The Southland Times is running a nine-part series on geocaching. We'll explain some of the history behind the global phenomenon, what you need to know, how to get started, and talk to some of the people involved. And next week we'll give you details of five geocaches around the south for you to try.
IT'S a chilly wintry night with a biting wind chipping away from the south. Too cold really to be outside without good reason but in Queen's Park two children and their father furtively scurry through trees with real intent.
The man keeps glancing at his iPhone, giving directions to the two youngsters. Suddenly they stop, look around to see if there are any witnesses, and intensify their hunting.
After a few moments the younger one shouts with delight, while his sister kicks the ground, a little disappointed she wasn't the one to find it. The father just beams, ready to chalk up another find to the super sleuth team known as The Three Investigators.
The trio are taking part in geocaching - a global treasure hunt, brought to the modern world thanks to Global Positioning System (GPS). That little computer that tells you when to turn left or right while driving has helped create a hidden underworld of geocachers who are either hiding something somewhere - or finding something somewhere.
To some it might seem a bit strange, a bit geeky even. But don't tell that to the more than 5 million people taking part around the world, trying to find the 1,962,465 hidden caches. And that's just on one website.
Mr Investigator* was introduced to geocaching by a colleague.
"We'd been trying to find things to do during the winter to keep the kids entertained. We were heading out on ‘mystery walks', basically going out for some fresh air and hopefully to find something mysterious."
He mentioned these walks to a colleague and lamented that they weren't too successful - they'd only found a car with a blue light. His work mate suggested trying geocaching and the seed was sown. The trio went hunting that night and found their first cache, to the delight of both him and the children.
"I love it. I love everything about it - particularly that it's this underworld mystery that no-one really knows too much about. I love the puzzles and the challenges, and I love that fact that people do this for no reward, just the simple pleasure of creating fun for someone else. And I love it that the kids love it."
Mr Investigator grew up reading about the adventures enjoyed by the likes of the Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, and Famous Five, as well as a cinematic and television diet that included smugglers hiding caches and pirates leaving treasure maps.
"That's basically what this is - a modern day treasure hunt. It's teaching the kids how to use the technology, some of the history of the area, how to respect the environment, and just opens up their world so much more. They're seeing places we might never had seen and they're outdoors running around. What's not to love about it?"
* Not his real name.
- The Southland Times