Geo whiz, it’s fun

GPS gadgets are in­creas­ingly be­ing used to un­cover hid­den trea­sure in a unique out­door ac­tiv­ity, writes Jen­nifer Dud­ley-Ni­chol­son

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Gadgets -

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.

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