In search of a new hobby?

 —  09/09/2009
The hunt is on

The hunt is on for hidden 'treasure' on Matiu-Somes Island

You might be surprised to discover that all around you, hidden in nooks and crannies, are secret treasure boxes. There are dozens in the capital – several are hidden just a few minutes walk from the Department of Conservation’s Wellington office – and there are literally thousands across the country. Every day, people from all over the world are discovering them right under our noses.

All this may sound slightly subversive, but it’s actually part of a very popular game called Geocaching. Here’s how it works: People hide containers – called caches – and list them online along with their GPS coordinates and additional location clues. To find a cache, you enter the GPS coordinates into a portable GPS receiver and track to the general spot.

Following the GPS receiver to the cache coordinates

Following the GPS receiver to the cache coordinates

The receiver gets you close, but actually finding the cache can be tough! They’re often cleverly hidden using magnets, camouflage and other devious techniques. Part of the game is to keep the cache’s location a secret, so you have to be discreet. Inside the cache there will be a log to sign and possibly even items to trade. If you take an object, be sure to leave something behind.

What does all of this have to do with Conservation?  Well, put simply, it’s a great excuse to get outdoors, having some fun and exploring conservation places. It’s also important that DOC is aware of recreational activities of all kinds and that our visitor facilities and policies are supportive while also ensuring no harm comes to the natural environment.

Geocaching is a great family activity

Geocaching is a great family activity

One way that geocachers can help is to always follow the Geocachers Code.  Another is to try Earthcaching. This variation on geocaching is a good option for ecologically sensitive places because there’s no container. Instead, Earthcaches use natural landmarks as the object of discovery. To claim the find, you’ll have to answer questions about the place and the answers can only be found by visiting in person. So, in addition to being eco-friendly, Earthcaching can teach us about ecology, geography, cartography and technology.  

Exploring the contents of a cache

Exploring the contents of a cache

If you’d like to give geocaching a go, try visiting Matiu-Somes Island during their upcoming Historic Open Day (13 September).  In addition to many other activities, you can try out DOC’s first official Geocache (GC1WK81) which takes you on a tour of the island’s many historic sights. Don’t forget to bring your own GPS receiver!

12 responses to In search of a new hobby?

    free articles4u 26/03/2010 at 10:42 am

    Really great and nice stuff, thanks.


    Hi Rory,

    I’m afraid we don’t have a web feed just yet. The team here tells me that it’s in progress, but there’s some technical hurdles we have to get past. Please stay tuned and thanks for visiting.



    Do you have a web feed I can save? I searched around only could not


    Hi Gavin,

    Definitely agree with you that this should be approached carefully and objectively. I understand your concerns, given the examples you cited. I’m heartened, however, by some of the more positive approaches taken by others – for instance Parks Canada:

    Their policy seems (on quick review) to be simple, clear and supportive while also ensuring safety for visitors and protection of the natural environment.

    I’d be happy to get together sometime when you are in Wellington to talk about some ideas for a discussion paper. I’ll contact you directly to set something up.




    Hi William.

    I’ll give you a little history from my perspective, as I was initially engaged a number of years ago (2003) in discussions with DOC about geocaching. It was this initial approach and meetings with DOC that triggered the formation of the NZ Recreational GPS Society Inc ( in that year.

    Initially, DOC was concerned that geocaching was a commercial activity as it was run off a .com domain and that a concession would be required to geocache on DOC land. After a few meetings I managed to communicate that geocaching itself wasn’t a commercial activity, and that it was free, and DOC agreed that a concession wouldn’t be required. Most of the commercial activities are for additional services such as Premium Membership on and software.

    We also discussed some areas that should be off-limits for caches, and came away from those meetings that a handful of mountain peaks that are sacred to Maori would not have caches placed on them. This was communicated to the volunteer reviewers responsible for publishing geocaches.

    Back in 2006, we had some further brief interaction with DOC around Nature Reserves and Gazetted Wilderness Areas as a couple of caches were removed from Raoul Island. This was a somewhat special case as these caches were not published by NZ-based reviewers. As a result of this these areas were added to the list of areas where reviewers would not allow geocaches to be published.

    I agree that there is definitely some work to do, but I hope that we are able to work through issues associated to geocaching on all public property in New Zealand in a better manner than is occurring overseas. One only has to look at the approach some Australian Park Services are taking to geocaching, and the lack of engagement and open communication with geocachers is quite disheartening.

    Park Victoria Rules about Geocaching

    Brisbane City Council

    Geocaching – Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service

    Qld National Park Caches

    Proposed National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009

    NPWS Strikes Again

    NSW Parks Update – March 2009

    I would like to think that here in New Zealand we would be able to get interested parties together to discuss geocaching and potential impacts rather than waking one day to blanket bans based on no consultation and no communication as has been happening in Australia.

