Sure, you can drive from Gauteng to Cairo without using Tracks4Africa, but why would you want to? This proven, homegrown GPS mapping solution tells overlanders exploring Africa everything they need to know. From routable, turn-by-turn directions, to advice on virtually every aspect of your journey, this community-based navigation platform has you covered. Here’s why using Tracks4Africa’s GPS Africa Map 16.10 makes sense, and why you should never travel far from home without it. 

Cruising down a scenic dirt track in a well kitted out 4×4, camping under the stars surrounded by wild critters and experiencing Africa’s hard-to-reach natural wonders up close and personal – this is the stuff dedicated overland travellers dream of. However, fun travel fantasies evaporate fast when you’re stuck with the harsh reality of a dry fuel tank in the middle of nowhere. Come to think of it, running out of precious drinking water won’t help you much, either. The reality is negotiating the hurly-burly world of our northern neighbours (with their minimal infrastructure, poor roads and vast, wild open spaces between towns) can be a challenge – especially for those heading off on private adventures, inadequately prepared.

It goes without saying, before waving goodbye to loved ones and roaring off towards the great dusty yonder, there are many aspects of overland travel for the smart traveller to consider. Which is the best route? Is this a safe spot to set up camp? Where’s the next fuel stop? Do they have a mechanic? And, if the erm, the sh*&# seriously hits the fan, which emergency numbers should I call?

The best way to find answers to pertinent questions like these is easy – simply ask others who’ve braved the route before you. After all, they know the lay of the land, which campsites suck and where you can always find a cold beer. And the best way to tap into this ever-growing pool of collective African travel wisdom? You guessed it, via Tracks4Africa.

Information, the key to safe travel

That Tracks4Africa (T4A) provides reliable, routable GPS map coverage of all the major overland routes through Africa is widely known. But there’s much more to this popular mapping platform than just accurate turn-by-turn directions and an impressive list of POIs – it also provides a wealth of invaluable information to help keep you safe and on-track. One of T4A’s founding members, Johann Groenewald, explains: “The way we see it, four dimensions go into creating an accurate navigational picture. GPS waypoints provide only one dimension. GPS waypoints and tracks offer two. Geo-features such as rivers, lakes, mountains and contour lines add the third. And information, the most critical aspect of this concept, is the fourth.”

This makes sense; an accurate GPS map may get you to your destination, but only information can keep you, your travel companions and vehicle safe from harm along the way. And, as far as the environment goes, the last thing any of us want to do it expose it to unnecessary risk due to our own ignorance.

Here’s one example, found on Tracks4Africa’s Website, were having some local knowledge can prevent a serious accident or injury: The Himba cattle in northern Namibia have adapted over the centuries to feed as far as 35km away from water – returning to drink only every second day when heat and dehydration all but overcome them. This return usually occurs at nightfall or after dark. During the last 5 km, when the scent of water is picked up by the herd, the thirsty animals often stampede towards the waterhole. As you can imagine, this local dynamic has potentially lethal implications for any unsuspecting overnight bush campers.

Community mapping

The latest map set from Tracks4Africa is available for all Garmin map capable devices.

Mapping the remote parts of Africa accurately, reliably and in an ecologically correct manner is impossible to do using conventional mapping methods (think tracing from official maps and satellite imagery). It requires extensive GPS field mapping projects on the ground. And, given that rural Africa is a dynamic place – with roads constantly changing every rainy season – the same areas require re-mapping on a regular, ongoing basis. It’s a prohibitively costly exercise and the reason why none of the big global mapping companies has got in on the action.

But what was considered a headache for the big boys proved to be a boon for Tracks4Africa and their loyal band of voluntary contributors – allowing them to achieve “informally” what those with deep pockets never could. Says Groenewald: “Constructing an eco-map is a ground zero mission and, at best, the job can only be done by experienced eco-travellers – people with a passion for Africa and its conservation. There is only one way to map Africa accurately, reliably and environmentally correctly. That is to put the responsibility for the collection of data in the hands of experienced and responsible eco-travellers who understand the conditions at ground zero.”

In fact, the T4A Data Community is the very foundation of Tracks4Africa – it’s the source of all their GPS data, information and professional advice, guidance and inspiration. And, embedded in the T4A Community is an eco-consciousness and value system that practically rules everything they do. Participation is purely voluntary and anyone can get involved, all Tracks4Africa asks that you adhere to their strict guidelines clearly spelt out on their Website.

The amount of information T4A regularly receives from contributors going about their travels is staggering – from detailed GPS-derived “breadcrumb” trails that show the precise roads and tracks traversed by the user, to where the best shops are and what you can do once at your destination. Groenewald elaborates: “Thanks to our T4A Community we have an incredibly rich set of points of interest which is absolutely relevant to the independent traveller in Africa. Our maps cover more than 156 000 points of interest, ranging from activities and attractions to fuel stops and emergency services. We also have accommodation such as hotels, guest lodges, backpackers as well as the most comprehensive listing of campsites in Africa.”

