A Geocoaching Family Adventure in Honolulu
A healthy treasure-hunt adventure the whole family will love.
Slightly spoiled by a lifetime on gorgeous Hawaii hiking trails, my children sometimes think my suggested Sunday family hikes sound “soooo boring, Mom.” Recently, after hearing about a friend’s geocaching adventure, I looked up geocaching on the internet and decided that it might be just the trick to make hiking the trails we’ve been on many times before exciting all over again. It turns out we’d been walking past hidden treasures all along, and what child doesn’t enjoy finding treasure?
When I searched the Web, I found geocaching described as “a real-world, outdoor treasure-hunting game using GPS-enabled devices” (geocaching.com). All you need is a smart phone that is GPS-enabled or a handheld GPS and the coordinates of the geocache for which you’re looking, provided by the person who hid it. Right now, there are more than 2 million geocaches hidden all over the world, waiting to be found.
The Origin of Geocaching
In 2000, changes in satellite accessibility and GPS technology upgrades meant that anyone with a GPS device was suddenly able to pinpoint their exact location. Shortly thereafter, a GPS-enthusiast and computer consultant decided it would be fun to hide a bucket in the woods and post the coordinates of its location on an Internet group to see if anyone would find it. He put a logbook, pencil and stash of prizes inside and made only one rule for the person who found it: “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.”
When people went out and found it, they posted about the experience online, then went out and hid their own stashes. The game quickly grew, the way Internet phenomena tend to do. The name “geocache” was suggested to replace “stash,” and it stuck. Avid geocachers created the website geocaching.com, where my initial Internet search took me. I signed up for a free membership, found the search page, entered my zip code and a 5-mile search radius and was presented with 12 pages of local geocaches. While most are along trails and require some hiking, there are also some hidden in places easier to reach, including a beach park just down the street from our house.
For our first geocache, we chose one located close to home, along the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail above Waialae Iki. We’ve hiked this trail quite a few times, because the views are beautiful, it’s not crowded and the parking at the trailhead is safe and easy. When I searched online, I chose an easy geocache (the website highlights suggested beginner caches in green), and wrote down the coordinates. In addition to the coordinates, there are also hints that are encrypted so you can choose whether or not to read them. Since it was our first geocache, I wrote down the hints to ensure we’d have the highest chance of success.
I downloaded a free GPS app to my smart phone. I chose one called Free GPS, because that was really all I needed. I entered the coordinates into the app at home, hit submit, and the compass popped up and told me we were 1.7 miles away.
We chose something to bring with us to add to the cache. The treasures in the cache aren’t really the point, but they add fun to the endeavor, especially for children. We’d recently made some origami spinning tops, so we brought those. We put on our shoes, packed some water and off we went.
Once on the trail, the app began counting down our distance from the cache—half a mile, a quarter of a mile and then it switched to feet when we got very close. The kids loved watching the numbers drop and took turns holding the compass. As we walked along chatting, we realized that, suddenly, the numbers were going back up. We had passed it! We found the place along the trail where the numbers seemed to shift, noted that the arrow on the compass pointed perpendicular to the trail, and spotted a tiny remnant of a trail shooting off from the main trail. As we followed it, the numbers dropped, until the phone told us we were 4.1 feet away. We were deep in the trees, but a large, beautiful climbing tree stood out. We climbed it, and the kids each checked its holes and joints for something—a bag, a box or some sort of container. We found nothing. We dug around in the leaves on the ground for a while. Nothing. Then, 15 minutes after we’d narrowed down our location, my 11-year-old spotted the corner of something plastic wedged between a rock and the trunk. He’d found it!
The children excitedly opened the plastic box. Inside, they found a logbook, a pencil and a Ziploc bag full of little treasures: stickers, pogs, a My Little Pony, a New Zealand coin and a pair of earrings. They put their origami tops into the Ziploc, chose something to keep and then set to work logging our visit. The logbook contained the date of people’s finds and what they’d left behind, and was fun to read to see who had been there before us. The last visitor had been there two weeks before us, and had left the pogs.
When we were finished reading the logbook, we re-hid the cache where we’d found it and took our time hiking back out. At home, we logged our visit on geocache.com, and then searched the site to find the next weekend’s adventure, because my 9-year-old wanted to find it the next time.
Geocache Quick Facts:
More than 1,200: Number of geocaches hidden on Oahu.
Anywhere: Geocaches aren’t just on trails, they can be found under park benches or stuck to city sculptures.
Rules for Geocaching:
1. If you take something from the cache, leave something of equal or greater value behind for the next person to find.
2. Don’t leave food or anything dangerous or illegal. Remember to keep it family-friendly.
3. Log it. Both in the logbook and online at geocache.com, to let others know that the cache is still there and the condition in which you found it.
4. Share it. Spread the word and bring your friends.