Learning to Navigate with a Map and Compass NZ

Six strangers gathered together, they each had a secret… they wanted each other to get lost. It was the dawn before COVID 19, before lockdown and bubbles and shunning away from anyone if they have a sniffle, yet still, they wanted each other to get lost. It was purely selfish, however, as they all wanted to use a map and compass to navigate and try to find each other again!

 map and compass nz


Five of us had signed up for a Bush Craft and Navigation course with OENZ. We were all keen enthusiastic outdoor adventurers, each with a common themed story, ‘That one time I took a wrong turn, then didn’t have a clue where I was!’. 




We planned to spend the day in an area familiar to all of us, The Craigieburns in Canterbury, mostly on land off the Hogsback Trail. We wondered if we could get lost in an area we all knew so well… turns out you can!

Between us, there must have been over 100 years worth of outdoor experience… but being honest with each other, we admitted, at times we had all felt out of our depth. And so for various reasons, we had signed up to ‘upskill’ our adventure toolbox.

 OENZ instructor Mike


The sixth person that day was Mike, our instructor. A smiling assassin, who was bright, warm, and enthusiastic about our quest to ‘find ourselves again’ (on a map that is).

Us students knew a few things (or so we thought!) as we had been using maps and compasses for years… we were keen to skim over the basics until we realised that each of us had missed or forgotten a few key points! Whoops! So, patiently Mike spent time with each of us, helping us hone some long-forgotten necessities, such as what is the difference between true north and magnetic north (true north points to the North Pole… so yeah maybe Santa is true!).

 orientation of the map to north nz


We spent time adjusting for declination (the degrees of separation between true north and magnetic north).

Orientating our maps (my go-to way of navigating when in a hurry, which turns out isn’t always great on its own… but that is another story!)

Taking a bearing to find a landmark. Then taking a bearing and using triangulation to find ourselves on a map... Lo and behold it was like magic! Even though I knew the Hogsback track in Craigieburn like the back of my hand, being off track and trying to find my exact location on a map was still a test… But Mike was super patient, and after some lunch and a cuppa tea, I really got the hang of it!


lunch time, still learning!


Tricker to get right without a lot of practice was learning your pace traveling over various terrain, to then use estimated time to travel a certain distance. This is a great skill to learn, and I can't wait to practice it some more.

 summit of the hogsback in craigieburn nz


Next up was reading a map, like really reading it. Features, contours, landmarks, cliffs, passable cliffs, impassable cliffs… all there to make you second guess yourself. But micro nav is what we wanted and micro nav is what we got.

At the end of the day, we realised we hadn’t actually traveled very far, as we spent so much time learning, practicing, asking questions, and learning some more. And we all wanted to come back for more, thanks to Mike for a great day!

 where I thought I lost my phone lolz


There is nothing more empowering than being strong in the mountains. Not just strong legs and being hill fit, but a strong skill set and confidence, that if you do get lost, you can easily find yourself… with the help of a map and compass.


Learning how to navigate with a map and compass is an essential skill needed for all backcountry explorers in NZ. OENZ and Further Faster have the skills and the outdoor gear you need to make you fully equipped with kit and knowledge to stay safe in the mountains. 


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