Lonely Planet Writer

What’s over the horizon? Gorgeous maps show the surprising answers

One cartographer has figured out the rather surprising answers to the question ‘what’s over the horizon?’


When Andy Woodruff starting examining latitude maps, he got thinking about the complexities of what lies directly across the ocean. If you left the coast and went straight ahead, where would you end up? Because the earth is round and coastlines are incredibly crooked, you’re not going to find the answer on a traditional map.

Where can you see South America from?
Where can you see South America from? Image by Andy Woodruff

To satisfy his curiosity, he first needed to do some serious mathematical work. To get a rough idea of where the different coastlines faced, he calculated the angle between every pair of adjacent coastal vertices in medium scale Natural Earth data (you can read in-depth about the maths behind it on his blog).

Yes, you can travel to Africa in a straight line from the US West Coast.
Yes, you can travel to Africa in a straight line from the US West Coast. Image by Andy Woodruff

He then created a series of maps showing the “viewpoints” around the world that directly face each continent, taking into account his calculations and, of course, the fact that the Earth is round. The brighter end of each line is the origin of the viewpoint and, as you can see, the continent you’re peering over to might not be the one you expect.

Antarctica viewpoints
Antarctica viewpoints Image by Andy Woodruff

For example, South America can be reached via a straight line from both Myanmar and Indonesia and one particular spot in Florida will give you a viewpoint of Asia (once technology catches up).

Asia viewpoints

The math is so complex, even Andy admits he isn’t sure he has everything 100% correct but he jokes “who has time for correct math? I’ve got to start training for the straight-line swim from the number one beach in my life—30th Street in Ocean City, New Jersey—to Brazil.”

Feeling inspired? Check out:

Opinion: where will maps lead the travellers of tomorrow?

Extremely rude maps of the UK for your amusement