How Google got lost in the Blue Mountains

Residents of an otherwise sleepy rural cul-de-sac have been experiencing a very peculiar issue, particularly on holidays and long weekends.

Hundreds of confused sightseers, following Google Maps directions to what they thought was a picturesque tourist destination, have ended up in Valley View Road in Dargan, New South Wales.

Collins St, Victoria, Ghana, Africa

Google Maps has moved one of Melbourne’s busiest streets to the outskirts of Ghana, Africa.

They had typed “Blue Mountains” into the search engine or app, but for some reason this had pointed them — with the usual Google certainty — to a dead-end street about 30 kilometres north of Katoomba.

Those who call the tiny street home first noticed something was wrong in 2015, when Google Earth showed photos of tourist spots like The Three Sisters, Katoomba Falls, Wentworth Falls and Mount Solitary attached to their address.

The following year they noticed an influx of tourists, and after talking to some, they realised what Google Maps was doing. By the end of 2016, tourists were flooding into the street daily during the summer holidays, forcing the residents to erect a sign explaining the error.

Karen McLaughlin, 61, has a cottage on the street with her partner and says that, during long weekends and holidays, there can be “a car every few minutes” driving into their once-quiet cul-de-sac looking for the Blue Mountains.

“People following Google Maps to ‘Blue Mountains’ are usually non-English-speaking tourists, and I don’t blame them at all”, she says.

“I feel sorry that they’ve come 35 kilometres out of their way and then have to go back again.”

But the lost tourists cause some serious problems, Ms McLaughlin says, even beyond the inconvenience of having strangers wandering through her and her neighbours’ private property day and night.

“These tourists do not realise they are quickly coming to a cul-de-sac, over a crest, and often approach the end of the street at speed and have to brake sharply”, she says.

“Yesterday there were children playing on the property which would be directly in the pathway of any vehicles losing control”.

Another common issue is that the cars (or occasionally small buses) full of people have often been travelling for hours and the occupants generally want to use the toilet on arrival. Ms McLaughlin said it’s not uncommon for people to knock on her door asking to come in and use the bathroom, or for them to use residents’ gardens.

But the most worrying issue is that the tourists have a tendency to light up cigarettes as soon as they exit their vehicles.

“They would be unaware of the fact that there is a huge fire danger in our surrounding bushland, particularly leading up to summer when we have had no rain”, McLaughlin says.

“It would only take one butt thrown in the wrong direction to potentially cause a large fire”.

The majority of the visitors are well-mannered but frustrated, Ms McLaughlin says, with only the occasional car-load behaving badly. Still, she and the other residents have been dismayed by the intrusion to their serene slice of bushland, especially the owners of the four houses at the end of the street that cop the most traffic.

“Personally, because I have a health problem and have to rest a lot the noise is very disruptive, especially after years of living in a very quiet street”, she says.

Ms McLaughlin is herself a retired cartographer and so is bemused and frustrated that a mapping service could mess up such a prominent landmark.

“Google can have all their super technology, but if the data has millions of errors it is useless”, she says.

“They need to employ more people to verify their data”.

  • Have you been impacted by a Maps mistake? Email us.

Of course the street’s residents have tried to alert Google to the error, but McLaughlin says they have received only automatic responses despite sending several emails and providing feedback through the Maps app “hundreds of times”.

A Google spokesperson tells Fairfax Media that Maps mistakes do happen, but they’re rare.

Google has updated its map after being contacted by Fairfax Media

“The various types of data found in Google Maps come from a wide range of sources, including third-party providers, public sources, and user contributions”, the spokesperson says in a statement.

“Overall, this provides a very comprehensive and up-to-date map experience, but we recognise that there may be occasional inaccuracies that could arise from any of those sources”.

The statement did not include any apology to either the residents of the wrongly pinned street or the tourists Google led there.

Shortly after Fairfax Media brought the error to Google’s attention, Maps was been changed so that a search for “Blue Mountains” drops a pin in the middle of the national park (see map above), not in Dargan.

The Google spokesperson suggests users who see an error or missing place on Google Maps use the “Report a Problem” tool, found in the app’s menu or at the bottom right corner of the map in browsers.

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