“Geocaching: The sport of using billion-dollar military hardware to find Tupperware boxes hidden in the woods…”
To paraphrase: Geocaching a highly addictive outdoor treasure hunt for adults*.
Let me explain.
Using a handheld GPS or smartphone (such as an iPhone with a built in GPS), you locate hidden ‘caches’ which other people have hidden outside (we’ll get to how you find out exactly where in a moment), sign a logbook, update your stats online, and then go hunt for the next one.
I started playing in 2008. In June this year, I found my 1000th cache.
It will keep you fit (and you won’t even know it).
It keeps your mind working as you learn new things and see new places.
*Whilst Geocaching is child-friendly (many caches are full of kiddy swaps and treasure, like keyrings, plastic dinosaurs, fairies etc), I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s adults who get the most out of this hobby – especially once the ‘numbers’ start to bite, and you want to get your next 100 or even 1000 caches.
So Why Should You Play?
Probably the best thing about Geocaching is that KIDS LOVE IT.
It’s the perfect road trip distraction – you’ll have the kids on the edge of their seats, waiting to find the next ‘treasure’.
I’ve infected (lol) my niece and nephew, and when we did our French Line crossing last year, I introduced all of the who came with us kids (aged 2-6 years) to caching.
Yes, there are even geocaches along the French Line in the Simpson Desert!
But if you’re not convinced here’s just a few more benefits of playing:
- It’s simple to learn & play
- You just need a smart phone or a GPS
- It’s very cheap ($9.95 for the app and only $30US for a premium membership)
- Geocaching breaks up long road trips
- You’ll visit places you’d never otherwise know about
- You’ll learn more than you ever though imaginable about Australian history and culture
- You’ll learn to use your GPS navigate better than you every thought possible
- You’ll meet lots of other travellers playing
You might even get hooked and go to an Oz Mega – like I did this year in April (the 2017 OzMega is being held in Alice Springs, by the way!).
How Did Geocaching Begin?
In May 2000, the US Military decided to turn off the limited availability of their satellites that were used for geolocation.
This meant that instantly, your handheld GPS went from having an accuracy of about 200m, down to having potential sub-metre accuracy – because it had access to a possible 24 satellites.
The effect of this was not only great for people like me (archaeologist/anthropologist) who use GIS extensively in our professional lives, but also created a flurry of discussion about how this newfound accuracy might be put to use recreationally.
I’ll quote the story of what happened next from the Geocaching.com site:
For GPS enthusiasts, this was definitely a cause for celebration. Internet newsgroups suddenly teemed with ideas about how the technology could be used.
On May 3, one such enthusiast, Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant, wanted to test the accuracy by hiding a navigational target in the woods. He called the idea the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” and posted it in an internet GPS users’ group. The idea was simple: Hide a container out in the woods and note the coordinates with a GPS unit.
The finder would then have to locate the container with only the use of his or her GPS receiver. The rules for the finder were simple: “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.”
On May 3rd he placed his own container, a black bucket, in the woods near Beavercreek, Oregon, near Portland. Along with a logbook and pencil, he left various prize items including videos, books, software, and a slingshot. He shared the waypoint of his “stash” with the online community on sci.geo.satellite-nav:
N 45° 17.460 W 122° 24.800
Within three days, two different readers read about his stash on the Internet, used their own GPS receivers to find the container, and shared their experiences online. Throughout the next week, others excited by the prospect of hiding and finding stashes began hiding their own containers and posting coordinates. Like many new and innovative ideas on the Internet, the concept spread quickly – but this one required leaving your computer to participate.
What followed was a number of other people doing the same thing, a website, Geocaching.com to keep track of these caches and who’d found what, and a worldwide hobby was born.
By 2013, there were over two million geocaches hidden around the world (the 2,000,000th cache is actually in Australia – in Alice Springs), and over five million active players of the game.
How Do You Play?
It’s pretty simple – all you really need to start is your smartphone. Check out this short video:
(If you’re going to hide caches, you’ll need a GPS or something like Bad Elf to make your phone more accurate.)
Then you’ll need to:
- Register a free, Basic Membership account at Geocaching.com
- Download the app free version of the app (either through iTunes or the Google store)
- Log in to the app using your Geocaching.com account
- Click the ‘Find Nearby Geocaches’ button – a map of your area will be displayed.
- Select a cache nearby (they look like little green, orange or blue commas on the map)
- Use the ‘Navigate to Cache’ button to bring up a compass and distance in metres to the cache
- Find the hidden cache and sign the logbook
- Log your find on the app with the ‘Found it!’ button.
If you’re using the ‘Intro’ version of the app, you can only find 4 geocaches before you’ll need to buy the $9.95 FULL version of the app.
Personally, I would SKIP the free/intro version of the app and just download the full version – this game is fun and addictive!
For those of you who are like me, and prefer to use a GPS, the instructions for getting the cache coordinates into your GPS are here.
There’s a number of different types and sizes of cache containers, from huge buckets to tiny little ‘nano’ caches like this one pictured below:
For your first few caches, I really recommend sticking to small and regular containers so that you get your ‘eye’ in, and also to give you time to learn how to use your phone/GPS device to play the game as well.
However, the SMART way to really get ahead with caching is to go to a local event and go caching with some experienced cachers.
They’ll be able to introduce you to some of the tricky local hides and sneaky container types you’ll find… like this nasty little tek screw cache I encountered in the Top End (northern Australia, if you’re not familiar with Australian terms):
Local events and meet-ups are publicized as actual caches on Geocaching.com and also the Australian version of the site, Geocaching Australia. What’s also great about events is that they are published as caches online that you can log.
If you’re an Australian I strongly recommend that you sign up with both Geocaching.com (GC) and Geocaching Australia.com (GCA). GCA membership is free, and you can also log/hide caches on their site as well.
I personally find the forum on GCA a lot more relevant than to Australians than the one on GC – which is heavily US-biased and contains little of relevance to Australians.
Also, I really recommend joining the following Facebook Groups, and introducing yourself:
Caching Out in Alice (We are admins on this page).
It’s Just Plain FUN!
Apart from the addictive nature and the mental challenges of find caches, taking up Geocaching as a hobby is going to get you out and about in your town, suburb or countryside, walking about and in some cases, climbing hills.
What I really love about caching is that it takes me to places that I would otherwise not know existed – often these are places of historic, cultural and natural significance that you had no idea were there!
Geocaching is really a cheap, simple and quick way to have an adventure everyday.
Also, if you do get into this fun hobby, our caching name is 2Lost-Souls. Make sure you say ‘hi’.
Have you tried Gecocaching? If so, what do you love about it? Let us know in the comments below