Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Monday 8 June 2020

My Google Maps Disaster

Last weekend I did the Cape Brett Track with some friends and family (more about that in a separate post). On Saturday morning I left Whangarei at 6am, planning to take Russell Road to the trailhead at Rawhiti around 7:30am, so we could start the walk just after dawn.

The first thing that went wrong is that we missed the turnoff to Russell Road from State Highway One. Google Maps (and my road atlas) shows the turnoff at Whakapara, but no road signs in that area mention Whakapara, so it's easy to miss in the dark.

We carried on, looking for a place to turn around. The next opportunity was at the intersection with Puhipuhi Road. Google Maps shows Puhipuhi Road connecting with Russell Road via Teatree Flat Road and Peach Orchard Road, so I thought we might as well just take it. (Narrator: big mistake!)

Upon reaching Teatree Flat Road, we discovered the street sign was marked "no exit". Worrying, but Google Maps clearly shows it connecting to Peach Orchard Road, so we might as well have a look, right? (Narrator: no.)

At the end of Teatree Flat Road, a sign says Council Maintenance Ends, but a road continues where Peach Orchard Road should be and it doesn't look too bad. Backtracking now might have forced our friends to wait for quite a while ... so we gave it a go. (Narrator shakes head.)

Peach Orchard Road deteriorated rapidly. Before we knew it, our people-mover was bouncing down a track that seemed to be mostly rocks and tree roots. It was clear that I had made a dreadful mistake and should not have been on that road in that car. I was genuinely scared and praying fervently. There was nowhere to turn around and even if there was, I'm not sure our car could have gotten back up the hill, so I gritted my teeth and kept going, just hoping the road wouldn't get worse and our car wouldn't fall apart. Thank God, the road started to improve again, connected to a proper gravel road, and then we were on Russell Road. We caught up to our friends and were back on schedule.

But there is a sequel! After we finished the walk on Sunday night, we started driving out and immediately discovered we had a flat tire! I assume this was a slow leak from damage inflicted by Peach Orchard Road :-(. Still, I'm grateful it didn't stop us from getting to Rawhiti. We changed the tire and were able to get home after several hours of cautious driving.

All in all it was a cheap lesson. Don't trust Google Maps for connectivity or state of rural roads! At least check to see if there is Street View for the roads you want to use. In fact the drivers of the Google Maps car were wise enough to skip the scary part of Peach Orchard Road :-).


I usually hike off-road (no vehicles), and also found that Google Maps is completely unreliable outside big cities. Plus it's a complete data hog. I found that OpenStreetMap is more reliable for this, and OsmAnd for Android is a much superior application. I download the latest maps at home and can go where the data connection is non-existent. From your descriptions, I think this is the road you mentioned: https://www.openstreetmap.org/way/165141472 I went ahead and marked that as a Track, requiring a heavy off-road vehicle, it should update the tiles in a few hours. Hopefully it will save the next person from making the same mistake. :D