Imagine venturing into the woods in search of hidden treasure.
Trudging down a dark path, armed with nothing but a GPS-enabled compass, you have little knowledge of where you’re going. As you near your desired longitude and latitude, you hear the sound of water not too far off. You start walking toward it. You climb over rocks and push aside foliage. There, in front of you, is a pristine waterfall. You’ve discovered a beautiful, secluded stream of rushing water. Concealed underneath this fall lies the clandestine treasure for which you’ve been searching..
Geocaching is a GPS-powered treasure hunt game played all over the world. For travellers, this outdoor hobby is an exhilarating way to explore a new place. From discovering an incredible view on the Galway seaside to spotting a goldfish pond in a New York City garden, it’s what you find on your way to the hidden treasure that makes geocaching memorable. So put on your Indiana Jones hat and pull out your Goonies map. It’s time to feel like a kid again.
How it works
Geocaching is a high-tech game of hide-and-seek. First, one geocacher hides a container outside, writes down its coordinates, and lists her/his cache online (usually at Geocaching.com, the official website for the game). The container, which can range in size, always holds a logbook (or log sheet) and often holds gifts like handmade trinkets, books, CDs, DVDs or small toys. When other players set out to find the cache, they can either bring gifts to replace the ones they take, or take nothing and simply record their find in the logbook. After finding a cache, most participants will also log it online to keep the game going. For added fun, some caches hold disposable cameras.
As with any outdoor activity, it’s important to take precautions while geocaching. Here are a few rules to follow:
- Don’t trespass. Don’t hide or search for caches in private lands, historical sites or archaeological sites.
- Know where geocaching is prohibited. For example, the United States National Park Service does not allow geocaching. Before hiding a cache, consult Geocaching.com to make sure your desired area has a history of geocaching.
- Dress for success. For instance, if the terrain is rough, wear the proper footwear.
- Be careful. This is where your common sense should kick in. If you’re geocaching at night, bring a flashlight. If you’re geocaching in a remote area (rural or urban) bring a friend. If you’re going into the woods or mountains, bring a topographical map.
Generally speaking, though, all you need to play the game is a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver. It can come in the form of a handheld device, a GPS-enabled phone or the Geocaching.com app for your Android or iPhone.
When it started
The game of geocaching started eleven years ago, just one day after accurate GPS became available to the masses. In May 2000, Dave Ulmer of Oregon decided to test the capabilities of GPS by hiding a container filled with a logbook, a pencil and a few prizes. He then posted the container’s coordinates on an online forum with one simple rule: “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.” Three days later, Ulmer’s container had been found by two separate parties. Thus, geocaching was invented.
The concept behind geocaching, though, dates back farther – to a message in a bottle. As the story goes, in 1854, English tour guide James Perrott put his calling card in a bottle and left that bottle in a remote part of Dartmoor, England. Visitors who found the bottle, took his calling card and left their own. This eventually turned into a game, still played today, called letterboxing.
Who does it
More than five million people geocache in more than 100 countries around the world, according to Geocaching.com. There are geocaches on every continent, including Antarctica.
Where are the best places to do it
The best places to geocache depend on what you’re looking for. For the planning-averse traveller, urban areas with large numbers of caches allow for spontaneity and flexibility. At a moment’s notice, you can whip out your smart phone or laptop and find a nearby cache. Cities that are dense with caches include Washington DC, New York City, London, Prague, Toronto, and Berlin.
For more intensive, day-long geocaching experiences, here are some enticing, adventurous caches around the world:
- The Other Way To Hanalei: Journey through a tunnel, hike through jungles and swampland and cross over a river for a full-day outdoor adventure in Kaua’i, Hawaii.
- Finding Falls: This Alberta, Canada cache, sponsored by Waterton Lakes National Park, involves a relaxing stroll along Cameron Creek with the reward of picturesque white-water falls at the end.
- Ornithologist’s Delight: Birds aren’t the only animals you’ll find as you track down this cache in the TALA wildlife sanctuary, in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. Keep an eye out for giraffes, rhinos, hippos and antelope too.
- The Royal Road: This historic multi-cache in Prague, Czech Republic takes you on a scavenger hunt following in the steps of the Czech Kings. Your starting point is the Powder Tower.
Travellers can also join the broader geocaching community by attending one of the below global events:
- GPS Adventure Maze Exhibit (through 5 September): This GPS-guided trip takes geocachers through the Adventure Science Center’s life-size maze exhibition in Nashville, Tennessee. This is a great one for the kids if you’re visiting the US this summer.
- 1st European Geocoinfest (28 August): Geocache veterans know that geocoins are traceable calling cards that can be passed from cache to cache and geocacher to geocacher. Geocoinfests, which take place all over the world, attract both geocoin collectors and geocachers interested in the sisterhood of the travelling coins, so to speak. This event is being held in Cologne, Germany.
- Mega Event Catalonia 2011 (8 to 9 October): On the water in the beautiful town of Calella, in Catalonia, Spain, several geocaching activities are being planned. Perhaps even a flashmob?
Why give it a try
Simply put, Geocaching is a lot of fun. It uses technology to connect us with our surroundings. It’s good for us, being challenging both physically and mentally. And perhaps coolest of all, it gives a sense of community and camaraderie, both with our geocaching teammates and with people all over the world who we’ve never even met before.