This is the second of a nine-part series on geocaching. Today we explain some of the history behind what has become a global phenomenon and what you need to know to get started. Next week we'll give you details of five geocaches around the south for you to try. --------------------
HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?
On May 1, 2000, the United States military removed the jamming signal from its GPS system. In an instance, the accuracy of GPS receivers increased tenfold, so people could locate spots with more confidence. No longer were you likely to be within 100 metres of where you wanted to be. Portable GPS units could get you to a spot within five to 10 metres.
In Portland, Oregon, electronics and software engineer Dave Ulmer recognised the significance of this and began to ponder about what he could do with the improved technology. Within a day, he had developed the basic practicalities of hiding a "stash", as he called it then.
Once confident that he could hide something, record the co-ordinates and then get the GPS to bring him back to the same spot, he placed his first stash and posted them on a website. Possibly drawn by the attraction of an updated version of treasure hunt, people went and found it, and soon other stashes were being set up around the US.
Unhappy with the name - GPS Stash Hunt - someone suggested geocaching, and it stuck. "Geocaching is an evolving, growing, living, intelligent system designed to be fun for all who participate," he says.
By September that year, a website - geo caching.com - was created as a central forum for geocachers, helping promote it, explain etiquette and list caches.
WHAT IS IT?
At its most basic level, it's a game of hide and seek - a global scavenger hunt - but it can be so much more than that.
It's a technical game - you're using GPS co-ordinates to find something hidden, but you don't have to be a technophile to get involved.
It's a tourist's dream - well-placed geocaches will take you somewhere you never imagined or expected to visit.
It's a form of exercise - you have to walk to most caches.
It's family friendly - generally you're looking at the cost of a GPS system (most smartphones will be able to be used), the cost of an app and some petrol, and perhaps icecream money to celebrate a successful hunt.
It's educational - not only are you likely to learn something while out geocaching, but some caches have things that can be tracked. It's great for children to get a sense of the wider world.
It's community building - there's a whole world of geocaching out there that most people probably don't know exists.
Does it sound a bit nuts? Bit too geeky? Well, it's not. Think of it as a reason to get outside and see more of this great country.
WHAT DO YOU NEED?
Obviously, a GPS system. You can buy the most expensive model on the market or you can use the one in your smartphone. Either will do the job, up to a point.
Some GPS units have been developed just for geocaching with increased memory, cameras, USB ports and every chart, map and aerial photograph you will ever need, but to get started, you can use a smartphone.
You also need access to the internet. There are plenty of websites, but to keep it simple, we will rely on geocaching.com.
- The Southland Times