Geocaching is fun for both kids and adults alike, making it the perfect outdoor activity for all ages. It combines the excitement of a treasure hunt, the outdoor fun and excersise of a hike and technology in the form of a smart phone or GPS to make the find. I am by no means a geocaching guru, but I do enjoy the great outdoors and spending time with the family so will try and share some of what I know, and my experiences caching with kids.
What is geocaching?
I find it hard to define geocaching as it is a different experience for different people. As this is a family focused blog, I will try and describe it focused on families and caching with kids. Imagine walking through a suburban park or a walking trail through one of Western Australia's glorious bush parks and coming across a container with trinkets for the kids to swap and a log book to sign - then you have found a geocache. This could be the park across the road from your house or somewhere along the Bibbulman Track. Geocaches are literally everywhere - over 2,000,000 around the world. The size of caches varies from large plastic drums, down to something the size of your thumb. The different sizes allow caches to be hidden in all sorts of environments. There could even be a cache under the seat in the park where you watch your kids play.
How do I find these geocaches ?
There are a couple of options available, and the simplest one involves using something that most homes already have, a smartphone. Whether it's android, or iPhone, there is both official and non-official apps available. To prepare for your first geocache hunt, you will need to put about 20 minutes aside to prepare. You will need to go to the app store on your device and download one of these. I suggest starting with the official app. It is the simplest interface and as you get comfortable with this, you can download some of the other apps that give you more "tools" and features. I have used an iPhone but I believe the android is fairly similar. The official one comes from Groundspeak who are the governing body for geocaching. You will have the choice of a free version or a paid version. I strongly suggest splashing out the $10 for the paid version. While the free one "does the job", it does have a number of limitations in what it finds for you, and after your first few caches, you will find this very frustrating.
The other thing you will need is an account with Groundspeak. As I mentioned earlier, they are the governing body for geocaching worldwide. The hardest part of this coming up with a good "team" name. Make it unique and something that reflects your family or team. Don't make it too long either as some of the caches have quite small log books and signing "Jones-family-geocachers" might not fit! I condensed a few letters from each of my boys names and came up with "Kyzabra". Works for me. Again, there is a free, and paid option. Start with the free account. There is a "premium" account option and this is about $30 per year. A premium account will you some extra tools such as the ability to be notified of new caches and create lists called "pocket queries" that allow you download multiple caches to your GPS (if you buy one). The other main feature with a premium membership is that many caches are now being listed as "premium member only". A lot of geocachers put a lot of money into their hides, and this is a safety tool to try and reduce the number of caches going missing. But there are still plenty of non-premium caches out there that you can find before you commit to a premium membership.
Let's get started!
OK, you are now ready to start searching for geocaches. To begin with, try doing a search on your app for geocaches near to where you are right now. What have you found? You should be viewing a map with a heap of little icons on it. Green ones, blue ones, and orange ones. To begin with, we will focus on the green ones. The orange ones are what we call "multis" and the blue ones are "mystery". We will talk about those another time. Click on one of the green icons. A small box will pop up with some basic information. The GC code, this is a unique code given to each geocache. The cache name. Then a difficulty and terrain rating and a size. Each cache is given a difficulty. i.e., how hard is it to find on a scale of 1 to 5. And the terrain is also rated 1-5. I.e how hard is it to get to the location?
I would suggest looking at caches with a difficulty of 2.5 or less, and the terrain is up to you. As a guide, a terrain 1 means you can get to it in a wheelchair. A walk in the park would be a 1.5 or 2, a bush walk would be 2-3. Once you get into the 4s or 5s with terrain, you probably need a 4wd, a boat or some serious hiking. The last thing to look at is the size. Five little icons, micro, small, medium, large or unknown. I again would suggest looking at small, medium or large at this stage. Save the micros for once you have found some of the larger ones.
So now you have chosen a cache, click on it and you will come up with the "cache page". A lot more information on here for you. Make sure you read the description. This will generally tell you about the location, and the cache itself. You can click on recent logs, to see what previous finders have said about the cache, and this will also tell you if previous finders have struggled to find the cache, or if it has gone missing. There may also be a hint option highlighted if you get stuck!! Some photos may also help. Ready? GO !!! Tap the "navigate to geocache " button and you will go to the map page. It will show where you are, and where the cache is. You can now head over to the location. As you get closer, hit the "compass" button and an arrow will show which way to walk and how far to go. Once you get to within a few meters, the real hunt begins. Bear in mind that most phone GPSs are accurate to 5-10 metres, you may have to widen your search. Hopefully the caches you've chosen for your first few finds aren't too hard, and you will find the container fairly easy. But don't give up if you can't. Re-read the description, the hint, and the previous finders logs and photos. You'll be surprised what you can read here.
Hopefully by now, one of the kids has yelled "found it". What you do next is important. Firstly, you must sign the log book. Did I mention earlier that you should always bring a pen with you? Well I have now! Some caches will have pencils in them, but don't rely on it. Log signing duties done, if the cache is a medium or large, there's a good chance there will be something inside that your kids can swap for, like little trinkets, toys etc. Alway try to swap "up" with something equal to or better than what you are putting in. Now take the time to rehide the cache. If the log was in a plastic bag, make sure you put it back inside,re-seal and re-hide the cache as you found it. If there was tan bark or leaves (often refers to as camo) covering it, then re-cover it. The last thing you need to do is "log" your find online. You can do this on the app with the "found it" button or when you get home on your computer. It's up to you. Try and write something for the next finder, without giving it all away. If the cache needs some maintenance, then make a note of that in your log. The log book might be full or the cache is damaged, let the owner know via your log.
So you've found your first geocache, it's off to the next one :)