Geo whiz, it’s fun
GPS gadgets are increasingly being used to uncover hidden treasure in a unique outdoor activity, writes Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
THEY are hidden in creek beds, up trees, on mountainsides, in playgrounds and in plain sight. Some involve more than stop, swapping trinkets, solving puzzles, moving gnomes, frantically searching and carrying a pencil.
They are geocaches: the loot in a hi-tech treasure hunt open to anyone with a GPS device. And the act of geocaching is growing in popularity, fuelled by a drop in GPS device prices, word of mouth and the amount of hidden treasure.
More than 1.2 million geocaches (pronounced geocashes) are hidden in more than 100 countries, including plenty in Australia, where summer is peak treasurehunting season.
The trend is so big it is being recognised with geocachingspecific devices from Garmin and apps for smartphones including Apple’s iPhone and Google Android handsets.
Geocaching began in May 2000, soon after access to 24 worldwide satellites improved the accuracy of GPS navigational devices.
An American computer consultant used this opportunity to hide a container in nearby woods and publish the latitude and longitude coordinates for its location on the internet. It was found within two days.
Other cachers soon began hiding ‘‘ stashes’’ and lists of these targets were compiled.
Thousands of geocaches are now listed on websites. To find a cache, you must read its clues and plug its co-ordinates into your GPS device. The unit will then guide you to within 10-20m of its location, where you must search, often high and low, for the item.
Inside your target, you’ll find a logbook on which to write your name and, perhaps, an item you can leave or swap for an item of equal or greater value. Targets can be a lunchbox or more complex.
Geocachers log their finds and list their hidden treasure on websites including geo caching.com.au, geocaching .com, terracaching and navi cache.com.
Leading GPS device maker Garmin also recently added its own free geocaching website, OpenCaching.com, to this list.
Garmin national sales manager Ian Edwards says the US-based company launched the website to foster and show its support for the community that used its products.
‘‘ For a very long time our handheld range has been used extensively for geocaching and we want to help that community,’’ he says.
‘‘ The old pirates would have a map where X marks the spot, but in this case you have a GPS device and co-ordinates.’’
Handheld GPS gadgets created for hikers and mountain climbers are the most popular with serious geocachers as they accept location co-ordinates and often feature topological graphs of nearby terrain.
Edwards says a basic, blackand-white-screened model, the Garmin eTrex H, sells for $149, although models with colour screens, mapping, compasses and altimeters, such as the Magellan eXplorist 610 or the Garmin Oregon 450t, can cost more than $700.
Geocaching is also possible with GPS-capable mobile phones. And Apps are emerging to help find caches and their hidden treasures.
These include Groundspeak’s Geocaching for the iPhone ($12.99) and CacheMate for Google Android phones ($4.99). It’s fun on the run: geocaching is growing in popularity.