NZOC2022 – The Technical Breakdown

LiDAR post-processed layers used in the Canaan Downs Mapping Project.

50 years of New Zealand Orienteering Championships, we are now just one week out from NZOC2022.

Orienteering is a technical sport.  The maps we use are the most detailed topographical maps produced.  The navigational skills required to move through the terrain at speed whilst rapidly interpreting a pseudo-subjective 2D canvas loosely representing the complex 3D environment, under oxygen debt, take years to refine and master.  Many don’t, and even if you do, it is for only a fleeting moment.  Herein lies the challenge and beauty of this sport.

This post talks to the technical aspects of NZOC2022, from mapping to event organisation, concluding with some technical skills I think will be relevant to emerge satisfied from the competitions next weekend.

Maps are the foundations of our sport.  They are also the biggest assets to clubs, a substantial map being an appreciable investment usually funded through large events or community grants.  Without maps, there is no orienteering.

An orienteering map is a data-derived work of art constrained by a strict internationally accepted symbol set.  Whenever I compete, turning the map over and seeing a high-quality cartographic product is always incredibly satisfying – this to me is a win, even before I have started.  There are many maps that I have fond memories of, but for sure, the one that is still at the top of my list is Lunsen, Uppsala. 

Lunsen, Uppsala. Still my favourite map in the world (see a full version here).

We are spoilt in New Zealand with the variety of terrain that we have access to and therefore the diversity of maps we can compete on.  NZOC2022 brings to the New Zealand orienteering community the product of the Canaan Downs Mapping Project, which for the quality of mapping and the incredible micro-variety in the terrain I believe deserves a place on the 101 Orienteering Maps you should run on before you die!  You only need to look at the map from the first New Zealand Orienteering Championships to see how far we have come.

1972 New Zealand Orienteering Championships (Photo – Robyn Davis)

The base data for Canaan Downs is LiDAR captured primarily in 2020.  Luckily for NZOC2022 it was made available in September 2021, just in time for the detailed mapping process to begin over the summer.  The statistics of the project by Bryan were outlined in the previous scene setting post.  But from the image at the top of this post you can see the clarity in terrain forms captured by the LiDAR survey and how the various post-processed layers are used to construct the orienteering map. 

Canaan Downs, in my opinion, offers the authentic New Zealand orienteering experience and will be used for the Middle and Long at NZOC2022.  The Sprint and Relay maps have also been made using similar LiDAR data, so you can be sure of the mapping quality next weekend.

Organising an orienteering event, especially one that has the logistical and technical complexity of a nationals, is by no means an easy feat.  We recognised this early in the piece and swiftly positioned personnel to core roles, while keeping the top level small and focused.  This meant decisions could be made swiftly and the complexity managed appropriately.  In recent weeks the Fa’avae event delivery team has been mobilised and we have widened the volunteer base to ensure the event itself does justice to the beautiful terrain, maps and courses.

The Technical Director behind NZOC2022, Michael Croxford, with the Long planning team, Georgia and Brent.

To give you an appreciation for the technical scope across the four days, below are some numbers:

  • 4 arenas designed
  • 270 control sites checked, double checked and marked in the field
  • 40 individual courses planned (63 layout designs applied to cater for the different map scales) and 5 relay courses planned
  • 51-55 individual competitor classes to assign to each course, ensuring courses have appropriate physical and technical difficulty
  • 483 unique competitors yielding 1950 individual maps printed on waterproof Teslin paper
  • 52 pages, the length of Bulletin 2 (soon to be released)

And this is before we have spoken about the technology required to actually manage an orienteering event on the day. All the various software platforms through to hardware, now bare-minimums for national level events.

Talking to Nathan recently, I raised the technical risk that an orienteering event team assumes.  If you were to approach an orienteering event from a purely business perspective, you would walk away before you even started.  I am not sure there are many other sporting codes in which the organisers carry such a level of technical risk; usually the organisers would provide the venue but then the technical side is largely managed by the competitors.  But I believe, it is for this reason we have such capable people in the orienteering community.  For a concluding remark on organising orienteering events; it is saturated with skill and passion, but the financial side for the level of complexity (e.g. compared to trail running) simply doesn’t stack up.

But at the end of the day the purpose of NZOC2022 is to bring together the community for the pinnacle domestic event.  The variety across the weekend will demand a technique which is adaptable, especially amongst the ancient beech trees and rock formations of Canaan Downs. After 20 years of orienteering, constantly refining and evolving my own technique, learning all the way, I came to the “Master the Compass, Master the Map” approach which I try employ to this day. It is difficult to truly train orienteering in New Zealand, for here it is one of the sports where you spend most of your time competing opposed to actually practising.  But this just makes for exciting racing, especially under the pressure of a national championships, and the mistakes that people therefore make.  So, my parting advice for managing the technical demands of next weekend is to keep it simple.  As Timmy always says, “it all starts with a triangle”.

NZOC2022, it is nearly time to find your adventure.

Tim Robertson
WOC (2) (3) JWOC (1) (1) (3)

“It all starts with a △.“

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