story and pictures stephen smith
Every child loves a good treasure hunt, but usually there are only so many spots in your garden that make for good hiding places. But when you enter the world of geocaching, there are endless treasure-hunting possibilities on your doorstep, no matter where you are. It’s also a great, fun way of getting your kids (and yourself!) outdoors and exercising.
Geocaching is a global game with over three million geocaches waiting to be discovered, and there are hundreds of geocaches in the greater Upper Highway area. What’s more, the only costs involved are fuel (unless you go on bikes or on foot) and minimal cellphone data.
To get started, download the official Geocaching app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store (the base app is free), create a profile and get searching. And then, if you really get into it and figure it could be your new hobby, upgrade to the Premium subscription for access to more caches – including offroad ones for a new angle on mountain biking or trail running.
Geocaching involves using your GPS-enabled device (usually a smartphone) to guide you to caches that have been hidden by other geocachers. When you open the app it automatically zeroes in on your location, showing your position as well as all the caches in the vicinity. You can then click on one of the caches, which brings up a description of the cache including how difficult it is to find, its size and the terrain in which it is hidden, as well its name, distance from you and its activity (when it was last found, etc.). You then click on ‘Start’, and your phone will lead you to within 10 metres or so of the cache. The last bit is up to you and your sleuthing abilities. Once you find the cache, open it up, write a message on the logbook (remember to carry a pen!). And if there is swag (treasure) in the cache, you are able to swap a piece from it for something of yours of equal or greater value.
We spent an afternoon geocaching in the Upper Highway area, going from Hillcrest to Botha’s Hill to Monteseel, and it’s incredible how many options there are. The trick is to plan your route at home before you get in the car so that you know if you’ll be walking far or just hopping in and out of the car. It really is great fun, but it does take time and some of the caches are nothing more than a piece of paper in a tube, so we took ‘treasure’ for our little boy to find while we looked for the cache. It’s amazing how the possibility of a packet of NikNaks will keep a three-year-old focused!
- Be the geocache. Think “If I were a geocache, where would I hide?”
- Think outside the box to find the box. Geocachers are cunning and the cache itself will be hidden.
- Be patient. You’ll get better with practice, but it might take a while to find
- your first few caches.
- Start with easy caches and move on to more difficult ones with time.
Geocaching with kids:
- Geocaching doesn’t have a minimum age and it can be a fun thing to do with a baby in a sling, but it’s probably best for kids aged 5 and older.
- Take snacks.
- Try to choose caches with swag, and take a variety of things to swap for them.
- Try to find caches that manage the child’s ability, so that they don’t lose enthusiasm.
- Make it a team game, where everyone participates.