Google Maps leads German tourists to week-long survival saga in Australian swamp

Pair had to dodge croc on trek back to civilization

Two German tourists got more than they bargained for when they put their lives in the hands of Google Maps and blindly followed the service into the depths of the Australian jungle.

Philipp Maier and Marcel Schoene wanted to drive 1,000 km (621 miles) from the tropical city of Cairns, Queensland, on the southeastern Cape York Peninsula to the small town of Bamaga, some 40 km (24 miles) from the northernmost tip.

But around the rural town of Coen, the pair obeyed Google's navigation service and turned off Peninsula Development Road, the main transport link for the region, onto a dirt track and into a national park.

"We decided, 'OK, let's follow Google Maps because Google Maps knows maybe more than we know'," Maier told 9News.

While that is almost certainly true, such blind faith turned out to be their undoing. Sixty kilometers into their bushwhacking adventure, their four-wheel drive got stuck in mud and they had to continue on foot.

Getting lost in the wilderness of Cape York Peninsula is not good news for anyone. The region is vaster than Great Britain and home to just 18,000 people.

"Once they realized they were being led up a dry gully they pulled back and stayed with the vehicle as long as they could before making the decision to walk out," Queensland Parks and Wildlife ranger Roger James said.

A dry gully, also known as a wadi, is a dry river bed that can quickly fill with water when it rains.

The pair's week-long walk back to Coen for help featured thunderstorms, river crossings, withering heat, and close encounters with Australia's infamously dangerous wildlife.

"We tried to build a shelter. But that didn't work really well," Maier said. "So we slept under the sky. It was raining the whole time but it was OK."

He added that a crocodile lurked in the last creek they had to cross. "We just ran through the creek because it was our only opportunity."

When they finally made it back to civilization, park rangers were able to recover their vehicle. A Google spokeswoman said the company was glad the men were safe and was investigating why the Maps service was directing people into the wilderness.

"I feel like in a movie, like in a bad movie but it was like with a happy end," Maier said.

It was indeed a happier ending for these two, but others have not been so lucky when following Google Maps. Philip Paxson was allegedly using the service when it led him over a broken bridge to his death in 2022, according to lawsuit filed against Google last year. ®

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