and other outdoor adventures.

Topographic maps… like reading a book before seeing the movie. [Photo: Ben Cirulis @Fotograija.com.au}

Topographic maps in Australia are created by each of the different state governments. In recent years, most states have begun moving through a digitisation program where they no longer sell paper maps, moving all their mapping resources online instead. There’s some great benefits to this (and yes, a few negatives), as it allows many of us to access and download topographic maps and choose to print them in a way that works for us.

Yallingup 1:25,000. [Cape to Cape Track] Copyright (and buy from) Western Australia Land Information Authority.

Where to get Australian topo maps for hiking and bushwalking

Cradle Mountain 1:25,000 [Overland Track]. Base image (and buy from) by TASMAP. Copyright State of Tasmania
Heysen Trail Map Sheet 8, 1:50,000 Mapping Data. Copyright (and buy from) Mapland, Dept for Environment & Water.

Apart from the state government maps, there’s also a collection overseen by Geoscience Australia at a federal level. This map index may help you find what you need, along with some helpful links down the left-hand side.

Topographic maps for hiking FAQ

Can I still buy printed paper topographic maps?

Yes. Depending on the state and map you’re after, you can order them online from map shops or buy them from some outdoor stores like Paddy Pallin.

Not every state has gone this route, some have free PDF downloads and no printing, some still print and offer PDFs for a price.

Wilsons Promontory Special 1:50,000. Copyright (and buy from) The State of Victoria, dept of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (VICMap)

Are they the same as the original government printed topos?

Yes and no. These maps are printed commercially by map or outdoor stores for resale from a supplied digital file. In NSW this is the same high resolution file that we can all download from SIXMaps and print ourselves. The topographic information will be the same if they’ve used the government map file, but in states like NSW there are some ‘key’ (cough) differences. Generally, they are only one-sided which means we miss out on the orthophoto map (aerial image) and the back page of the key.

In NSW topos, this means that the magnetic declination diagram has been replaced with a text description, along with some extra technical information that is no longer included. This includes (surprisingly… and please someone correct me if I just can’t find it), the datum that the map has been created with. Sure, it uses the GDA logo, but no indication of GDA 94 or GDA 2020.

New map key on NSW eTopo maps.

What compass to use for bush navigation

There’s lots of different types of compasses on the market, so if you’re jumping into map and navigation for outdoor adventures, these are the ones I’ve used for 15 years and recommend:

Silva Ranger 3 – Buy now from Macpac

Silva Ranger – Buy now from Snowys

Both of these are what’s called a ‘Baseplate Compass’. Specifically, they feature the two key things to look for:

  • a long baseplate (there are stumpy, short ones around)
  • 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scale
  • a great mid-range price (you can pay over $100 for other compasses!)
Silva Ranger Compass

Writer, producer and content creator by trade, search and rescue volunteer by passion, Caro Ryan started LotsaFreshAir.com to inspire, teach and encourage people to get into hiking and the outdoors safely.

It’s all about connecting people to wild places in meaningful ways, so they can look after themselves, their mates and these precious places we visit.

She teaches wilderness navigation, authored the book, ‘How to Navigate’ and hosts, ‘Rescued - an Outdoor Podcast for Hikers and Adventurers.

In the bottom of her pack you'll find coffee grounds, instant noodles past their used by date and an insatiable curiosity.

Bushwalking & Hiking Tips from an Unexpected Outdoors Chick

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