Due to its size, a trip to Australia involves so much planning and choices that chances are you'll need to buy a book and/or map to aid in your trip planning and navigation throughout the country.
Below are books and maps that we've used. We've also included other books in the literature that may help you find what you need. The list is by no means complete, but hopefully it is enough to get you going on your quest to inform yourself on your travels.
Australia (Lonely Planet):
We've been fans of Lonely Planet guidebooks for their thoroughness and organization. They make for great resources when you're just starting out your trip planning, figuring out which local restaurants to go to, studying detailed maps, and even finding budget accommodations. I also like their writeups on culture, the environment, politics, and history. And since the company is based in Oz, its thoroughness can't be beat. Even with all that said, you'll want to get the latest version available because their info on food and accommodations gets outdated very fast.
Explore Australia (Explore Australia) - The Ultimate On-Road Guide:
This thick full-color volume highlights attractions, routes, regions, and towns for the entire country. Of course it also has a thorough series of maps (though not quite down to street level atlas-like detail except for major cities). It's great for spotting waterfalls (many of which aren't in the Lonely Planet guides) and to get a sense of how to budget your time on your trip with great cross-referencing from the text to the maps. I've probably given this guide more use than even the LP guide and I can totally see why it's popular in Australia. We've used the 2006 version (24th edition), but we had to buy it direct from overseas so we had to pay hefty shipping costs. The Amazon link here only points you to an outdated version of the book (I believe 2005) so you'll have to decide for yourself whether to pony up on shipping costs while ordering direct through an Australian bookstore or buy an outdated version through Amazon. Better yet, you could find this in any bookstore while in Australia, but that won't help you much if you want to plan your trip and set up your itinerary prior to arriving there!
Australia's Top Tourist Destinations (Gregory's):
This spiral bound guidebook caught Julie's eye because it's full of color photographs and focuses only on the "main tourist highlights" throughout the country. I didn't really use this book so much for trip planning, but I did read through it and glanced the photos to get oriented with whatever part of the country we'd focus on for an upcoming trip before diving into the heavy-hitters LP and EA. This book is also published by the same company that seems to be synonymous with Road Atlases in Australia so they're no strangers to guiding travelers throughout the country. We bought the book while at a local Angus & Robertson store during our travels. It seems like Amazon and other retail American carriers aren't likely to have this one in stock.
Australian Road Trips - The Complete Holiday Guide (Little Hills Press):
This big full color guidebook (similar in size to Explore Australia) by Ian Read has a series of selected road trips sprinkled throughout the country. Most of them last from two day quickies to nine day marathons. I like the fact that it provides distances, drive times, and key landmarks or towns on the way. The drawback is that to truly appreciate the country, you need to get out of the car and walk and not spend all your time inside it. In any case, it was a useful resource for my trip planning to gauge distances and budget times for excursions. It's definitely a one-of-a-kind book, and I'm not even sure you can buy it from any American retailers. We bought our copy direct from Australia (along with the Explore Australia 2006 book) so we had to stomach the hefty shipping costs.
Thirty-five Walks to Waterfalls in Tasmania (Raelene & Rod Newell): This pretty nifty self-published guide was very useful for our waterfalling trip in Tasmania. We picked it up while in a local Visitor Center in Southern Tasmania on the way to Adamsons Falls. It got pretty heavy use by us and supplemented (and in some cases was the only source) our pre-trip research. The falls covers pretty much the southern and eastern parts of the state. Some falls are a bit puny to go through the trouble for, but there are others that are absolute gems. I think the authors had to deal with drought conditions the year before we got there (so they did multiple trips for some waterfalls), and we had similar issues on our trip. It goes to show you just how difficult writing guides can be - especially for waterfalls.
Exploring The Blue Mountains (Key Guide): This colorful guide was a spontaneous purchase made while strolling the streets of Sydney a day prior to our planned excursions into the Blue Mountains. It's a pretty pleasing read with nice photos and maps as well as a wildlife guide in the back. It was too bad we couldn't have made better use of this guide due to the foul weather we had experienced while in the Blue Mountains. Maybe we'll get a chance to use this guide more on a future trip to the Blue Mountains (hopefully under better conditions). I doubt you can pick this book up in an American retailer such as Amazon or Barnes and Nobles. You either have to pick it up while in Oz or buy it direct from an Aussie bookstore online.
Camping & Tramping in Australia's National Parks (Random House Australia):
This compact no-nonsense black-and-white guidebook by Keren Flavell covers hiking and camping destinations throughout the country (as the title states). And when I say no-nonsense, I mean no-nonsense as it doesn't have any photographs but it does have maps and lots of info about the various places you can enjoy the great outdoors in Oz. I bought this book spontaneously while in Kakadu National Park in the hopes of finding some obscure waterfall, but after reading through the book, it's not really appropriate for international tourists wanting to make the most of their time exploring destinations on limited time. I can see how this can be tremendously useful for locals wanting to do a camping trip for several days at a time, however.
Northern Territory (Lonely Planet):
This is a book more focused on the Northern Territory than what's contained in the Australia book. It contains additional tidbits and maps that otherwise are not contained in the bigger volume. However in terms of scenic highlights that most international visitors are likely to visit, you're probably better off with the bigger Oz book unless you know for sure that you're only going to the Top End without going anywhere else or you're looking for something more off the beaten track. I used this guide (2003 version) to supplement the existing information learned from the bigger volume, especially for our Northern Territory leg of the trip. Apparently, they have a newer version that also includes Central Australia, but I'm not sure if that's just a title change since the 2003 version also included the NT part of the Red Center. I'm not sure if the newer version covers deep outback regions like the Simpson Desert, Pilbara, etc. (which is not in the NT book we have).
