geocaching

Geocaching is my new favourite travel companion

During my recent travels in the UK and Morocco, I was pretty damn excited to add geocaching to my list of activities.

As I wrote last August, geocaching is my new hobby. It’s a global activity, whereby people hunt for secret caches hidden pretty much anywhere, located by GPS coordinates and often a bunch of clues as well. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt/discovery and being introduced to places you might not have otherwise visited.

Which all makes geocaching an ideal travel companion.

Many ‘cache owners’ spend a lot of time researching the history or significance of the location where they hide a cache for others to find. (For example, I learnt a fair deal about Cornish tin mining from caches I looked at both before I left and when I was in Cornwall.)

Geocaching gives you something fun to do pretty much anywhere you happen to be… and will often lead you somewhere interesting.

In London, when I had a couple of hours to kill at Paddington station before taking my train down to St Ives in Cornwall, I took a walk down a picturesque canal in the Paddington Basin and picked up my first UK cache (and the UK digital souvenir!).

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London, Paddington Basin

I also grabbed the SideTracked – London Paddington cache, which is part of a series hidden near train stations throughout the whole of the UK. The Paddington one is found by geocachers approximately once a day, and is apparently the most frequently found SideTracked cache of them all. I guess many people find themselves killing time at Paddington!

Hunting for geocaches also gave me something fun and positive to do in the Cornish village of Pendeen, when I found myself there ahead of schedule after replacing my broken boots. It was a good substitute to walking the Zennor-to-Pendeen leg of the South West Coast Path.

There are, in fact, HEAPS of geocaches in Cornwall (and the UK in general). They’re in pretty much every town, along most walking paths, in parks, on top of hills… They’re everywhere.

Such has been my recent enthusiasm for geocaching that I factored it into all my travel planning.

I spent hours perusing the many caches along the section of South West Coast Path in Cornwall I intended to walk (St Ives to Falmouth). In fact, when booking I decided on the ‘relaxed’ pace for the walk, so I’d have more time to look for geocaches along the way.

And they’re in Morocco too. Not nearly as many, but they do exist, particularly in the tourist spots. I wasn’t sure how much opportunity I’d get, since I was travelling with a tour group, but I was determined to find at least one!

The other thing I did was purchase some ‘trackables’ for me to release on foreign shores. These are a little like keyrings — but each one has a unique code on it. Once activated, they are designed to be left inside caches for another geocacher to pick up and take somewhere else. As long as everyone who moves a trackable logs it digitally in the system, we can see their travels around the world! So cool.

In the end, geocaching promised to add a whole new dimension to my travel adventures. By the time I left Australia, armed with a new powerbank to ensure my phone wouldn’t die while hiking, I was chomping at the bit to get over there and start hunting!

And so, after a brief dalliance in London, the fun truly began in Cornwall!

First, I had scheduled a travel recovery day in St Ives, where I combined exploring the gorgeous town with hunting for geocaches. My favourite thing when travelling is to explore a new place on foot, which matches perfectly with geocaching. They are usually to be found in all the best spots and make an ideal tour guide.

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There’s a geocache on the end of St Ives pier!

Also, at home one doesn’t always have time to indulgently hunt for geocaches (what with work and commitments and stuff). But travelling solo, with the absolute freedom to do whatever the hell I wanted, I could go nuts.

Having said that, this was a holiday, so I didn’t really set any goals. I was simply free to amble along, find a geocache or five, eat cream teas, enjoy the atmosphere.

I had fully intended to find geocaches all along the coast path between St Ives and Falmouth — a walk of some 100 miles over around two weeks. But —

I learnt fairly quickly that trying to combine hiking with geocaching was a bit of a challenge.

Geocaching actually takes up a fair amount of time… there’s the navigating and there’s the hunting. If I stopped to hunt for every one I passed, it could add hours to each day — which I had anticipated. But I had underestimated how long it would take me to actually walk certain sections. Or how knackered I would feel!

So it wasn’t long before I scaled back considerably my geocaching ambitions. I limited it to first thing in the morning, if there happened to be any located in the village where I stayed. Then, if there was one near where I happened to take a break on the path, I would search for that too. (But by the end of each day I was too footsore and tired to be bothered.)

