We are a bit skint these holidays. Some car expenses have meant that our opportunities to participate in paid activities are minimal.

Fortunately we recently discovered geocaching!

A conversation yesterday afternoon:

Me: “Do you want to go treasure hunting kids?”
Lass:”Yeah!”
Lad: “I want to go on the trampoline!”
Me: “We can do that when we get back! Don’t you want to go find treasure?” (N.B.I think last time we trampolined I got hit by many kneecaps, elbows and buttocks, so I was not keen).
Lad: “Ummmm”
Me: “We can take what’s left of lunch and have a picnic!”
Lad: “Yaaaay picnic!”

You have to know how to sell your ideas to kids….

And we're off!

And we’re off!

What is Geocaching?

I call it treasure hunting because that’s an easier name for my kids to understand. Much easier than “geocaching”, which is what grown-ups call it. Geocaching is a worldwide game where people hide stuff in places called “caches”, upload the location with GPS data to a website and leave it there for people to find. It’s much harder than using your phone to navigate to the nearest service station though. Caches are hidden under things, inside things, on top of things and behind things. GPS systems are also not millimetre accurate, so there is a fair bit of searching involved no matter what.

There are also other, more complex, types of caches which may involve puzzles, clues leading you to other locations, questions you have to answer and more. Given the age of my kids I tend to stick to the more basic type of caches, for now.

What do you need?

Here’s the beauty of it. You need: Nothing. Well that’s a lie. You need a GPS device (your mobile phone is a GPS device, by the way), and a pen. You may also want to take a collection of knickknacks to “swap” at the caches you find. I’ll explain that later. But aside from that you don’t need a thing. Today we went geocaching and I took: A pen, some food, water and a plastic ornament.

What do you find?

Geocaches are usually food containers (although not always – I have seen jars, even a black tube). Some just contain a notebook for people to log their visits. Others contain little pieces of “treasure” – knickknacks that you can take from the cache, provided you replace them with something. They might be toys, souvenirs, calling cards or even “trackables” – items with codes on them which allow them to be tracked as they travel across the globe. So far we’ve donated a spider man figure, found a tiny car and an eraser in the shape of a rubber duck. It’s a good way to get rid of annoying toys from Happy Meals that (in spite of your healthy food philosophy) seem to accrue around the place….

What’s it like?

Here’s a short recount of our last caching experience:

We left the house at around 1:30 bound for the Guildford Lookout. It is just under a kilometre from the house (as the crow flies), and we were headed for a cache just near it. Soon after we left my daughter insisted on being carried. Sigh.

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Carrying. I’m used to it….

We walked along footpaths until we ran out of them, and then along gravel paths up hills. On the way my son picked up a stick which he dragged along the ground. He was leaving a trail so we’d find our way home. We also picked up a newsletter, and I watched as my boy turned it into a train and ran it along the handrail of a bridge. The picture below explains it.

Chugga chugga!

Chugga chugga!

We walked about 600 metres before we came to the foot of the hill. The lookout, as its name suggests, is up high, and the climb was going to be the hardest part of our journey.

We set off, me with The Lass in my arms, and The Lad on his own feet walking up the hill. We actually stopped a couple of times on the way up so the kids could catch their breath, it was a big ask for a 4-year-old (and for this 36-year-old who was carrying the 2-year-old). During these stops we had a snack, chatted with some horses and my son relieved himself on a tree.

But we arrived at the top and the kids loved the view. They climbed to the top of the watch-tower that was built there, asked where home was and enjoyed the wind. While we were there I noticed another couple driving up to the lookout with a GPS reader in hand, fellow geocachers enjoying the surrounds. We left them too it as we looked at the directional plaque that had arrows pointing to Melbourne, Bendigo, Ballarat, Castlemaine and a whole bunch of other places.

Then we went hunting. We had to scrabble over some rocks and through some medium grass for about 25 metres. It was a long 25 metres as I was accompanied by 2 small people  who regularly got themselves stuck and needed to be hoiked (technical term) over rocks, grass and assorted obstacles. After some searching amongst the boulders in the side of the hill, we unearthed the cache!. I placed it on a rock and set myself up to fill in the log when The Lass declaimed loudly “I NEED TO DO A WEE!!!!”

So I took her away from the cache, tried to get her to squat, failed to get her to squat and then proceeded to store her now sodden undergarments in a plastic bag (ALWAYS BRING A PLASTIC BAG WHENEVER YOU GO ANYWHERE WITH A FRESHLY TOILET TRAINED CHILD), and went back to the cache. I filled in the log, left a treasure piece and my children got a couple of knickknacks out of the tub, including a toy car. My son was elated, because he got a toy car.

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I then posted a log that we found the cache on the geocaching website, and we played for a little longer. The children did a special celebratory dance on the lookout before I called home to ask for a lift (the kids were stuffed, and going down that steep hill was going to be even harder than going up it.

When The Mamanator arrived with the evac helicopter station wagon, we decided not to go straight home, but to another cache located just near the cemetery of the nearby town of Vaughn Springs. The Mamanator uncovered that one. 2 caches in one afternoon. A good effort!

But why?

I think it’s easy to underestimate the value of going for walks with children. I wrote about it recently, about the often ignored benefit of time outdoors, and how I notice my children’s imaginations explode into activity when they are in these kinds of special places. The caching part, the finding treasure, just adds to the experience. It gets you to check out new places, look more closely at the world around you and gives your kids a chance to experience a bit of excitement as you work to unearth these little treasure boxes that are scattered around the globe.

It’s also an easy activity to slot in around other journeys and stuff. If you’re heading out to a particular place, why not break up the drive with a quick search for a cache? Or hunt around for caches in a park with your kids? Everyone likes treasure hunting!

If you want to find out more you can hop onto http://geocaching.com/ and have a look. In the future I can see us making our own caches around the place, setting them up, hiding them and monitoring them. I’ve included our own stat bar below, if you want to take this up (or if you already geoache) and want to friend us, I’d be honoured! As simple, free, outdoorsy and active experiences go, I’ve found geocaching an awesome little family activity!

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