Treasure Hunting for a New Generation on Rottnest Island

Originally published by the West Australian Newspaper and on the Rottnest Island Authority website http://www.ria.wa.gov.au.

Do you remember as a kid going to a classmate’s birthday party and as an outdoor activity, because they were all outdoor activities, being given a treasure map? Was it tea stained, burnt around the edges and perhaps missing an entire corner because whoever had used the match lost their concentration for a second?

The best maps were those of fictional islands. What’s not to love about islands with small coves and sweeping bays all ringed by a vicious ship eating reef with only one small, deep passage through? On the island would be palm trees laden with coconuts, a mountain or volcano and lots of sneaky quicksand. It’s possible I’m now channelling the old television program, Danger Island, so I’ll leave it there for island descriptions.

Surely I’m not alone in finding all maps exciting but it’s the hunt that is even more exciting. The competitive challenge to outwit your friends was always more rewarding than a shoebox full of musk sticks and clinkers.

Back to channelling television programs, I have recently discovered an activity that closely resembles the immunity idol searches on Survivor. That frustration of knowing you’re in the right area but can’t pin down the location of an object you know must be there but you don’t know what it looks like.

Geocaching. It’s a great name for the modern day treasure hunting activity. The worldwide geocaching mantra seems spot on; if you hide it, they will come.

It’s more than treasure hunting though. There’s a different reward at the end which brings me back to the hunt being almost more fun than the find. With geocaching you find something but it’s not valuable and you needn’t take anything from it. In fact, you’re invited to contribute something to it.

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Found at last!

Geocaching is the search for registered small stores of items or written notes that are generally very well hidden or where they’re not hidden may be very tricky to open. Using a smart phone or GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) device, geocaches can be found worldwide and registered through Geocaching.com which is managed by Groundspeak. The goal of Groundspeak is to ‘make everyone an explorer and to put an adventure in every location’ and ensure caches are appropriate and safe for people to search for.

It’s the ideal activity for anyone who likes the outdoors and their smartphone but especially for a family whose young members have an insatiable appetite for technology and whose older members love the outdoors.

Think about the line in ‘What A Wonderful World’ where Louis Armstrong sings, “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow, they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know”.

I know what he means. My kids, Matilda 11 and Tom 5, are so adroit with technology and the absorption of information.

With that memory of the best treasure maps being islands and wanting to get really stuck into geocaching, what better opportunity could there be than to explore Rottnest Island and its trail of registered geocache sites?

While Rottnest has become renowned for its snorkelling and dive trails, embarking on the geocache trail is a land based adventure that gets you exploring the island and seeing things like you’ve never seen them before.

Before we travel to Rottnest I catch up with Griffin Longley from Nature Play WA. Despite Tom’s reluctance to accept Griffin’s invitation to make a cubby by the river’s edge near Nature Play WA headquarters, the CEO of Nature Play WA accepts my declaration that my kids really do enjoy the outdoors.

Griffin explains that geocaching is supported by Nature Play WA because of the benefits that align with so many of the activities they promote and undertake across Western Australia.

What I’m really taken with is his description of community awareness and connection. By geocaching you gain a greater understanding of what’s in your community and a greater connection to your community by knowing more about it, including of course where things are hidden.

GPS units are available for hire from Nature Play WA. While a smart phone has the capability of locating geocaches, a GPS unit has many advantages; they’re straightforward with easy to navigate menus, they are rugged, splash proof (some are even waterproof) and, particularly for children, they represent yet another technological device that they can master quicker than I could manage to open the battery compartment.

Our first search is out near Kingston Barracks and the swinging arrow on the compass of the GPS directs us to the coordinates of a geocache and then it’s up to us to scramble, peek, prod and scrape for an object that fits the description on the Rottnest Geocache Register.

We find what we’re looking for and it’s exhilarating! While the cache itself is not remarkably exciting I come back yet again to the hunt being more fun than the find.

One thing that is clearly apparent even at this early stage of our weekend but we keep coming back to in our observations is that it’s so important to remember that when you’re searching for caches in bush locations you need to be careful about where you put your hands and feet. Geocaching heightens your awareness of your location, particularly the beauty of the bush, so making sure you don’t damage flora and fauna is important.

It can be tough though. Some of those caches just about demand whoops for joy and jumps of elation. I’m being very mindful in this article not to give spoilers but when an online hint suggests that a cache is located at waist height and ends up being found on the ground I’m just glad Matilda didn’t log my comments on the accredited geocache website.

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Not a geocache and a lot easier to find

The geocaches I most enjoy are the ones where we all search and then one by one our enthusiasm falters as we reach our point of perplexion. Tom is always the first, particularly when we explain the geocache is never found on bugs, or in bugs.

I’m normally next, I like to have a quick squirrel about and then under the guise of, “Best I leave it for the kids!” I back away to observe proceedings as Matilda and her mother stoop low, stretch high, check coordinates on their GPS’s, look around and then start the routine all over again. I think there’s an opportunity to label this the ‘Geocache Dance’.

At last count over two million geocaches have been hidden all over the world. Wherever you travel, just search online for geocaches in your location and see what you can find. In Western Australia there are hundreds of registered geocaches in the Perth metropolitan area and throughout the state; from Rottnest Island to Quairading, Busselton to Denmark, Wedge Island to Grass Patch, Corrigin to Karajini and Kununurra to Exmouth. Here’s one to look for this weekend if you happen to be in the area; Mount Archie in the Little Sandy Desert at GPS coordinates S25, 33.915 E123, 14.331 (WGS 84) and it’s at an elevation of 471m.

There are a number of geocache types you can search for. The traditional cache is a container of some type with a log sheet and maybe a few items left by previous geocachers. Some of the traditional cache containers found by my family across the state include plastic containers, old ammunition tins, mint tins and handcrafted wooden boxes.

Mystery or puzzle caches can involve complicated hints to determine the coordinates or maybe a cache that is easy to locate but difficult to open. Earth caches are geological formations of interest that you can locate and learn about as the required coordinates are usually accompanied by some educational notes.

As an activity, geocaching is intriguing. While you can pack up the family and friends and travel for the purpose of geocaching it’s also possible to search for geocaches in any location you find yourself. Next time you have to travel to far flung sporting fields on a weekend or attend a wedding in the hills, do a search on a smart phone (or GPS if you happen to have one of those) and see what’s in your location. There might be a geocache hiding in the fork of that tree you can see, just over there.

Geocaching is a special way to use technology to have a lot of fun on your own, with friends, competitive teams or with your family. I’m surprised my family enjoys geocaching. It seems that every time a favourite item is lost in the house and desperate searches ensue, it brings out nothing but bitter recriminations and declarations of war on the state of bedroom clutter. Yet somehow, being outdoors together, consulting technology and hunting together for an unidentified object brings out laughter, support, a gentle sense of competition and a great sense of adventure.

The writer and his family were guests of the Rottnest Island Authority.

To learn more about geocaching go to the Groundspeak website at www.groundspeak.com, www.geocaching.com or Nature Play WA on www.natureplaywa.org.au

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