I walked right past so damn many! (Including, accidentally, several puzzle caches I had pre-solved — argh!) Nor did I find every one I looked for — I was only interested in relatively quick finds. It seems a shame now I skipped so many, but at the time I did as many as brought me joy. And that was the most important thing.

I also released my first trackable In Cornwall! Many of the caches I found were too physically small to fit a trackable inside, but I found one near Pendeen that fit the bill and, being not too remote, was found fairly regularly. It was located near (not in) a dry stone wall, near an ancient fogou (I think), with a view of fields and the sea.

And so Hetta the Hippocamp was released to travel the world…

 

In the end, I found 30 geocaches in Cornwall — a much more modest total than I would have expected after more than two weeks. But the hiking was beautiful. Here are some views from (or near) some other awesome geocaching locations in Cornwall:

 

After Cornwall, I spent a week introducing UK friends to the fun that is geocaching. Caches were found in a couple of corners of greater London… then around the midlands town of Evesham and on top of Bredon Hill! (Another 17 finds for the week.)

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Hillfort with geocache on Bredon Hill, UK

And now we come to my geocaching adventures in Morocco!

I am yet to write any posts about my travels in Morocco… The short version is I spent two weeks with an Intrepid Travel group doing the “Highlights of Morocco” trip. It was wonderful. Great people. Amazing scenery. Fascinating cultures. (Stay tuned…)

And geocaches! Since I was with a group and our itinerary was heavily scripted, I didn’t have a great deal of time or opportunity to hunt. But I managed to scrounge time enough to find 11 in total across six different locations — not too bad at all!

The most important thing is that I figured out how to hunt for geocaches offline. You don’t need data to operate the GPS in your phone, but you do need data to access all the information about each cache — description, instructions, images, other peoples’ logs in case you get stuck, and the ability to log your own finds.

In the UK I had a travel SIM, which gave me 3G and 4G mobile data (when it was available — which in Cornwall along the coast path was frequently not the case!). But the travel SIM wouldn’t work in Morocco. The only other option for mobile data would have been to buy a local SIM.

Not needed! Upon recommendation, I had been using the Cachly App for iPhone (instead of the official one). I didn’t have issues at all with the official app, and still find it fine for normal use. But the Cachly app allows you to save caches to an offline list — not only the GPS coordinates, but all the associated information.

So all I needed to do was look ahead to where we were going and, while still on WiFi, save any geocaches to an offline list for the day in case we went anywhere near them. There are not so many in Morocco that this is unwieldy. And there is free WiFi everywhere.

Once I figured this out I was quivering with excitement!

The first Moroccan cache I found was in Casablanca near a fountain, the next a couple of days later at the stunning amazing incredible Roman ruins of Volubilis (favorite point!).

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Roman ruins at Volubilis, Morocco

Then I released my second trackable at a cache on top of a hill overlooking the stunning kser of Ait Benhaddou (another favourite point).

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View of Ait Benhaddou (Morocco) from geocache location

In the mountains around Imlil, I was ecstatic when we happened to walk past another I’d saved (Berber Secret), and almost killed myself clambering up a cliff to locate it. (I’m actually not joking.) My travel companions all thought I was crazy. Finally I found four in Essouira on a free afternoon, and a couple in Marrakech on my final day.

All in all I found 61 geocaches while travelling in the UK and Morocco.

This included my 100th cache found in Badsey, UK. (As of writing, I have now logged 142 finds.)

While I love hunting for geocaches locally (preferring parks and bushland to urban areas), it’s even more fun when you’re somewhere new and different and far away. (Which is also why I tracked some down in Broome WA last July, and why I got up early during a work visit to Dubbo NSW to find just one…)

Geocaching really does appeal to my love of discovery and adventure, and is the perfect element to add to my travels. I just wish I’d come to it years ago, before I went to Mongolia and Nepal and China and Spain and France… Guess I’ll just have to back to all those places again!

So… geocaching is my new hobby

This past weekend I headed down to my parents’ beach house on Phillip Island (with my cat) to get away from it all. My intention was to spend some time writing, as well as read and walk along the beach and generally relax. Most of this I could in theory do at home, but there’s something about escaping one’s everyday environment (and all the things on the to-do list) that makes the near two-hour drive each way worth it. The wood fire is nice too.

