It’s not that long ago that about as tech as I got pre hunt was having a quick look at a forecast and a topo map before heading out into the hills. These day’s you can spend a bunch of time “E-Scouting” on various apps and websites to try and plan a feasible route as well as get much more detailed forecasts even whilst in the field via an Inreach for example.
Guidebooks such as Moirs are still a fantastic resource and provide good route descriptions for both the obvious and the more obscure places. Moirs over the years has for me provided the inspiration for many a trip into new country, and todays range of online tools certainly compliments the research and route planning, as well as making you safer by having a better understanding of such things and weather and avalanche hazard etc.
So, here is a brief rundown on some of the more relevant online tools available, for when you’re planning that next big excursion.
This app essentially turns your phone into not a bad GPS unit with a 1:50,000 topo base map, sure it might have a few limitations with gps sensitivity etc in comparison with a dedicated modern GPS unit, but the fact is that your phone is generally always in your pocket.
You do need a smart phone with a fair bit of available space (2GB) as you download either the North or South Island at 1:50,000, which at $7 per island is really good value. It allows you to mark waypoints, record and plan routes and will show your current position even when outside of cell phone coverage. It also shows you huts, tracks and access points as well as having an open permit hunting overlay, satellite imagery overlay as well as a measuring tool.
Personally, I use this app a lot while on the hill, and now have a huge number of waypoints marked and labelled with the date, which is handy when you’re trying to remember what you’ve seen and where and when.
Will no doubt need no introduction to most, it is a tool that allows you to look at satellite imagery for anywhere on earth. But is particularly useful for seeing if a potential route you have seen on a topo map is viable. You can scroll around and get a 3D view from any point you choose and even from right down in a valley looking up at a pass for example, which gives you a much better idea of the scale of the terrain rather than looking straight down on top of it. It gives you some idea of the terrain features that you just will not get from looking at a topo map.
This is also a great tool for spotting slips, clearings, and vehicle tracks. But also, for looking at vegetation type and therefore likely looking areas.
Available for smartphone and desktop it’s a great way to get an idea of the terrain you’re in for, if I’m going somewhere new, I’ll often take a few screen shots looking across at relevant parts of a route so that I can refer back to them when I’m there and trying to figure something out.
Walking Access New Zealand
Walking Access New Zealand is a government agency, and their mapping tools are designed to give you an idea of where the public has right of access across land. It has a dedicated Hunting and Fishing map which shows you the various land parcels and the points to access them as well as marginal strips, unformed legal roads etc.
This is a great tool if you are unsure of where a boundary or an easement is. But be careful as not all unformed legal roads are practical to use etc, so it’s always best to check with any private landowner and see what the story is.
Walking Access New Zealand is also the agency to contact if you have any issues around legal public access.
Pretty obviously we all need to keep a close eye on the forecast when we are planning an extended trip in the hills. Personally, I’ll make comparisons from a few different forecasts as there can be a few differences, especially with where I live which all depends on how much weather actually makes it over the divide from the West, and the further out the forecast obviously the less accurate these forecasts tend to be.
Check out Walking Access New Zealand HERE
Metservice is New Zealand’s designated meteorological service, and these are the guys that issue our sever weather warnings and public safety weather services for New Zealand.
The weather forecasting process starts with weather observations. The MetService has a network of automatic weather stations spread across the country measuring all aspects of the weather, the air pressure, temperature, dew point, wind speed, wind direction, visibility, amount of precipitation etc. They also monitor the weather through their national radar network, and also use satellite imagery.
MetService has access to a range of computer models, all of which use a process called data assimilation to put as much of the observational data into the model as possible. This means that the model should be starting from as accurate a picture of the current atmospheric conditions as possible. The model then calculates the movement and development of the atmosphere over a certain period of time, solving physics equations to come up with weather forecasts.
