10 Best Orienteering Destinations in New Zealand: Top Spots for Adventure Enthusiasts

June 28, 2024 10 min read

New Zealand is a paradise for orienteering enthusiasts, offering diverse landscapes and thrilling adventures. Whether you're new to the sport or have plenty of experience, there are countless orienteering opportunities throughout the country.

Lush forests, winding rivers, and rugged mountains create the perfect backdrop for orienteering in New Zealand. Clear blue skies and diverse terrain offer endless opportunities for adventure

Why choose New Zealand for your next orienteering challenge? The country's unique terrains and breathtaking scenery provide an unforgettable experience for all levels of competitors. Discover the top destinations that make New Zealand a prime location for orienteering.

1) Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park offers a stunning location for orienteering. As New Zealand's oldest national park, it features diverse terrain, including volcanic landscapes, lush forests, and alpine meadows.

You will find that the varied topography provides excellent challenges for navigation. With well-marked trails and orienteering courses, it is suitable for both beginners and experienced orienteers.

The park's stunning scenery adds to the experience, making your orienteering adventure visually rewarding as well. Be prepared for weather changes, as conditions can shift quickly due to the altitude.

Key points of interest include the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu. These iconic features not only enhance the navigational challenge but also offer spectacular views.

Ensuring you have the right gear and maps is crucial. The park's vast area can be demanding, so proper preparation is essential. Local clubs often organize events, which can be a great way to explore the area and meet fellow orienteers.

When planning your visit, consider the best times of year for stable weather. Summer months typically offer more predictable conditions, making it easier to navigate the landscape.

In summary, Tongariro National Park provides an ideal setting for an engaging and rewarding orienteering experience.

2) Rotorua's Redwoods

Rotorua's Redwoods, also known as Whakarewarewa Forest, offers an exceptional orienteering experience. The towering redwoods create an enchanting environment for navigation challenges.

The forest features a variety of trails suitable for different skill levels. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced orienteer, you will find routes that match your abilities.

The terrain includes forested areas, clearings, and some hilly sections. Be prepared to navigate through a mix of dense foliage and open spaces.

One of the highlights is the well-maintained trails. These paths allow for easy movement and provide clear markers, making your orienteering experience enjoyable.

You'll also appreciate the surrounding natural beauty. The redwoods, along with native flora and fauna, offer scenic views as you make your way through the forest.

Public facilities are available, including restrooms and picnic areas. This makes it convenient for a full day of orienteering.

Remember to bring a map and compass. While the trails are well-marked, these tools are essential for a successful orienteering adventure in Rotorua's Redwoods.

3) Queenstown Hill

Queenstown Hill presents a distinct orienteering challenge with its varied terrain. With a mix of trails, forested areas, and open spaces, the landscape tests your navigation skills.

The panoramic views from the top are breathtaking. You'll see Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range, adding a spectacular backdrop to your adventure. The climb is steep, so prepare well.

The hill is accessible from Queenstown, making it a convenient option for day trips. The trail is well-marked but requires attention due to the numerous side paths. Safety should be a priority as some areas can be slippery.

Your orienteering experience here combines physical challenge with natural beauty. Expect to encounter local wildlife, including birds and small mammals. Watching for these can add a unique element to your navigation efforts.

Lastly, Queenstown Hill offers varied mapping difficulties suitable for different skill levels. Beginners can stick to the main paths, whereas experienced orienteers may explore off-trail. This diversity makes it a versatile destination.

4) Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo offers a stunning backdrop for orienteering enthusiasts. Located in the heart of the Mackenzie District, the lake's turquoise waters and surrounding alpine scenery make for an unforgettable experience.

You will find a variety of terrains around Lake Tekapo. The area features rolling hills, dense forests, and open fields. This diverse landscape provides both challenges and breathtaking views during your orienteering adventure.

Many trails cater to different skill levels. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced orienteer, you'll find paths that suit your capabilities. The region also hosts organized events and courses, ensuring you have plenty of options to explore and test your skills.

Orienteering at Lake Tekapo is also about enjoying nature. As you navigate your course, you may encounter native wildlife and unique plant species. The crisp, clean air and tranquil environment add to the overall enjoyment of the activity.

Make sure to bring the right equipment and map. Local guides and orienteering clubs can provide valuable insights and assist in planning your route. Safety should always be a priority, so ensure you are well-prepared before setting out.

Lake Tekapo's location also means you can combine orienteering with other activities like stargazing. The region is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, providing some of the clearest night skies in the world.

5) Arthur's Pass

Arthur's Pass, located in the Southern Alps, offers diverse terrain perfect for orienteering enthusiasts. You'll find a mix of dense forests, open valleys, and rugged mountainous areas. These landscapes provide a challenging environment for honing your navigation skills.

