Rottnest Geo Caching

rottnest geo caching

X marks the spot!  I’ve never seen a list of classic pirate and swashbuckling adventure phrases but I’m sure that ‘X marks the spot!’ would be right up there.

I remember treasure maps at birthday parties would be tea stained and sometimes just a bit too burnt around the edges. They would smell old and the blackened edges would leave marks on your fingers.

While the best looking treasure maps were of islands with sheltered bays, volcanoes, swamps and palm trees, to search for treasure on the vacant block in the street or even in your own backyard was one of the great outdoor activities.  The hunt was almost more fun than the find.

I thought about the hunt being almost more fun than the find during a recent weekend to Rottnest Island to do some treasure hunting of a new kind.

Think about the line in ‘What A Wonderful World’ where Louis Armstrong sings, “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow, they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know”.  I know what he means. My kids, Matilda 11 and Tom 5, are so adroit with technology and the absorption of information, some of it actually useful.

So a new style of treasure hunting that lives by the mantra, “If you hide it they will come” seemed an ideal activity for our family whose young members have an insatiable appetite for technology and whose older members love the outdoors.

Geocaching.  It’s a great name and it’s the name given to modern day treasure hunting.  It’s more than treasure hunting though.  There’s a different reward at the end which brings me back to the hunt being almost more fun than the find.  With geocaching you find something but it’s not valuable and you needn’t take anything from it.  In fact, you’re invited to contribute something to it.

Geocaching is the search for registered small stores of items or written notes that are generally very well hidden or where they’re not hidden may be very tricky to open.  Using a smart phone or GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) device, geocaches can be found worldwide and registered through which is managed by Groundspeak.  The goal of Groundspeak is to ‘make everyone an explorer and to put an adventure in every location’ and ensure caches are appropriate and safe for people to search for. 

With that memory of the best treasure maps being islands and wanting to get really stuck into geocaching, what better opportunity could there be than to explore Rottnest Island and its trail of registered geocache sites?

While Rottnest has become renowned for its snorkelling and dive trails, embarking on the geocache trail is a land based adventure that gets you exploring the island and seeing things like you’ve never seen them before.

Before we travel to Rottnest I catch up with Griffin Longley from Nature Play WA.  Despite Tom’s reluctance to accept Griffin’s invitation to make a cubby by the river’s edge near Nature Play WA headquarters, the CEO of Nature Play WA accepts my declaration that my kids really do enjoy the outdoors.

Griffin explains that geocaching is supported by Nature Play WA because of the benefits that align with so many of the activities they promote and undertake across Western Australia, including Rottnest Island.

What I’m really taken with is his description of community awareness and connection.  I thought about his description when we were on Rottnest and despite a life time relationship with this island the activity of geocaching had me seeing things on the island I’d never noticed before.

By geocaching you gain a greater understanding of what’s in your community and a greater connection to your community by knowing more about it, including of course where things are hidden.

We’re fortunate to be able to loan a GPS unit from Nature Play WA and two GPS units from the Rottnest Island Authority.  While a smart phone has the capability of locating geocaches, a GPS unit has many advantages; they’re straightforward with easy to navigate menus, they are rugged, splash proof (some are even waterproof) and, particularly for children, they represent yet another technological device that they can master quicker than I could manage to open the battery compartment.

We have a weekend on the island and our challenge is to track down as many geocaches as we can. 

Our first search is out near Kingston Barracks and the swinging arrow on the compass of the GPS directs us to the coordinates of a geocache and then it’s up to us to scramble, peek, prod and scrape for an object that fits the description on the Rottnest Geocache Register.

We find what we’re looking for and it’s exhilarating!  While the cache itself is not remarkably exciting I come back yet again to the hunt being more fun than the find. 

One thing that is clearly apparent even at this early stage of our weekend but we keep coming back to in our observations is that it’s so important to remember that Rottnest is one big nature reserve and nearly all of our geocache searches involve looking in places where nature lives, both flora and fauna. 

It’s winter on the island and while we’re not worried about snakes in the bushes and rocky holes we are still mindful of the many spiders in most of the areas we’re searching and also watching where we tread to avoid damage to vegetation.  It’s a beautiful island.  It’s a pristine island.  Geocaching opens your eyes even more to that beauty and as an activity we don’t want to damage this precious ecosystem.

It can be tough though.  Some of those caches just about demand whoops for joy, circles of glee and jumps of elation.  I’m being very mindful in this article not to give spoilers but when a hint suggests that a cache is located at waist height and ends up being found on the ground I’m just glad Matilda didn’t log my comments on the geocache website.

The geocaches I most enjoy are the ones where we all search and then one by one our enthusiasm falters as we reach our point of perplexion.  Tom is always the first, particularly when we explain the geocache is never found in a quokka.  I’m normally next, I like a quick squirrel about and then under the guise of, “Best I leave it for the kids!” I back away and am happy to observe proceedings as Matilda and her mother stoop low, stretch high, check coordinates on their GPS’s, look around and then start the routine all over again.  I think there’s an opportunity to label this the ‘Geocache Dance’. 

As we cycle around the island (Tom resplendently reclining in his cycling trailer offering such wondrous comments as, “Dad, when you ride can you lean to one side so I can see a bit better”) I am thinking about how the island and geocaching are just made for each other.  Later that day my forming thoughts are reinforced by an old friend who is staying on the island with his family, Chris Ferreira.  Chris is often heard on ABC radio talking about sustainability, spending time outdoors and was closely involved in the establishment of the Perth City Farm.  His love of the island is tied to the love of his family.  His love of the island is for what the island gives his family.  Families on Rottnest spend time together and geocaching is an all in family activity that is enthralling on an island that is captivating.

We have lost a few things on the mainland that are still clearly evident on Rottnest.  That evening Tom, Matilda and I are squidding on the jetty and Matilda wants to return to our cottage.  “Sure!” I tell her, “Have you got a torch?” 

“Yep!” she replies and she’s on her way.  I wouldn’t do that in Perth. 

Just leave your bags outside your cottage and they’ll be picked up.  That wouldn’t happen in Perth. 

People on bikes everywhere.  That doesn’t happen in Perth. 

All of these things should happen in Perth but because they don’t Rottnest is all the more special.

Geocaching is a special way to use technology to have a lot of fun on your own, with friends, competitive teams or with your family. I’m surprised my family enjoys geocaching.  It seems that every time a favourite item is lost in the house and desperate searches ensue, it brings out nothing but bitter recriminations and declarations of war on the state of bedroom clutter.  Yet somehow, being outdoors together, consulting technology and hunting together for an unidentified object brings out laughter, support, a gentle sense of competition and a great sense of adventure.

Back across the sea, Perth awaits. Weekends where we all have competing schedules, activities and priorities.  It sounds horrible.  If only we could stay another day.

Thankyou to the Rottnest Island Authority and Nature Play WA for the loan of the GPS units, and for trusting us with their safe return.



28 July 2015