1. Kia ora Michael, welcome to your new role. Can you talk about your orienteering background and what special skills you are bringing to this role?
I first started orienteering back in the late 80s at Kaiapoi High School when I was a member of PAPO. I’ve always loved maps and can remember spending hours studying old maps in National Geographic magazines that my Grandad gave us when I was a child. I competed through all the age grades but lost interest when I reached elite level.
I attended a few rogaines and events but it wasn’t until my family shifted to Nelson in 2009 that I returned to the sport. We went to a club event at Ngarua on Takaka Hill and I walked around a white course with my two boys, Leo in a backpack and Riley beeping each of the controls. I turned up to the next club committee and volunteered. Since then I’ve continued to volunteer my time helping to organise events including a term as President. I have a very strong sense of pride in Nelson Orienteering Club and what we have achieved, especially as we are the second youngest club in the country.
Over the last decade or so, my family and I have attended events all over the country as well as a couple of trips to Australia. I think being from a regional club brings me a different perspective to many and I’m very keen on supporting the sharing of knowledge, systems and capabilities. I have a strong passion for orienteering and love to see others get that same enjoyment from the sport.
2. This has been a strange couple of years, so we must factor that in, but orienteering can proceed with little contact unlike other sports. What is our advantage in this space, have you any ideas on how we can be more competitive with our events?
I think that after the many disruptions to all sports and recreation that people will be very keen to participate in events. It won’t be a matter of finding competitors but about supporting our volunteers to feel safe at events. There are a few clubs and individuals who have managed to keep up their usual program of events during the last couple of years and it will be great to see if there are any learnings to share.
I think that there are definite opportunities with new technologies of moving orienteering more into the informal recreation space. Sports like mountain biking and trail running have a large number of people participating but not competing. I think if there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us it’s that there are flexible opportunities available for clubs to support members.
3. What ideas do you have that may help support clubs and members well in a challenging year ahead for events and participants.
I think that each club has their own set of challenges so it will be important for me to get around each club and see whether there are any opportunities to share learnings. With my mapping work I always try to coincide it with a local event so that I can have a chat with anyone and I will be endeavouring to continue to do this.
I’ve been impressed by Gene Beveridge’s regular forums within the coaching, training and schools spheres and there may be a chance to look at setting up something similar but with a focus on events.
Southland interviewed Michael about his mapping work in October 2021. We have reprinted it here so you can read about the other orienteering work he does:
What was the standard gear for map making when you started (how many
years ago?) compared with what you use now?
My first ever orienteering map I helped create was of Woodend Beach Christian Camp just north of Christchurch back in 1993. Aidan Boswell and I had to pace count to work out dimensions of features in the forest. The map was in black and white and drawn by hand while in the forest.
The next map that I made wasn’t until 2016 when I mapped Tunnicliff Forest in Nelson. Contours were downloaded via the internet from the local Council. I then printed off enlarged sections of the map and completed my fieldwork with different colour pens, sitting down at the computer each night doing the cartography. I completed two more maps this way for Nelson Orienteering Club but found it to be a slow process. I then started mapping a small reserve near my home in Motueka using Open Orienteering Mapper on my mobile
phone. It took me a while to get the hang of setting up the map so that it was geo-referenced correctly but once I mastered it I found it a very user friendly software. Now I map using a Samsung tablet with OOM and a stylus pen. I have an external gps unit called a Garmin Glo that connects to the tablet via bluetooth. Basically, I can pinpoint where I am on a map to within a few metres so the map can be very accurate. The mapping still relies on my interpretation of the terrain, matching it against my working knowledge of the orienteering mapping specifications.
Could you give a rough description, in simple terms, of how you make a map now as opposed to your first maps? Do you use a drone? What are the advantages/disadvantages of using one?
Before I go into the field I create a basemap that provides a framework for my fieldwork. I access a range of data from LINZ and local Councils to try to draw as much as I can prior to visiting the site. A drone is particularly useful for accessing areas that don’t have a lot of information about it yet. I haven’t made the decision yet as to whether to invest
in a drone, mostly as LINZ is currently working with many Councils across
the country to provide lidar and aerial imaging. My understanding is that a lot of this data will be available over the next 12 to 18 months and hopefully it will
cover the Southland region.
In NZ, what was the most difficult area you mapped?
I’d say that the hardest areas that I have so far mapped are Laidmore Forest in North Canterbury and Flagstaff Forest near Dunedin. Laidmore has been physically challenging due to the terrain and vegetation. The map is looking amazing though and I definitely
recommend that Southland Orienteers consider travelling to run on it when PAPO first uses the map. Flagstaff Forest had a different set of challenges where I had trouble accessing good data for the basemap and there were slopes with only subtle graduated vegetation changes. Mapping is a lot easier when you get distinct boundaries between features.
Your favourite NZ map which you made?
My favourite map that I’ve made so far is definitely Weld Cone for Marlborough
Orienteering Club. The landowners were very warm and welcoming. The terrain
was varied and interesting. I would spend the day trying to avoid the bulls in the hilly terrain and I remember some beautiful warm evenings walking back to my van and seeing wild pigs.
Do you feel excited going to a new area, wondering what you will find? Have you had any surprises?
I definitely feel excited going to a new area to map. It can take a day or two to get a feeling for the vegetation on a new map. I grew up with a fascination for maps, the outdoors and geography. I love seeing the form of the land and trying to understand the processes that created it. Some days after a hard slog up a hill you get a stunning view over the surrounding landscape. It certainly beats the office. Probably the most unusual things I find
are people’s dope plots. There’s normally one on most sites, although I haven’t
found one mapping in Southland yet! The strangest thing I’ve found yet is a
metal box with co-ordinates in it and a container full of golf balls as part of a geocaching site.