Orienteering Stuff You Need To Know

When does it happen?

The Auckland region offers a variety of orienteering experiences. The Orienteering NZ website lists the upcoming orienteering events in Auckland and around New Zealand.

The Auckland Orienteering SummerNav Series

This series has been running for over 30 years and is very popular. The events are run during the week in the evening during daylight savings.  Participants are able to start anytime between 5.30 pm and 6:45pm in the major urban parks and reserves. Course closure is around 7:30pm or later in some situations. The courses are short and simple and these events are specifically designed for beginners and casual runners.  The Auckland Orienteering SummerNav Series is run by the Auckland Orienteering Club. Counties-Manukau Club runs a few similar events each year in Pukekohe.

Promotional Forest and Farm Events

Sunday is the traditional day for orienteering; you can usually start between 10 am and 12:30pm, sometimes starting later and finishing earlier.  These events offer more challenging navigation than the SummerNav events, and are held on farmland or forest by all three Auckland Clubs, usually within an hour's drive of the City.

Club Events occur all year round in forest, farm or park.

A-Series Orienteering 

A-series (AOS) happens through Autumn, Winter and Spring. It's the major regional competition with high quality maps, course setting and organisation.  Events are organised by each of the Auckland region clubs.  If you're keen to regularly participate in these events, join the club to be eligible for points and to get discounted entry. First Timers are welcome at these events and we are happy to help you get started.

The Orienteering Map

Modern orienteering maps are specially made by experienced orienteers.  They are different from other maps in many ways. 

  • Their north lines point to Magnetic North, not True North.  In New Zealand, Magnetic North is 22° east of True North. 
  • The scale of the map is usually much larger than other kinds of map, so a lot more detail can be shown.
  • When you first see an orienteering map, take a good look at the legend, which tells you what the symbols on the map mean.  They generally appear in only five colours; let's look at each colour in turn.
    • For a novice orienteer, the black symbols are the most important.  They show man-made features like roads, fences and walls, as well as rock features like boulders and cliffs. 
    • Naturally, blue shows water features, either larger obstacles like lakes, rivers, sea and marshes, or smaller details like ditches, water troughs and streams. 
    • Brown shows the shape of the land, mainly by use of contours.  A contour is an imaginary line connecting points of the same height.  If you are crossing contours, you are going up or down hill.  The height difference between contour lines may vary from map to map, but it's always shown on the map. Contours can be tough, because they're not actually painted onto the ground, so you have to imagine them!  As your orienteering improves, the information in the contour shapes will become both easier to understand and more important to you.  Don't worry if they look like meaningless squiggles at first. 
    • One peculiar feature about orienteering maps is that trees which you can run through or under are shown as white; 
    • only denser bush or forest is shown as green, in different shades.  The darker the green, the more difficult the bush is to get through.  
    • Open areas appear as shades of yellow. 

Orienting the map

This is the first skill taught in orienteering after you've got the idea of the colours and the symbols.

With your map held in front of you, stand still and take a look around.  Let's imagine there's a road to your left and a river to you right.  Now rotate the map in your hands until the road on the map is to the left, and the river to its right.   Your map is now oriented.  As long as you always keep it the right way round like this, it will be much easier to read.

Attending a Forest Event

  1. If its your first time and the weather is atrocious, don't go; if it's just bad, dress up well, the event will still be on unless the road is washed away! (By the way, the weather in Auckland City is often completely different from the weather out in Woodhill Forest.)
  2. Pack good footwear, a change of clothes, a compass and a whistle if you have them, a few dollars for the fee, and some food and drink for afterwards.
  3. Find the point on the main road mentioned on the website event directions, then follow the orienteering signs to the venue.  Don't worry, sometimes you have to travel some distance between signs. 
  4. Read the course descriptions at the registration tent/caravan and choose a suitable course.  100m of climb typically adds 1 km of running effort to a course, and you are likely to take at least 10 minutes per kilometre.  Don't aim too high and remember that the technical difficulty described for each course is for real:  if you're a beginner, don't do the courses designed for experienced orienteers, you won't enjoy them. 
  5. Visit the registration tent or caravan with your sport ident card if you have one and your money to registration to buy a map. Almost all forest events run by Auckland Orienteering Club uses electronic timing. Electronic SPORTident Cards can be hired for around $3 per event.
  6. Now change, warm up, stretch, stash your car keys at the Caravan, familiarise yourself with the map scale, contour interval, and legend.   Work out where you are on the map, and look around to familiarise yourself with the style of the map and the character of the terrain. 
  7. Let registration know if you would like help getting started. We are happy to help.
  8. Go to the Starter and let them know what course you are on. If the event has preallocated start times, makew sure you arrive at the start at least 10 minutes before you are due to start. They will let you know when you can start and help with use of the SI card. If the event is using a paper clip card, you may be asked to hand over the stub of the card which acts as a reminder to the organiser of who is out on the map.
  9. Pick up the appropriate control descriptions slip.  (Look out!  This is an opportunity to make a mistake!  There are many more to come...)  If the event is not using electronic timing, You may wish to copy the codes and descriptions into the boxes on the clip card for convenience when running.  If the descriptions are hieroglyphic or puzzling, ask someone for help.
  10. Check your map and compass.  Make sure you know which way is north so that you can orient your map correctly at the Start. Do you know the safety bearing if you get lost?
  11. Listen carefully to the Starters instructions.
  12. When told to Start, pick up your map and follow the tape to the Start Triangle as shown on the map.
  13. Go for it!  Navigate the marked course in the correct order, taking any route between controls.
  14. At your controls, place your SI card in each control box so it beeps and flashes. If it fails, make sure you clip your map with the backup clipper on the control and let them know at the finish. Alternatively, if the event is not using electronic timing clip your card or map at each control. 
  15. Return to the Finish, no matter what, and download your results or clipcard so that we know you are OK. You must go to the finish and download to avoid us searching for you.
  16. Ask if you can help the Event Co-ordinator with anything! 


