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Beautiful bushland, a compass and a map are all Dr Fiona Le Surf of North Hill Veterinary Clinic in Armidale, NSW, needs to enjoy an orienteering event.

“On the face of it, orienteering is a pretty simple sport. You have a map and a compass, and you try and get from A to B to C in order. The course is usually in the bush and the fastest time wins. The real skill is learning to read the map and make good route choices. ‘As the crow flies’ is tempting but often not the fastest route.

“I’m a member of the Northern Tablelands Orienteering Club and these super-friendly people have been very helpful in teaching me the skills I need. I’ve been orienteering with them for around seven years.

“I first saw people orienteering when I lived in Sydney. There were people running around with maps doing the street courses. When I moved to Armidale, the sport was on my radar. I love being out in the bush so it seemed like a natural fit. I joined the club and suddenly I had access to different properties and places where you wouldn’t normally go.

“It can be a competitive sport with some people taking it very seriously. Others are out for some exercise and to enjoy the scenery. Our Armidale club is quite small and it takes a lot of time and effort to set out a course. There’s usually an event each month in the winter although, if you’re prepared to travel, there are events most weekends. 

“A lot of factors impact on how long it takes to finish. Kids start with short courses where they actually follow a string. The longest course is about seven kilometres with the fastest competitors finishing in under an hour.

“To be good at orienteering you need a mathematical mind and the ability to stop and look carefully at features on the map to formulate a good route choice. It can be very challenging to find the right boulder on a hill of boulders. It’s an inclusive sport for families, kids and older people. If you can rein in your competitive nature, it can be a really enjoyable couple of hours in the bush. For me, it’s a fantastic way to unwind. I’m out in nature, only thinking about where I am and where I’m supposed to be going.

“The country around Armidale is amazing and very beautiful. I also enjoy the challenge and the exercise. Once the results are posted, I’ll sometimes see that I beat a serious competitor on one leg so I must have been doing something right. I don’t need to win the whole thing; the little successes give me a nice sense of achievement.”

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