The national park in Arthur's Pass covers a significant area, offering numerous mapped routes. As you traverse the trails, you'll encounter a variety of flora and fauna native to New Zealand.

The weather can be unpredictable, adding an extra layer of challenge to your orienteering quest. It's crucial to be well-prepared and check the forecast before setting out.

Arthur's Pass offers both marked and unmarked trails to suit different skill levels. Novice orienteers can start with easier routes, while seasoned navigators may opt for the more challenging terrain.

Make sure to have a good map and compass, as some areas have limited signage. The natural beauty of Arthur's Pass makes the effort worthwhile.

Engage with the local orienteering clubs to get tips and insights on the best routes. Arthur's Pass is easily accessible by road and offers a unique orienteering experience amid stunning landscapes.

6) Craters of the Moon (Taupo)

Craters of the Moon in Taupo offers a unique orienteering experience with its geothermal terrain. Its steaming vents and bubbling craters create an unusual and exciting environment for navigation. You're met with both natural beauty and geothermal activity, making it a remarkable location.

The trails are well-marked, accommodating different skill levels. Beginners will appreciate the simpler paths, while seasoned orienteers can challenge themselves with more complex routes. The landscape’s diversity ensures that you’re always engaged.

Safety is essential here. Stick to designated trails to avoid venturing into dangerous geothermal areas. Enjoy the thrill of orienteering amidst steam-emitting earth and fascinating geothermal features. Make sure your footwear is suitable for rough and sometimes wet terrain.

Adding to its appeal, the Craters of the Moon park is easily accessible from Taupo’s town center. After a day of orienteering, you can relax at the nearby Lake Taupo or visit other local attractions. The proximity to Taupo makes planning your trip convenient.

With its unique setting and accessible location, Craters of the Moon in Taupo stands out as a top orienteering destination in New Zealand.

7) Kaikoura Coast

Kaikoura Coast offers stunning and varied landscapes, perfect for orienteering. Known for its scenic beauty, the coast combines mountains and sea, providing diverse terrain challenges.

You'll find a mix of forested areas, open spaces, and rugged coastline. These elements make Kaikoura an exciting destination to test your orienteering skills.

Wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate the marine life here. You might spot seals, dolphins, and even whales during your adventure.

Accessibility is straightforward, with good links from major cities. Whether you're a seasoned orienteer or a beginner, Kaikoura Coast has something for everyone.

Remember to respect local guidelines and preserve the natural beauty of the area. This ensures that Kaikoura remains a prime orienteering spot for years to come.

8) Ninety Mile Beach

Ninety Mile Beach offers a unique orienteering experience along its expansive coastline. Stretching far beyond what its name suggests, this beach covers approximately 88 kilometers of sand and surf.

You will navigate through diverse terrains, including sand dunes, forests, and coastal trails. The beach’s vast openness provides a distinct challenge, demanding good map-reading skills.

Wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate the chance to spot native birds. The serene surroundings enhance the navigation experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in nature.

Carry your essentials and plan for varying weather conditions. The beach can be windy, affecting visibility and movement. Prepare accordingly to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure.

9) Nelson Lakes National Park

Nestled in the heart of the South Island, Nelson Lakes National Park offers stunning landscapes perfect for orienteering.

You’ll find a mix of forests, lakes, and mountains, providing varied terrain that can challenge all skill levels. Tracks range from gentle strolls to more demanding routes, catering well to both beginners and seasoned orienteers.

Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa are key highlights within the park. They offer beautiful views and numerous orienteering routes. Be prepared to navigate through dense beech forests, open valleys, and steep ridges.

Wildlife is abundant here. Keep an eye out for native birds like the kea and kaka as you navigate.

Given the popularity of this area, it’s advisable to check for any potential trail closures or park updates before heading out.

10) Pirongia Forest Park

Pirongia Forest Park, located in the Waikato region, offers some of the finest orienteering experiences in New Zealand. The park spans over 17,000 hectares and features diverse terrains, from dense native forests to open grasslands.

When orienteering here, you can navigate through trails that lead you to Mount Pirongia, an ancient volcano. At 959 meters, it provides impressive views of the surrounding landscapes.

The varied topography, including steep ridges and deep gullies, presents a rewarding challenge for both novice and seasoned orienteers. Vegetation can be thick in places, requiring careful planning and adaptability.

Numerous mapped courses are available, catering to different skill levels. These maps are regularly updated by local clubs, ensuring accurate navigation aids for visitors.

Wildlife in the park is abundant. You might catch glimpses of native birds such as tui, kereru, and fantails, adding to the natural beauty of the experience.

Pirongia Forest Park is well-maintained. Trails are marked, and facilities such as parking and rest areas are available, making it convenient for day trips.

What is Orienteering?

A lush forest with winding trails, map and compass in hand. A mountainous backdrop and clear blue skies

Orienteering is an outdoor sport combining navigation and racing. It involves finding your way through various terrains with the help of a map and a compass.

