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Interview: Rob Boegheim, managing director of Hema Maps

Hema Maps is Australia’s leading offroad mapping company, and we got a few moments with the man in change.

THERE ARE SOME companies that define their niches with no serious competitors in sight. Hema is one example, as there’s nobody else offering the range of print and electronic mapping products backed up by original research. Chances are you’ve got a Hema product somewhere in your vehicle, but have you thought much about the effort that has gone into delivering an offroad map?

Hema was founded in 1983 by Henry and Margaret Boegheim, parents of current MD Rob, who has grown up in and around the business. That’s given him a lifetime’s perspective on Australian offroading and mapping, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:

PM4x4: What do you think has been the biggest advance in offroad navigation over the last 5 years?

RB: There hasn’t been a huge number of advances in off-road navigation in the past five years, but there has been a shift; one towards mobile devices and offline digital navigation. Everyone wants to know where they are at all times, and to do so on an accurate and reliable map is paramount.

For Hema, it’s not only meant that we have made our map content available on mobile platforms in the past five years, but we’ve changed our entire mapping database to move from restrictive single-scale print maps to an endless multi-scale digital map – the Hema Explorer Map. Using a digital map that seamlessly covers all of Australia from a country-wide scale of 1:18,000,000 down to a walking scale of 1:9,000 – featuring all of our verified track and point of interest data – gives travellers the user-experience and accuracy in planning and navigation that modern technology allows.

All photography in this article is courtesy Hema Maps and has been reproduced by permission.

How do you think offroad navigation will change in the next 5, then 10 years?

Whether it’s off-road or not, navigation is changing, so naturally those benefits and trends will permeate all of its forms. Currently, the movement is towards more sophisticated navigation and more granular content such as points of interest, which is seeing navigation move beyond road networks and directions to interactive trip guides.

For off-road travellers, the next ten years could see a similar leap into this realm, with things like geo-locatable multimedia, intelligent itineraries and off-road warnings all within the bounds of what’s possible; and more importantly what’s useful for facilitating off-road trips.

What are your top 3 tips for those new to offroad navigation?

Those new to off-road navigation are often unaware that street mapping is not the same as offroad mapping in information or interpretation. So, finding a map that not only covers the place you’re hoping to explore but has the right information on it is an integral but often underrated consideration.

Next, for those using digital navigation in an off-road setting, make sure you have offline mapping. An off-road navigation app or map that needs an internet connection to function is only useful for so long, while digital navigation itself doesn’t function all of the time, which means offline digital navigation and a printed map for planning and as a backup is essential for any meaningful off-road sortie.

Finally, being able to accurately interpret your map to choose places that suit your level of experience is a helpful skill. Browsing a map and dreaming up adventures is the first part of any journey, so learning how to successfully sift through cartographic information is essential.

Use information such as proximity to facilities, contour lines and elevation, proliferation of 4WD tracks – as well as the ability to delineate between highways, roads and arterials, unsealed roads and legitimate tracks and walking trails – to determine where to go with the time you have. Map reading is also a key survival skill for serious off-road trips and in many unexpected circumstances in remote areas.

Can you share with us some navigation tips for those that have been around a while that we may have missed?

Navigation is at its best when it’s guiding your trip without becoming an exercise in and of itself. There’s a difference between planning and overcomplicating a journey, so try to avoid allowing highly specific ETAs, point-to-point distances and other potential minutia get in the way of a journey.

How do you think 4WD tracks have changed over the last 10 years, and how do you think they may change in the future?

Recreational four-wheel driving is becoming increasingly popular in Australia, which means all areas – both local and remote – are becoming comparatively busier as time goes on. The last decade has seen places like Outback Western Australia become more accessible in the minds of experienced travellers, while flagship destinations like Cape York, the Kimberley and the Simpson Desert are safer to travel than ever.

The environmental consequences of this increase are tough to quantify, but evidently more traffic leads to increased impact on these wilderness areas. That being said, with iconic regions becoming more popular, it’s quite possible that travellers in the coming decade could be driven to seek out more lesser-known areas in search of seclusion, which would spread the environmental load more evenly throughout the country.

Hema’s maps aren’t just re-coloured government maps. How is the field research and user input fed into the map-making process?

The information we collect in the field is raw, but is also meticulously gathered and backed-up to make the data integration process back at the office simple. While on the road, our Map Patrol team records track data, point of interest information and media that’s relevant to places and tracks.

We then take the data back to Hema HQ, where it’s cleaned and correctly connected before integrating it into our current map database, with new tracks added and tracks that are closed or otherwise unnavigable removed or noted as such. The same goes for all points of interest encountered, which ranges from campsites and caravan parks to boat ramps and information centres. Then, because we have a single point of truth for all of our printed and digital products, we can quickly and easily use our updated data in any Hema product.

Click the interactive map image below:

A 2D map cannot perfectly represent a 3D world. What sort of tradeoffs are made by the mapmakers?

The restrictions of a map are mainly in the level of detail permitted and its ability to depict landscapes – contour lines and other means of portraying relief are a perfect example of how cartographers get around these sorts of problems. In actuality there are few trade-offs, as a map is not a representation of terrain but a tool for understanding and traversing it.

Following from that then, choosing what to put on and leave off a map is a cartographer’s job, and one of utmost importance. One area could be represented in thousands of different ways cartographically, depending on what information was included. This freedom allows a Hema map to perfectly present the right information for four-wheel drive, camping and touring trips, making the restrictive canvas of a map also one of its biggest strengths.

You’ve spent a lot of time touring Australia in 4WDs, more than most people would in a lifetime. Give us three tips for long-distance 4WD trips.

The most immediate piece of advice is to watch the weight of your full rig, as an overweight vehicle invites breakdowns and chronic mechanical problems down the line.

Next, focus on how efficient your camp set-up is when you travel long distances. When you’re moving every day, how quickly you set up and pack down your site can determine how much ground you cover and how much leisure time you get each day.

Lastly, remember that a recommendation from a local is often the best one you’ll get. If you get chatting to someone from around the area, don’t be afraid to ask about the best spots to visit, as you could end up uncovering a hidden gem to enjoy. If you travel to the middle of nowhere, you should make sure you make the most of it!

Hema products carry a lot of custom photography. That means travelling with expensive camera gear. What is your advice for travelling with such gear?

Simple habits such as packing away lenses properly and waiting for dust to settle before getting out of the car with a DSLR in hand are good rules to work by, however we’re also lucky to have dedicated charging bays and perfectly suited camera bags for simple storage and protection while working in rough areas.

“Taking a good photo” is subjective…but can you give us some quick advice, things to do and not do?

Personally, I like to go back to basics when I’m taking a photo and think about the story I want each image to tell. Beyond composition, light or landscapes, I take the camera out when I want to capture a particular feeling – it also happens that inspiration strikes most at sunrise, sunset or in beautiful surrounds. If I can be inspired by what I’m seeing and capture it accurately in the frame, then I know it will be a great image.


Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!