What's the best way to guide yourself around in a strange land? An ordinary old road atlas? A fancy guidebook? Or a high-tech satellite navigation device?
Over the summer break I happened to have each of those to try out: the latest TomTom Go 930 (RRP $900, but often discounted and available to rent for about $8-$9 a day); the 2008 Lonely Planet New Zealand guide ($50); and a Hema Road Spiral Atlas ($32.95).
I also happened to have the ideal guinea pigs: my wife's nephew Steve, visiting from England, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, with plans to drive a rental car in
Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, and a motorcaravan around the South Island.
So, off they went into the great unknown for three weeks, with instructions to report back on which of these navigational devices proved the most useful.
Fortunately, Steve uses a TomTom as part of his work back in Eastbourne, so he had no trouble operating the new 930 (nor, I should add, did I, despite being a novice).
At the end of his trip he reported it was "great to use", "really made it easier to find our way round the South Island" and "made driving in the heavier traffic in Auckland much more relaxing".
The only criticism was that "there seems to be a bit of a delay in updating the position, which means sometimes you don't get much warning that you've arrived at a turn."
The Lonely Planet guide got a rather lukewarm reaction. "It obviously has a lot of useful information but it was a bit too complicated for what we wanted. We didn't really want to spend a whole lot of time looking things up."
Steve also comented that judging from his trip "some of their information seems a
Somewhat to my surprise, his top pick of the three was the cheapest, the old-fashioned road atlas, "which had all the information we needed to find our way around and pointed us at all the tourist highlights in the places we visited".
It also made a pretty good substitute for the TomTom, when I took it back for a few days, and they had to navigate entirely by road maps. They still managed to find their way to where we were celebrating Christmas in the wilds of Ohauiti.
So there you have the result of the experiment: the Hema Road Spiral Atlas is the way to go.
That is, of course, just one family's view. Personally, I almost always take a Lonely Planet guide book on my trips and they've often saved my bacon. And after trying to find my way round Paris with a book of maps, and turning in desperation to GoogleMaps on my EeePC, I'd have loved to have a TomTom or some such device to point the way.
But it just goes to show that it isn't necessary to spend up large on a fancy satnav device or guide book; a common or garden road atlas may do the job better and for a lot less money.
- Jim Eagles