History of Orienteering

Orienteering originated in Scandinavia in the late 19th century. The term was first used in 1886 in Sweden to describe the crossing of unknown land with the aid of a map and compass.

The first official orienteering competition took place in 1897. It started as a military exercise but soon became a civilian sport. The sport gained popularity in Europe during the 20th century and spread worldwide.

By the 1960s, the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) was established. This organization standardized the rules and facilitated international competitions. Today, orienteering events are held globally.

Basic Orienteering Skills

Effective orienteering requires several skills. Map reading is crucial. You need to understand topographic maps, including symbols and scales.

Navigating with a compass is also essential. You must learn to take and follow bearings accurately. Route choice is another key skill. Deciding the fastest or safest path can make a significant difference.

Time management and physical fitness are also important. You must be able to navigate quickly and efficiently through different terrains. Teamwork and communication are beneficial in group events.

Practicing these skills will help you improve your performance in orienteering competitions.

Preparing for Orienteering in New Zealand

Participants gather compasses, maps, and gear in a lush New Zealand forest clearing. Trees tower overhead, and the air is filled with the sounds of nature

To maximize your orienteering experience in New Zealand, you'll need the right equipment and an awareness of the local weather and terrain.

Essential Gear and Equipment

Orienteering in New Zealand requires specific gear to ensure both performance and safety. A reliable compass and detailed map are non-negotiable. Choose a compass that is easy to read and comfortable to use for long periods.

Footwear is crucial—opt for sturdy, trail-running shoes with good traction. Lightweight and moisture-wicking clothing will help manage New Zealand's variable climate. Consider a hydration pack to stay hydrated during long treks.

A whistle and a small first aid kit should always be part of your gear for emergencies. Don't forget a waterproof jacket and sun protection gear like hats and sunscreen.

Weather and Terrain Considerations

New Zealand's weather can be unpredictable, with rapid changes in temperature and sudden rain. Always check the weather forecast before heading out. In higher altitudes, expect colder conditions and possibly snow, even in summer.

The terrain varies widely. Coastal areas may have sandy paths and cliffs, while inland regions feature dense forests and mountainous areas. Familiarize yourself with the specific terrain of your chosen destination. Watch out for natural obstacles like rivers and thick vegetation that can slow your pace.

Inspect the terrain profile and elevation changes on your map to plan and pace your route efficiently.

Rules and Etiquette

A map and compass lay on a moss-covered rock in a dense New Zealand forest, surrounded by towering trees and ferns

Orienteering in New Zealand is an exciting way to explore the diverse landscapes. Adhering to specific rules and respecting the environment ensures a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Navigation Rules

It is crucial to familiarize yourself with the International Orienteering Federation's rules. Always carry an orienteering map and compass, and rely on them rather than GPS devices.

Stay within designated areas to avoid private property and respect local restrictions. Control points must be visited in the correct order, following the sequence on your control card.

Pay attention to time limits; returning late can result in disqualification. Keep track of your position and progress to avoid getting lost. Always inform someone of your route and expected return time for safety.

Environmental Responsibility

Respect the natural environment of New Zealand while orienteering. Avoid disturbing wildlife and stay on marked trails to prevent damage to fragile ecosystems.

Pack out all trash and waste. Do not leave any trace, including food scraps. If you come across litter, picking it up can contribute to preserving the beauty of the landscape.

Use biodegradable products whenever possible, particularly if you need to use toiletries in the wild. Be mindful of water sources and avoid contaminating streams, rivers, and lakes. Your actions help protect this unique environment for future orienteers.

Health Benefits of Orienteering

A lush forest with winding trails, mountainous terrain, and clear streams. Orienteering flags are scattered throughout the landscape, inviting exploration and physical activity

Orienteering engages both your mind and body, providing a unique dual workout that combines physical endurance with mental agility.

You navigate through diverse terrains, improving your cardiovascular health and building muscle strength. Each hill you climb and trail you run boosts your stamina and overall fitness levels.

The mental aspect of orienteering sharpens your problem-solving skills. You must quickly interpret maps and make strategic decisions, enhancing cognitive function and spatial awareness.

Physical Benefits:

  • Increased cardiovascular health
  • Enhanced muscle strength and endurance
  • Improved coordination and balance

Mental Benefits:

  • Better cognitive function
  • Enhanced decision-making skills
  • Increased spatial awareness

Also, orienteering involves spending time in nature. Exposure to green spaces can reduce stress, improve mood, and boost mental well-being. You get the added benefit of fresh air and scenic views, which can be refreshing and energizing.

Frequent orienteering can also foster a sense of community. Group events and competitions can help you build social connections, making exercise more enjoyable and motivating.

The combination of physical exertion, mental challenge, and outdoor exploration makes orienteering a comprehensive activity that benefits your overall health significantly.