What exactly is geocoaching?

We explore the fitness craze which is sending grown adults hunting for treasure

Geocaching, the latest craze in outdoor recreation, encourages people to embark on treasure hunts – and it’s taking Abu Dhabi by storm.

Remember the thrill of a treasure hunt when you were a kid? Well, now you can recapture your youth on a geocache adventure around Abu Dhabi. You might not find a pot o’ gold, but you will have fun while you search for a geocache – a container which may have a gift inside.

The word geocache is a portmanteau of the prefix geo from the Latin for Earth, and the French word cache, which originally referred to a hiding place where someone would store items temporarily.

Jeremy Irish, a web developer based in Seattle, launched the geocache website in September 2000. Since then over two million geocaches have been planted in 180 countries, most of which are in the US, Germany and Canada – but you can even find them in Antarctica. There are now over 200 in Abu Dhabi.

Delia Sandu, 28, is a local expat from Romania and a big fan of geocaching. She says, ‘While researching a hike in Spain a few weeks ago, I came across a Romanian blog recommending geocaching. It seemed such a novel idea; I liked how it gets you out of the house, while most technology encourages you to sit in front of a computer.’

But how does it work? ‘My husband Ahmad and I signed up to the Geocache website, which was easy to do,’ Delia explains. ‘We then downloaded the basic geocache app, which is free. Once you open the app, it shows you a map similar to a Google one. The app pinpoints where you are and gives you the GPS coordinates for geocaches within a few kilometres of your location. Once you’ve picked one, you’re given a clue in the form of a riddle to help you find it.’

It’s up to you how you get there – so you can drive, rollerblade... or moonwalk. Once the app tells you you’re within 10m of the geocache, it’s time to start looking for it – with the help of your clue and comments from geocachers who’ve already found it. Struggling to find it? Think about it – where would you hide a container?

A geocache can come in all shapes, sizes and guises; it might be as small as a tablet or a bolt, disguised as a log in a park or resemble a book in a library. You might only be able to find it using UV light, or with scuba diving gear. It won’t ever be buried, but it could be above head height. It might even be hidden in plain sight.

All geocaches contain a log book, or piece of paper, for people who find it to write their name and date on – so take a pen. If you’re lucky, it might also contain small gifts; a masquerade mask, temporary tattoos, a sling shot or a copy of Time Out Abu Dhabi, say. The idea is you only take a gift if you can leave a better one in return.

Delia says, ‘We picked an easy adventure to start with, so it only took five minutes. Our first adventure was called Amazing Abu Dhabi, which took us to a maze on a part of the Corniche I hadn’t explored. I liked that, as it was true to the geocache ethos, which is to guide people to secluded, beautiful areas they might not otherwise find. We found a magnetic tin resembling a lip balm case which contained a log of names of previous visitors. I like the idea of leaving the next geocacher a present, so we left a Romanian fridge magnet behind. We logged our experience on the website – you can upload comments, photos and videos.’

Sound fun? Delia says it’s addictive. ‘Since our first geocache we’ve found five more – three on Abu Dhabi Island, one in Ghantoot and one in Dubai,’ she says. ‘Another time, we failed; we think a gardener had removed the geocache. We go at night when it’s cooler, which makes it more secretive – it’s a good date idea! We carry a torch in the car especially for our geocache adventures. Our favourite experience was our first, but we liked finding a badge of a UAE flag on another hunt, which was a thoughtful touch. Abu Dhabi has a strong geocache community and we like being part of it, so now we’re now planning to plant our own.’

The site recommends you find around 100 geocaches before you plant one yourself; that way, you can draw inspiration from your geocaching experiences. When you’re ready to hide your treasure, remember your geocache should be well-labelled and hidden in a public place in a durable, waterproof container. It should be at least 160m away from the nearest geocache, too. Remember to add a log book and note its location with accurate GPS coordinates. You also need to make a note of the difficulty of the terrain and mental challenge – one is easy, five is tricky. Could a family of four find it, or do you need to think like a rocket scientist?

Once you’ve uploaded details of your geocache on the website – along with a cryptic clue – it will be assessed by a volunteer and if it passes the test, tourists and residents around Abu Dhabi will start hunting for it.

But if you’re new to the community and ready for a challenge, then choose an existing geocache around the capital. Take your pick from Life’s a Drag on Yas Island, the Gazelle’s Highway in the Empty Quarter, Sunrise Surprise and The End of the Road on the coast south of the city or Treasure Island, on an unnamed island in the Arabian Gulf. Let us know how you get on via Twitter #geocachingAD @TimeOutAbuDhabi.
To join the geocache community, visit www.geocaching.com

Geocaching etiquette

• Respect local laws

• Take a pen to make notes in the log book

• Play it cool when hunting so you don’t reveal a geocache to people nearby

• Leave the geocache where you find it

• Go prepared – night vision goggles, anyone?

• Leave presents which are illegal or unsafe

• Leave knick knacks that are sticky, smelly, sharp, likely to melt or attract insects

• Swap a gift of lesser value than the one you take

GPS (noun): An acronym for global positioning system, a space-based satellite navigation system that gives an accurate location in all weather conditions anywhere where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites

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