Eyewitness Travel: Australia (DK):
This rather compact full-color illustrated guidebook presents information in a pleasing way. Julie likes this book for that very reason - pictures! However, after using Lonely Planet and Explore Australia 2006, I honestly have to say that I personally didn't make much use of it. We've purchased the 2006 copyrighted book.
Pilbara, Western Australia's Karijini N.P. (Ben Knapinski): While browsing a tiny strip mall's gift shop in Kununurra, WA, I spent time browsing through this book and eventually bought it. It's basically a short coffee-table-type book with some basic info on how the photo was taken and how to tour specific parts of Karijini National Park in the unforgiving Pilbara region. Of course I paid attention to the waterfalls Knapinski photographed though the vast majority of them are ephemeral or hard to reach given the ruggedness of the desert outback here. I think this book is only local to the northern reaches of Western Australia though it's quite possible it might be distributed elsewhere throughout the country. You sure won't find it in the US, however.
Kimberley, Western Australia's Gibb River Road (Ben Knapinski): This was another one of Knapinski's works that I browsed through while chilling out in Kununurra, WA. Since the Gibb's River Road is part of the route you need to take to get to the remote Mitchell Falls, it piqued my interest. Plenty of waterfalls in this book (especially those that people like us on limited time wouldn't have a prayer of visiting) and all beautifully captured, which is what can be expected from a professional photographer who knows the WA. Even for travelers like us, I sometimes stare at this book and become an armchair traveler.
Spiral Guides: Australia (AAA):
After my experience reading the New Zealand AAA book, I didn't really give this book much of a chance in terms of trip planning (especially after consulting the LP and EA guides). So I basically look at this book when checking out photos and highlights. But I didn't even bother looking at their condensed itineraries geared towards spending your the majority of your vacation time in the airport and rushed on the road.
The Australian Road Atlas (Explore Australia):
In addition to the larger volume entitled "Explore Australia", we also bought the smaller Road Atlas. To be honest, this offers nothing different than what's already contained in the bigger volume and is probably a waste of money if you already own the bigger book. The only positive I can see is that we actually brought this atlas on our trip so we could abuse it as opposed to abusing the big EA book that I still consult for each Oz trip we do. Like the other EA book, I don't think American retailers carry this so you'll have to buy it direct from abroad, buy it direct from overseas, or find a local travel boutique store that might carry something like this.
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Mapsource Australia (Garmin):
On our most recent trip to Australia in 2008, we decided to use this piece of navigation and trip planning software after our great experience with the Icelandic version
of it. It turns out that the map does cover the whole country, but the place names, services, and accommodations weren't as extensive as they were compared to its Icelandic counterpart. Nonetheless, many of the popular sites were waypointed and routable and our trip planning filled in the rest of the blanks. All in all, it was a far better experience using this software while self-driving than the method we used previously where we imported Natmap Raster Australia (see below) into MemoryMap and tried to navigate that way.
NATMAP Raster Premium (Geoscience Australia): This very useful 1:250k topographic map of all of Australia is an invaluable resource for trip planning. While it lacks the detail necessary for hiking (it's next to impossible to find something comprehensive on the order of 1:50k or even 1:100k digitally without breaking the bank), it's got all the information needed to locate key attractions and towns as well as gauging driving distances.
This DVD is not a standalone software and really nothing more than a huge database of map information and graphics. This means that it won't work directly with your GPS and it won't let you do things to the map like superpose waypoints, tracks, routes, etc. Instead, I actually had to go through the trouble of capturing a snapshot of the map (HUGE FILE!) and importing it into a supplemental software like Memory Map to take advantage of the GPS interfacing as well as other overlay features. The tendency of NATMAP to crash often didn't help matters. Anyhow, after calibrating each pasted-in section of the map in Memory Map, we were good to go and have since used the resulting scheme successfully on all of our Australia trips. A lot of trouble I know, but the hours invested was worth it in my opinion.
You can't buy NATMAP Raster from an American retailer. I had to purchase it directly through some Australian bookstore online so I had to stomach hefty shipping costs. Memory Map, however, is purchasable online. We are looking into a comprehensive MapSource Australia solution if it exists, which might end up replacing all the hard work I've done. We'll see...
Australian City Streets (UBD): We bought this DVD (version 3.0) while in Australia when we somehow got lost in Perth. It contains detailed street-level maps very much like the hard copy editions you can find in bookstores throughout Australia. The cities they cover are all the major metropolitan ones including Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, etc. It was quite useful, but we couldn't get its GPS function to work. Thus, we had to consult the software as if we were looking at a hard copy, which was annoying. I suppose in hindsight, I could've tried to copy pieces of the map onto a clipboard and bring it into Memory Map and go through the same rigamaroll as I did with NATMAP Raster. If you can get something like that going, then you've got a real winner.
Australian Regional Cities and Towns (UBD): Like the UBD Australian City Streets DVD Product, this one has all the street-level atlas details you could ask for. The difference here is that they cover smaller towns and rural regions throughout the country. My biggest gripe with this one though (version 2.0 is the one we bought) is that you have to have the CD in the drive in order to get the program going, which I think sucks because it increases the likelihood of damage to the CD. And like the City product mentioned above, you'll need to import its contents somehow into a 3rd party program like Memory Map in order to have something effective (i.e. with GPS navigation and overlap capabilities).
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