Major calamities very rarely happen at orienteering events, because we prepare ourselves to avoid them.  Here's what you should do.  Bear in mind that when you are orienteering, you are typically tired, possibly too cold or too hot, often dehydrated and hungry, and certainly under pressure!  You physical and mental ability can therefore be grossly impaired without you realising it.  Take care - it's a jungle out there!

No litter, no smoking, no fires

Farm and forest owners are very sensitive, and we MUST stay in their good books.  Litter, smoking and fires are complete No-Nos. There are some events at which dogs may be not allowed. These are usually where the courses or parts of the courses go on to farm land. Sometimes we get a request from the land owners to have no dogs at events. If dogs are not allowed then this will be announced with the event information. 

Take care of fences

  • To cross a fence, use a gate if possible - climb at the hinge end. 
  • Vault fences, or climb alongside a main post or strainer.  
  • Avoid bouncing off the top wire.
  • Take great care of electric fences which are usually flimsy (and they bite).

Drive sensibly

As you approach the event, runners as young as 6 years old may appear without warning from out of the trees.  They have other things on their minds!

Few of us have a lot of experience in dirt roads.  Remember that overloaded family saloons with road tyres are not suited to stopping quickly on gravel roads.  Contrariwise, following a car at snail-like speeds along 10 km of dirt road isn't my idea of fun.  If there's someone behind you, pull over and let him past.

Dust clouds hide oncoming traffic, so stay well back from the guy in front and don't eat his dust.

Park sensibly

Park close together, and use only one side of a narrow road.  Turning around before you park may seem like it saves time for a quick exit, but in fact it just annoys the people waiting in your dust for you to finish so that they can park too! Make sure a truck can still get through - Roads must never get blocked.

Carry a whistle

Organisers don't always insist that you carry a whistle, but you should always carry one in thick bush or hilly areas.  Why not tie one to your compass or sew it into your O-suit so that it's always there when you need it?

  • The recognised distress signal is a series of six short blasts on a whistle.  
  • Use your whistle if you need urgent help because of an injury, or if you are horribly lost.  
  • Remember that one blast on your whistle will ruin the event for everyone who hears it, because they will all stop orienteering and come looking for you.

Getting Lost

Sit tight if you get completely lost. Do you know the safety bearing for the event? Often it is out to a nearby road.

If you get lost, try to retrace your tracks to a recognisable position on the map.  Never wander aimlessly without a plan, because you may thereby leave the potential search area.  Listen and wait for another runner; they are very visible and noisy.  Use your whistle to attract attention if you have to.

Find a control or a major track, stream, ridge or landmark, then sit and wait for searchers.  They will check these areas first.

Becoming hopelessly lost usually results from one of two equally avoidable errors:

  • Biting off more than you can chew, and running a course which is too long and tiring, or too technically difficult.
  • Making a horrendous navigational error, running off the map, and being unable to retrace your steps to the last control because you ran around in circles.

Act when you hear a whistle, but never search alone

A runner's safety is more important than your run, so always respond to a whistle.  But if you lose a companion, or hear of someone missing, NEVER dash off to search without instructions from the Event Controller.

Dress appropriately

Events go ahead in almost any weather, so prepare for cold and wet by always packing insulating clothes and wearing them on bad days.  Better safe than sorry, and you can always abandon them at the Start or at one of the controls if need be.  Wool or Polypropylene under a windproof layer will protect you when it gets rough.  Open-weave nylon or cotton will not.

Full body cover

The rather odd-looking O-suits, shoes and gaiters worn by experienced orienteers are designed to protect you from vegetation, shin bruises, and falls.  O-suits dry out very quickly as you run, are somewhat windproof but not at all rainproof.


Your ability to shed excess heat as you run is a function of temperature, humidity, exertion and body fluids.  Only the last can be controlled effectively, and it is your responsibility to make sure that you drink PLENTY of water before, during and after your event.  When you are hot and dehydrating you may not realise the threat, so force yourself to drink plenty on a hot day.  Overheating is the single greatest threat in good weather.

Lotions and potions

Avoid sun with full body cover and a hat if necessary; ALWAYS use sunblock on a sunny or overcast summer's day.  The usual problem areas for orienteers are the areas exposed around the neck of the O-suit.  Keep a First Aid kit in the car; the most needed items are antiseptic cream, sticking plaster, and “punch-ice” for sprains (a package which chills when the tab is pulled, or whatever).