Padkos, a stand-alone portal on Tracks4Africa’s Website, is another important resource for travellers wanting to get the real low-down on destinations they intend to visit. Here, content such as photos, descriptions and comments corresponding to each POI on the T4A maps can be uploaded by users – providing those reading the posts with a realistic impression of what to expect and better plan their trips.

You can even search the Tracks4Africa Live Maps from your web browser.

Out with the old, in with the new

Because the African continent is in a constant state of flux, T4A updates their maps twice a year – first in May then October. The release number of each map corresponds with the release date. For instance, the latest version, 16.10 was released in October last year. Says Groenewald: “Our map growth is organic in nature, as a consequence our work is never done. This time around we processed 555 data submissions for Version 16.10. These submissions not only contribute to more roads and POI’s to the map, they also improve the quality of existing data by means of corrections.”

Tracks4Africa’s Africa Map 16.10 features

Here’s a brief breakdown of what you get when purchasing T4A’s latest Africa Map offering:

  • 1 117 780km of roads, detailed tourist coverage and fully navigable
  • 156 753 points of interest
  • Most complete and detailed protected areas (national parks, game reserves etc.) in Africa – 1452 parks in total.
  • 13 397 accommodation listings
  • 3 845 campsites, the most comprehensive camping database in Africa
  • 6 141 places to eat or drink
  • 10 562 fuel stops

Updates that made T4A’s Africa Map 16.10 possible

Changes made to bring T4A’s Africa Map 16.10 up to speed included the following:

  • New roads and tracks added for Nigeria, including major highways. Major Towns traced and added as points. Top 100 attractions researched and added.
  • All major highways across Africa identified and added e.g. The Trans-Sahara Highway. Further updates to follow.
  • Increased network coverage of Algeria/Tunisia.
  • All suburbs of South Africa added as points and are now searchable (4000+)
  • Kenya: Chegilet, Kangundo, Ndumberi link roads.
  • Doornrivier 4×4 trails got updated and gravel roads around Enselsberg
  • Update on roads in Ethiopia, new tar road and roads in Omo National Park
  • 4×4 route was added around Ga-Lekgothoane
  • Cities in Sudan added
  • POI’s for Dar es salaam added
  • North of Luderitz-sand dune offroads were added
  • Aar Hiking trail at Boplaas added
  • Steenbokkie Private Nature Reserve tracks added
  • Ndakaine Dam Circuit updated
  • Botswana: Maun, Ghanzi, Kasane points of interest updated.
  • Trees of Historic importance added to Zambia and Zimbabwe as POI’s and tracks traced leading to them.
  • Angola rivers updated
  • All major and minor roads updated for Angola.

Technical stuff

Strictly speaking, what Tracks4Africa has created is not a map. It’s the collective navigational experience of the T4A Data Community as they go about countless leisure trips to eco-destinations into remote and eco-sensitive Africa, and no two travel experiences are the same.

Your Tracks4Africa maps can be viewed on your PC or Mac, allowing you to plan your trip and download the data to your Garmin device.

Simply put, T4A Maps explain where and why environmental users do what they do. Road lines and points of interest featured on T4A Maps are only constructed from GPS recorded/confirmed data, and all data submissions must comply with T4A quality standards. And, the road lines on the T4A Map are spatially averaged from many independent GPS recordings – making them super accurate, reliable and unique.

T4A GPS Africa Map 16.10, comprising 16 separate regional maps, comes preloaded on a micro SD card with standard adapter, ready for Plug & Navigation. This SD card can be used on most map-capable Garmin units and has been tested with latest Garmin Nuvi models as well. Note: This product is not compatible to iGO in car navigation systems, Android or iOS devices. For these platforms, Tracks4Africa has separate products available. 

The SD card also contains installation files for PC and Mac users who want to install the maps on their computers for trip planning or for transferring maps to older Garmin units such as the 276c, 76csx and previous generation eTrex models, etc.

As South Africa’s only authorised upgrade partner, NavWorld is able to assist you with both installation and support for your Tracks4Africa maps. You can also chat to us online via the chat screen on this page (bottom right). The physical maps and SD cards for your Garmin can be purchased at any of NavWorld’s walk-in service centres. – (c) 2017 NavWorld

Garmin users please note: You must have MapSource or BaseCamp in order to view or load T4A GPS Maps on your device.

About The Author

Sean Woods

Originally a photographer for the Star newspaper in the bad old days, Sean Woods turned to writing after the first democratic elections in '94. The career shift paid serious dividends, culminating in him becoming associate editor for Popular Mechanics magazine with a number of technology writing awards under his belt. His interests include anything to do with boats, motorcycles and all those fancy tech gadgets that help the modern world go around.

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