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Geocaching at the Papamoa Hills
10 November 2014

Keeping things simple is something I try to do and often fail. Getting outside and walking in the trees is one way of keeping it simple and it's a chance to be quiet - to escape the beeps and ringtones of modern devices.

You don't have to talk to anyone, you don't need any equipment, and most of the time, it's free.

So when I was asked if I wanted to try geocaching on a walk, I admit, I wasn't keen.

Geocaching is touted as a treasure hunt using GPS technology to pinpoint where "treasure" is stashed.

Obviously, this means either a smartphone or GPS unit needs to be taken on the journey and my "no technology" ban would be broken.

While I try to avoid technology to simplify, my partner is the opposite. He has a precision tool or accessory for just about every activity, and he uses them to make his life easier and therefore, simpler. Not surprisingly, he was curious about the idea and had dusted off his unit, switched it on, and started transmitting before we even left the house.

There are millions of caches around the world, and the Papamoa Hills even has a few. So that's where we headed.

We got the co-ordinates off the geocache website, and just looking at the co-ordinates put my head in a spin - too complicated.

My 9-year-old wasn't fazed though, and along with her dad, led the charge to find the geocache. With one of them holding a smartphone, and the other a GPS unit, they shot up the stairs from the carpark and with eyes on the technology, were off on the hunt.

While the Papamoa Hills may not be a terribly unique destination, it is one of the most popular walking and running tracks in Tauranga. And with good reason - the pasture, forest and coastline vistas are supreme. While I was busy enjoying the scenery, the two treasure hunters had their eyes firmly on their GPS almost the whole time. It seemed a bit counter-intuitive to me - going on a walk and looking down at a piece of equipment most of the time - but they were happy.

In the meantime, I was content to straggle behind, enjoy the scenery and swerve runners, walkers and families chugging along the track.

After a while, we eventually came to a sharp bend in the track and at last, the geocachers started getting excited. They started circling, walking up, to the left, then to the right, down a hill, back up to where they started, and all the while their noses were glued down to the GPS co-ordinates while yelling directions to each other.

"It's up there, up in those pine trees." Curiosity got the better of me, and I left the well-worn track that the runners were using and climbed up a steep, pine-tree covered bank to join the search. After five minutes of pulling back pine needles, tripping over rotten tree trunks, and poking sticks down holes, my nine-year-old eventually pounced on the treasure (which her dad stepped right over because his nose was glued to the GPS).

We opened it to see what was inside and found a log-book dating back to 2005. I was impressed that people have been doing this for such a long time. A couple of plastic wrist-bands and some kids collectable cards completing the stash. While it may not seem like much of a haul to go chasing after, the kids were not disappointed - even when we told them they weren't keeping any of it. One of the rules of geocaching is that you can only take items if you replace them with items of equal or more value.

However, the real treasure wasn't inside the plastic container. For the kids, it was doing a team activity and solving a problem with their dad.

Although I didn't join the "official" search team, the treasure for me was getting outside in the trees, not being in charge of the kids, and just being quiet. I also went into a part of the Papamoa Hills which I had never been to before. We were off the well-worn track everyone else was using, up amongst the shade of the trees, and even though the wind was whistling through the pines, it was the only noise I wanted to hear.

Geocaching might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for some, it's a fun way of experiencing the outdoors with a twist. For others, particularly tourists, it's an opportunity to get off the well-worn tourist path and see places locals go to. I like that idea - experiencing what other people find special, even if it's not on a tourism brochure.

Everybody has a different view of treasure, whether it's a place, a trinket, an experience, or just the chance to be quiet. The key is knowing where to find it, and sometimes a GPS does just that.

Bay of Plenty Times 

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