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It wasn’t until I got down there that it occurred to me I could also log some geocaches.

Geocaching is something I have been gradually getting into. It started for me a year ago, when I nagged my friend into finally taking me out for the day. It’s a global (secret-ish) activity, whereby people hunt for secret caches hidden… pretty much anywhere, located by GPS coordinates and often a bunch of clues as well.

Normal people (who the geocaching community call muggles) have no idea there’s a disguised mint tin hidden under the seat in their local park… or a plastic box shoved in a hollow log. But finding these caches (without being noticed), signing the tiny log inside, and then logging them digitally using the geocaching app or website, is the ultimate goal. There are no prizes as a general rule, no real competition. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt/discovery and being introduced to places you might not have otherwise visited.

So that’s geocaching 101 (of sorts). For more information visit the official geocaching website, where you can sign-up for free and get in on the fun!

After our first day out a year ago (when we logged 12 along Scotchman’s Creek in Melbourne), I found a few caches on Phillip Island. One took me to the local cemetery, which I hadn’t ever visited in all the years I’ve been spending weekends down there. It turned out to be a real highlight.Cemetery-PhillipIsland_1

Then I didn’t do much geocaching (or in fact any) until my recent trip to Broome in July. Still using the free subscription, I identified three that looked worth finding and, accompanied by a few family members (notably some of my nephews), I hunted them down, including a couple near Cable Beach, where we were staying. It gave me an extra thrill to find some so far from home.

It reminded me how fun it is.

So, when I recently spent a few days in Kyneton with friends, I decided to see what geocaches were to be found in the area… Not many (if any) for the free subscription, it turns out.

Determined, energised, and with a heightened sense of anticipation, I signed up for the premium subscription, which provides access to additional caches. (It’s only about A$50 a year.)

It’s opened up a whole new world. Literally.

The caches in and around Kyneton were fun — they were my first multi-caches, where you have to gather information to decipher a code to find the GPS coordinates of the actual cache (termed ‘ground zero’ or GZ by the caching community). With a few friends, I did three multis all told, plus several others.

My favourite of the weekend was again to be found in a cemetery — the Carlsruhe Cemetery. I loved it purely for the location — historic graves with Hanging Rock in the distance. In the late afternoon sunlight, the place was gorgeous.

I think I will make a point of hunting down caches in cemeteries.

Which brings me back to Phillip Island and this past weekend (when I was supposed to be writing). Turns out there are heaps more geocaches in interesting places on Phillip Island available to premium subscribers. Turns out there are several along the beach west of Cowes, along which we walk every single time we visit.

In truth, I looked at all the new ‘premium’ island caches available to me and nearly hyperventilated with excitement. Check this out:

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The yellow smiley faces are the ones I’ve found so far. There are enough caches here to keep me going for a while — even discounting the ones along the road (which I have little interest in).

I found one along the beach between our house and Cowes, but another eluded me. The next day I headed in the other direction to Ventnor and had a better return of three. It was in fact the first time I’d ever walked all the way around to Ventnor, and by the end of the return hike (in the rain) I was a little weary! But this only highlights what’s good about geocaching — taking you places you haven’t been before.

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On Monday, I drove down to Pyramid Rock (south coast), where there is a cache, and another a half-hour walk away on Red Bluff — one of my favourite places on the island. There were too many people (muggles) around for me to hunt for the Pyramid Rock cache, but I hiked up to Red Bluff and found that one easily.

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That was my last one for the weekend — I found five in total, leaving plenty for next time.

I only just logged my thirtieth cache on the weekend, so I’m still very new at this. But it’s swiftly becoming my latest obsession… I figure it has at least one benefit in getting me out and about into the fresh air, and eventually heading off to places new.

I’ve already been looking at the international options for when I next go travelling. (squee!)

Even though it took me a while to get going after signing up, I have a feeling my geocaching activity is starting to ramp up. I guess the real test will be once I’ve found all the local ones — both near home and on Phillip Island.

But I like to think geocaching will inspire me to take off with intention to new places on a semi-regular basis. I’ve already found (both in Broome and Kyneton) that it adds a new dimension of fun and exploration and adventure.

And those things are what I’m all about.

In the meantime, there are a couple of local caches that currently have me stumped…