New to Orienteering?

Last Updated: May 2024

Orienteering is a navigation sport suitable for all ages. Participants are given a map, which they use to navigate to a series of controls (checkpoints). Each event has a new set of courses, so orienteering always presents a fresh challenge. 

A section of an orienteering map.


An example of a control.

Below is some useful information for your first event. If you have any further questions, please talk to us at an event or get in touch by email.

Types of Events

There are several types of orienteering events hosted by North West Orienteering Club. All of these have course options suitable for beginners, and can be participated in by individuals or teams.

  • Sprint events are generally held in urban environments such as schools or university campuses. These events require only basic navigation skills; instead, the emphasis is on decision-making at speed. Winning times for each class range from 12-15 minutes.
  • Middle / long events are generally held in the forest or on farmland. These events are longer and have a higher degree of navigational complexity than sprint events.
  • Rogaine events differ from sprint / middle / long events in that there is not a set order in which participants must visit controls. Instead, it is up to participants to determine which controls they will navigate to within a given time period. Controls are assigned different point values depending on their difficulties; the winner is the person who gains the greatest number of points.

Additional variants of orienteering are described on the Orienteering NZ website.

Getting Started

There are a number of key steps to participating in your first orienteering event.

  1. Choosing an event. Head to the events page and decide which one you would like to participate in.
    • Events are always signposted off a main highway or road, and there is always ample parking available.
    • As well as North West Orienteering Club, Auckland is also home to Auckland Orienteering Club and Counties Manukau Orienteering Club. For information on events hosted by these clubs, check their respective websites. 
  2. Entering an event. Most events accept online entries through enterO.
    • If online entries have closed, you can generally enter on the day. However, there will be a late fee for this and you will need to pay in cash. Please email us first to check that sufficient maps will be available.
  3. Starting. With the exception of rogaines, where everyone starts at the same time, events generally have a two-hour window in which you can start at any time you like (this is to avoid participants following one another around the course).
    • We recommend that newcomers aim to arrive at or slightly before the start of this window, so there is time to get some help before starting your course.
  4. Finishing. The last control on your course is the finish control, and is usually marked with a big flag. After you have punched the finish control, please come to the download tent to print your results.
    • Always punch the finish control and print your results, even if you do not finish the whole course you have entered. This lets us know you have made it back safely and we do not need to send out a search party.

Volunteers will guide you through the start process.


A large flag usually marks the finish of an event.


We will provide you with a map. Other equipment you will need includes:

  • A Sport Ident (timing device) to verify you have visited all controls in the correct order. These can be hired for a small fee ($3 each).
  • A compass. These can be borrowed from the registration tent at each event.
  • A watch, to keep an eye on the time while you are completing your course.
  • A whistle, in case of emergency.
  • Clothes and shoes suitable for hiking / trail running.

If you have attended several events and are keen to continue orienteering, you can purchase your own gear. A good starting point is Grassy Knoll Outdoor, a New Zealand-based supplier of orienteering clothes and equipment.

Course Difficulty

Every event has a variety of courses to cater to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced orienteers. For middle / long events, there are a variety of difficulty levels:

  • White courses are very easy; these course are for complete beginners and for children doing a course on their own. Controls are generally found at the intersections of tracks or fences. A white course follows "handrails" such as tracks, fences and vegetation boundaries.
  • Yellow courses are easy and suit most beginners. Controls are on or close to handrail features such as tracks, fences, vegetation boundaries or streams.
  • Orange courses are of intermediate difficulty. Controls are no longer on or near handrails, but are located near prominent features in the terrain that can be found using simple navigation skills (such as contours and compass reading). 
  • Red courses are technically difficult and require very good navigation skills and the use of a compass.
    • Some events also offer purple courses. These courses have the same degree of navigational complexity as red courses, but are shorter and less physically demanding.

We generally suggest that new orienteers do a white course or a yellow course as their first course. You are always welcome to complete a second course free of charge.

Learning to Orienteer

The basic skills of orienteering can be taught in no time at all. At your first event, make sure to let the volunteers at the registration tent know you are new to the sport. They will be able to introduce you to experienced club members that can teach you the basics.

The below video, by club president and elite orienteer Gene Beveridge, provides information on the key elements of orienteering maps and is a useful watch before your first event.


In general, orienteering is a safe sport, but participation is at your own risk. As with any activity, it is up to each individual to take responsibilities for their own actions while participating in any organised orienteering event.

Please comply with the following 'Personal Safety Check' for participants:

  • Obey all instructions and warnings.
  • Wear appropriate clothes for the conditions.
  • If participating as a (family) group, always know where your children are.
  • Consider wearing safety glasses.
  • Notify the event coordinator of any potentially serious health problems.
  • Keep clear of any plant or equipment, farm buildings, and out-of-bounds/unauthorised areas.
  • Avoid disturbing livestock and keep away from all work activities.
  • Be suitably hydrated or know if / where water is available on your course.
  • Carry a whistle.
    • The recognised emergency call is six short blasts. Pause and listen for a reply and repeat to allow helpers to locate you. If other participants hear a whistle signal, they are required to abandon their course and help a participant in need. It is expected therefore that an individual will only use their whistle if they are seriously injured and / or consider themselves significantly lost such that they need immediate assistance from others. 
    • If you are injured or become lost, but are still mobile and do not need immediate assistance, it is recommended that in the first instance you try to make your way to a main road/track or a water station or call for help.
  • If you hear repeated sounding of car horns, this means that there is a fire, or another major problem. Abandon your course and return to the nearest road, then head back to the event centre, unless directed to another assembly point or exit route. Notify an event official you are safe.


North West Orienteering Club does not support or condone any access to private land outside of organised orienteering events, unless the access has been authorised in advance by the land owner. Possession of an orienteering map from a previous event does not imply approval for future access.

Files available for download