16 February 2024

Locals urge travellers to ask them, not Google Maps

| Lyndon Keane
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After recovering this bogged vehicle in Oyala Thumotang National Park on 13 February, 2024, Coen Mechanical owner Sara Watkin is urging travellers to speak to locals about road conditions, rather than relying on Google Maps. Photo: Supplied.

With two Google Map-related recoveries under her belt in the past month alone, Coen Mechanical owner Sara Watkin has some simple advice for anyone travelling on Cape York roads during the wet season: ask a local.

Ms Watkin and her team partnered with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers on 13 February, 2024 to pull a stranded four-wheel drive out of the impassable Oyala Thumotang National Park after its owners attempted to bypass the flooded Archer River crossing on the Peninsula Developmental Road (PDR) by following directions provided by Google Maps.

Taking the alternative route proffered by the navigation app resulted in German tourists Marcel Schoene, 25, and 20-year-old Philipp Maier spending seven days in bushland as they tried to walk to Archer River Roadhouse for help, before swollen wet season creeks forced them to return to Coen on foot.

The alternative Google Maps route offered to the German pair directed them to drive through the closed – and flooded – Oyala Thumotang National Park. Photo: Supplied.

“It was exactly the same cause – Google Maps taking them on a redirect through the old Archer River crossing,” Ms Watkin explained.

“The first guy [to get stuck] was around the 13th of January; he was starting a new role in Weipa, and that’s when [the PDR Archer River crossing] was closed, so Google just diverted him down through the national park, and he actually flooded his vehicle.

“He ended up walking back to Coen in the middle of the night for about 20 kilometres, before being picked up by one of the rangers from Merepah Station.”

Ms Watkin said it was frustrating for those tasked with recovering the vehicles that drivers were not taking the time to seek advice from locals or check up-to-date road conditions on State Government websites, like QLDTraffic.

“Pretty much a month later, these two guys from Germany wanted to see how far they could get with the wet season, because it has been pretty dry for us,” she said.

“They were following the redirect through the national park, realised they couldn’t get any further and got bogged.

“They basically just left their car; they weren’t expecting anyone to be able to recover their vehicle, so they’d just written it off that it would be staying there.”

While neither incident resulted in injury or loss of life, Ms Watkin said it would not always be the case and implored tourists to utilise the experience and knowledge of locals.

“Ask locals, please just ask locals, so we can give you the advice,” she said.

“Don’t be afraid to come into a town and ask for advice and help.”

READ ALSO Tourists survive seven-day Cape York ordeal following Google Maps failure

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