There are two main types of models covering New Zealand weather; global models, with coarse resolution but global coverage, and Weather Research and Forecasting models (WRF Models) which cover a smaller area but at a higher resolution. The main advantage of global models is they can see the whole planet, so moving and developing large scale weather systems across Aotearoa is their forte. They are usually very good for the timing of systems, and the position of low pressures. They also tend to have a longer range. The main disadvantage is that the resolution is fairly coarse, and this means you get a more bland response to local effects, like topography. WRF models rely on global models feeding into them for features entering the boundary of the model, but have a finer grid so pick up smaller scale features. Because of the extra computing power required to run a model at a higher resolution, the range tends to be much shorter than global models. It’s not possible to say, “this model is best”, because they have such different characteristics, and MetService meteorologists will use multiple models in conjunction to come up with the best possible forecast.
By using a combination of models, and their extensive observation and radar network, MetService meteorologists can accurately track and time things like a strong southerly change rolling up the country. However, even at short lead times, picking the detail in moisture laden tropical showery airmasses for example is always difficult. These tend to produce features which rely on processes that happen on scales even smaller than the highest resolution WRF models operate at.
The best advice from the Metservice for hunters planning trips, or those already out on the ground, is to use the MetService App, and metservice.com to keep up to date with the latest forecast, and if there are major differences between the icons you see and the text, go with the text. A qualified MetService meteorologist will have weighed up all the information, the pros, and cons of various models, and produced the best written forecast possible.
Personally, I find the National Parks forecasts really useful for a general idea of what’s happening, often finding a point near where you’re wanting to go, to then get a more detailed idea for that particular point. This is quite handy for getting an idea of wind strength or snowfall accumulation at a certain elevation.
Check out Metservice.com Here
Metvuw allows you to see a computer-generated weather map for either the North or South Island at 6-hour intervals for up to ten days out. It shows how much precipitation is expected and how much wind. I find this good for getting an idea of the overall weather pattern and the speed at which it is moving. It seems to be reasonably accurate as to what’s on the way, but understandably the longer-range forecasts can shift in timing as they get closer and more accurate.
Visit MetVuw Here
This is a Norwegian site that computer models forecasts for the whole world, given it’s purely computer modelled and we are just a little bump of rock in the Southern Ocean, you sometimes have to take it with a grain of salt. But the beauty is that you can pick even quite an obscure point in New Zealand, and get a forecast for that location.
Visit YR.no Here
Windy is a favourite of paragliders who are quite clearly interested in wind among other things. It is available via an app but also through the website, and you can scroll around anywhere in the world looking at the various weather systems interacting. With multiple layers available such as wind, precip, snow, thunder etc as well as radar and satellite imagery it really shows how we get our weather and how highs and lows interact. Then you can zoom right in to even a single valley and see for example the wind strength and direction on a localised level.
Being computer modelled it is really good at displaying what’s happening right now, but it also allows you to roll forward in time a number of days to see what’s coming but with varying accuracy.
Personally, I use windy mostly just for wind and seeing what wind I can expect in the next day or two, this is useful if you are planning on an alpine pass or just hunting from a higher elevation campsite.
Visit Windy.com Here
Keeping an eye on avalanche hazard is a must for tahr hunters heading into higher elevations, particularly in winter and spring.
Owned and managed by the Mountain Safety Council, the avalanche advisory provides forecasts for 12 key locations around New Zealand. It relies on shared data and observations mostly from professional snow users such as heliski companies, ski field patrollers, mountain guides etc, to give a level of avalanche hazard and trend as well as more detail on the type of hazard at different elevations etc.
Personally, I always have a look at this if I’m heading around or above the snowline, but even at the lower hazard levels still travel in a way that lowers my exposure to these risks. It’s a great idea to jump on one the snow safety courses available, or at least do the online course with MSC as an introduction and a bit of an eye opener.
Visit the Avalanche Advisory Here
As seen in NZHunter Magazine, grab a subscription Here