It’s a technological scavenger hunt, an activity that has Nancy Drew- wannabes out in the field hunting for hidden treasures.
Geocaching, as it’s called, is a hobby similar to orienteering. It’s done by entering a set of co-ordinates into a Global Positioning System (GPS), then following directions to the carefully hidden cache (pronounced “cash”). A cache is usually a canteen (left by fellow geocachers) filled with plastic trinkets and a log book.
Though geocaching was relatively new to me, I learned that it’s practised all over the world. From Texas to the Philippines to Germany, geocaching has become a global phenomenon with a booming online community.
I figured that Northern New Zealand — where there are some 4,000 active geocaches — would be a good place to check out the pastime.
Conveniently, Rotorua, a tourist town rich with Maori culture and the stench of sulphuric hot springs, has an active geocaching scene.
Kevin Carroll, an avid cacher and member of the Kiwicaching association, agreed to teach me the ropes. First step was to create a profile on www.geocaching.com.
With my new caching name (I choose “travel junkie”), I was able to access all the caches in the area. Kevin and I chose a few to visit, downloaded the appropriate GPS co-ordinates and set out on the road to test our sleuthing skills.
Kevin (a.k.a GenCuster) drove me through redwood forests and glow-worm encrusted caverns to Porridge Pot, a scenic spot with pools of thick, bubbling mud. Following the blinking arrow on my GPS, I kept my eyes peeled for the cache. On my hunt for plastic boxes that looked out of place, I discovered that the GPS does have a margin of error and, within five metres of the cache, isn’t much help.
Like a child’s game of “hot” and “cold,” I wandered around, feeling frustrated by the fact that I was so close to the cache but couldn’t find it. Dirty and sodden from crawling through the bush, I finally saw the camouflaged canister tucked away behind a tree trunk. Yay! I opened it up, half expecting to find glistening gold nuggets and priceless antiquities. Sadly, my imagined retirement riches took the form of made-in-China keychains and toy soldiers. Though the hunt was fun, I found the payoff anti-climatic. After all that work, at least hook me up with a beer!
Kevin told me that geocaching rules don’t allow perishable items or alcoholic beverages to be placed inside the cache. With an emphasis on ethics and conservation, this PG-13 hobby seems to be more for families, not treasure hunters or aspiring alcoholics.
I searched through the canister, past the coins and plastic trinkets to find a log book. With a dulled pencil, I documented my first geocaching experience: “The Travel Junkie was here.”
Freelance writer Julia Dimon is editor of The Travel Junkie and host of Word Travels, a new reality TV-series to be broadcast on OLN in 2008. Contact her at www.thetraveljunkie.ca.
>> Watch Julia in New Zealand tonight on Word Travels, airing at 10 p.m. on OLN.