Treasure found in nature

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 May, 2009, 12:00am

Getting teenagers away from the computer screen or games console and out into the country parks is no easy task, as so much of their social and school life is tied to technology.

But what better way to tempt them out into the fresh air than by introducing a game that combines a treasure hunt, a healthy hike and the use of some of the latest technology?

The game is geocaching, and it has taken off in more than 100 countries worldwide and on all seven continents. To get started, you will need three things; a home computer, a portable Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver (which will cost upwards of HK$500), and a multibillion dollar network of GPS satellites (which the United States government kindly launched for you in the 1980s and '90s).

The aim of the game is simple: go out to a country park and find a 'cache' (a small, usually Tupperware or Lock & Lock box) that a fellow 'geocacher' has previously hidden. Inside the cache you'll find a log book for you to sign and write comments in, and a small 'treasure', which can take the form of a novelty gift or even money. If the finder takes anything out of the cache they must replace it with something of equal or greater value. You can then share your experiences of finding the cache online.

You start the game at home by logging on to the free website, and typing Hong Kong into the search box. The site lists 164 caches that are hidden across Hong Kong, in various locations - all the country parks, most of the outlying islands and even some urban areas.

Each entry will come with a rough description of where the cache is and what it contains, the precise geographic co-ordinates of where it is located, along with log entries and photographs from people who have already found it.

Once you have had a look through the list and decided on which cache you would like to go and find, you simply punch in the co-ordinates into your GPS device, put your hiking boots on and head off to find it.

Your GPS receiver will work out precisely where you are by 'listening' to signals from the network of GPS satellites. As it also knows where the cache is hidden, it will direct you (using an arrow on its screen) to the cache, while telling you precisely how far away it is and roughly how long it will take to reach it.

As most caches are hidden in scenic spots, your hunt may take you to some of nicest parts of country parks, and to parts of Hong Kong you may not have been to. Your GPS receiver will usually be able to bring you to within 10-15 feet of the cache and, once it says that you have arrived, you will need to start looking around for it.

Some caches can be buried, hidden behind or under rocks, or even up in trees - finding it when you are so close can be the hardest part of the hunt. Once you've found the cache, open it up and see what is inside. Put it back the way you found it and you can then head home and register your find online.

Hiding your own cache is also a great way to get out into the big outdoors. It's just as simple as hunting for one - put your cache together at home, then head out to one of your favourite spots in the countryside.

Hide your cache so that it isn't too easy to find, use your GPS receiver to take down its co-ordinates and when you get home, you can upload all of this information to the geocaching website.

So, there is no excuse now to be stuck in front of the screen all day. Just remember the golden rule of the game, 'cache in, trash out'.

In other words, when you're out caching, you should aim to clear any litter you find.