Driving tours in western Canada

GyPSyCanada’s highways are great fun to drive, but you tend to be behind the wheel many hours at the time. You just whizz by towns and sites along the way, often wondering what’s the story behind the sights. No longer – thanks to GyPSy, an innovative GPS-based audio guide. Install the GPS-enabled device in your car, attach it to a small FM receiver, and start driving. Every few minutes, you get a short commentary about some interesting fact or historical figure. And if there is not much to say about the trees along the way, you may get some interesting facts about Canada as a whole. It’s great not only for first-time visitors, but also for locals. Currently they offer commentaries along the main highways of BC and Alberta, as well as city tours of the main cities, in English, French and German. They’re hoping to add additional routes and languages. Great adaptation of GPS technology.

Nunavut Parks

I love the north, so am always on the lookout for places to travel. I just came across the Nunavut Parks website. Very pretty site, describing some very special places (if you don’t mind parks without trees!). I’ve spent a summer on Devon Island and Prince Leopold Island, but never in any of the parks. I’d head for the Thelon River tomorrow!

Maps for Garmin GPS

Garmin eTrex Vista HCXGPS has come a long way since I first saw someone use a unit in 1992 on the crater rim of the Mt. Bromo volcano in Java, Indonesia. By 1995, we had a Garmin 45 while exploring a previously unvisited alpine valley near Koropun, New Guinea. At the time, the average error was still 30-100m, and the unit took a long time to lock onto 8 satellites simultaneously. But it worked, and showed us exactly how far we were from a friend’s house with cold beer.

I recently retired my trusted Garmin 12, which took me on an epic drive through the southeastern Gobi desert of Mongolia. It was a great unit, but lacked built-in maps. As a result I always knew where I was, but it was hard to pinpoint the location on a map. For the Gobi trip, I hooked up the unit to a laptop running scanned 1:100,000 Russian maps on OziExplorer. That worked very well, and allowed us to navigate through one of the most deserted parts of the Gobi without trouble (other than many flat tires!). The unit worked well, except in the forest. Not exactly a problem in the Gobi, but certainly an issue when trying to map hiking trails in the dense forests of Bhutan.

I now have a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx, which has mapping abilities. It allows you to upload any vector-based maps. The Garmin Mapsource 1:50,000 maps for Canada work well, but don’t have everything one wants on them. Bring in CGPSMapper, software that allows users to create their own Garmin maps from any vector-based data. It includes a map database, where users have uploaded their maps. Cool.

I find that even with a mapping GPS you need paper maps to get an overview, but you should have a map (and a compass!) with you anytime anyway in case the GPS dies on you.

One huge advantage of the new crop of GPSs is that they are much more sensitive, so they even pick up signals inside a house, or better yet, in the forest.

I don’t see detailed maps of Mongolia yet, though, so next time I drive through the Gobi (I’d love to visit the far southwest next time!), I’ll go the laptop route again. Still unbeatable compared to anything else out there.

Maps on travel websites

Maps are a big part of travel – without them you have no clue where you’re going. So it is no surprise that visitors want to see maps on travel websites. Recent research by PhocusRight shows that US travellers prefer to see pictures, videos and maps on travel websites, and they value the information from these more than recommendations by friends. More and more travel websites are incorporating photos and video, but the quality of maps tends to lag behind. Good thematic maps (showing things like timezones, distances between cities etc) and topographic maps (Google maps has set a new standard here) go a long way in teaching visitors about a new destination.

Off the Radar

If you are interested in off-the-beaten track travel with small, local operators, then check out the Off the Radar newsletter. They offer up an interesting adventure travel survey this month too.

Sir Edmund Hillary passes away at 88

A sad day for New Zealand, as it loses its most respected and best-known citizens – and for the world of mountaineering and exploration. He was truly one of the greatest explorers of our age. Not only for his conquest of Everest, but especially for his life-long dedication to helping the Sherpas of the Khumbu region. If only all mountaineers bothered to do so much for the regions in which they climbed.

I would have loved to get a chance to meet Sir Edmund.

BBC news item | obituary

Visiting reindeer herders in northern Mongolia

The Tsaatan reindeer herders are a small nomadic group that live in a valley west of lake Hovsgol in northern Mongolia. they have become a popular off-the-beaten track destination in recent years. But as with so many indigenous people, the tourism didn’t necessarily help them. Now an NGO, the Itgel Foundation is trying to ensure that revenue from tourism actually stays in the community, and that the area is not overrun by tourists. A noble grassroots initiative, that could certianly be copied elsewhere as well.

2008 Travel trends

With the start of the new year, papers and magazines are full of trends and predictions for the coming 12 months. The travel industry is no different. The NY Times Travel section recently published their list of 53 hot places to travel in 2008.

I guess Canada can count itself lucky that it got featured at least once (New Zealand didn’t even make the cut), with a trip through the northwest passage. The top destinations were Laos, Lisbon, and Tunesia. Goes to show that we have a lot of competition out there. And for established destinations, it’s out-of-the-way places that are attracting attention. For Norway, the fiords, or even the Lofoten, don’t make the cut anymore, It’s Svalbard where you have to go.

Interestingly, for Indonesia, Lombok made the list. Bali is getting crowded, so they move over one island. They mention quieter beaches and a bigger volcano (Rinjani is indeed bigger than Gunung Agung on Bali). Good thing that there are lots of islands further east, in case Lombok gets over-crowded.

Prediction for 2015: Sumbawa will be the hot place to go. It used to have the biggest volcano of them all, Tambora, until it blew itself to bits in 1815 in the biggest volcanic explosion in recent history.