    I believe that the likes of DOC, LGNZ, NZ Recreational GPS Society and Kiwicaching should be working towards a guide that provide information about geocaching, how it can be managed (there are many processes already in place for managing caches – e.g. there are some DOC areas already where reviewers will not publish caches).

    It is also important that we consider some of the practicalities of geocaching as well. If you look at some indicative numbers of how many geocaches are logged online each month, the numbers at first appear quite high.

    NZ Finds by Month

    However, as the majority (by number of find logs) of geocaching takes place in urban areas, the issue of tracking and off-track caching on DOC land is nowhere near as bad as many may consider. Many rural caches on DOC land may only be found a handful of times per year, compared to urban caches that may be found far more frequently – hence the likelihood of creating tracks is greatly reduced.

    Likewise, there are other approaches that can also be encouraged, such as recommending that remote rural caches are primarily just a container and logbook, and don’t contain swap items.

    I believe the first step is to create a discussion document that acts as a focal point for clearly communicating between all relevant parties both the benefits and risks associated with geocaching. E.g. it would be good to capture in a single document perspectives of different stakeholders, what processes are already in place, points of contact e.g. how to contact a cache owner, or a New Zealand cache reviewer. I think it would be hard to develop informed policy on geocaching without all parties having a clear understanding of all the issues, as well as resources and processes already in place.

    Whilst many geocachers have recognized that engagement with the likes of DOC and local government is essential, because of actual experience overseas, most geocachers have been somewhat hesitant to try and approach the likes of DOC directly, lest we waken a sleeping giant. I think many geocachers would have seen the placing of a cache by DOC as a great first step of breaking down the barriers between land managers and geocachers. This comes on top of other councils – such as Hamilton, Porirua, Wellington, and Selwyn District taking proactive steps to actively encourage geocaching through recreational programmes.

    Personally, I think a policy is required, but it must be an informed and consulted policy, unlike those that have been developed overseas.

    However, it is essential to have an open discussion paper produced first – to provide a common understanding of what geocaching is, how it works in New Zealand, and the benefits and risks from the perspectives of all stakeholders (e.g. not just DOC).

    I get up to Wellington reasonably frequently for work, so if there is an opportunity to have a meeting and open discussions I am more than willing to be involved.

    Cheers Gavin

    Gavin Treadgold
    Immediate Past President of the
    New Zealand Recreational GPS Society Inc. and


    Hi everyone – and thanks for the enthusiastic responses! As someone who is just discovering the hobby, I’m a lot like DOC in that I’m just getting to know the geocaching community.

    The relationship is off to a good start, but certainly there’s some work to do. When I speak with DOC staff across NZ, their feelings on geocaching are mixed. Almost everyone wants to foster new recreation activities and sees this as a tool for engaging new and different audiences. However, it’s fair to say that the rules of engagement are quite murky.

    Around the world, parks agencies are developing official policies that guide GPS-based recreational activities in protected areas. Most are supportive, but do lay down some ground rules for how, where and when geocaching activities are conducted.

    Some might argue it’s not necessary because the geocaching community is ‘self regulated’ and has a code of ethics.

    I’m keen to hear from you guys about whether you think DOC should formulate an official policy, and whether that would improve communication and help guide us going forward.


    An awesome initiative!

    DOC have given de-facto support to Geocaching for ages, but it’s great to see them stepping up with a public policy (even if it’s only in one concervancy).

    I hope that everyone in the community will support this initiative and encourage other areas to match or better this (Wellington) lead.

    Gerard Hyland 17/09/2009 at 8:48 am

    Well done indeed, DOC! A great way to get people out discovering and learning more about the outdoors.

    I wonder if making a few rental GPS units available for visitors to the Island would be viable?


    Well done DOC and staff – it is pleasing and encouraging to see this official support for the multifaceted hobby/sport of Geocaching.

    (I found this blog entry linked to in the web forum of the New Zealand Recreational GPS Society – and )

    I look forward to doing this and any other DOC caches that appear!


    This is very cool news indeed. At a time when Australian Park Services seem to be outright banning geocaching in National and State parks, it is great to see DOC recognise the value of geocaching as an activity that uses technology to get people enjoying the outdoors and our conservation estate, not to mention the potential education benefits! As one of NZ’s older geocachers (started in 2001), and having been through discussions with DOC about geocaching in 2003 when the NZ Recreational GPS Society was formed as a direct result of discussions with DOC, it is fabulous to see such a positive step being taken! 🙂 Cheers Gavin


    Congratulations DOC on your first cache! Looking forward to many more…


    Congratulations to DOC and the individual staff members involved in both this cache and the upcoming “Discovering Geocaching for Interpretation” seminar.

    I’m sure that this bodes well for the future and we have linked to this blog on our Kiwi run website for geocachers –