Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Gangsters invade NZ

When the caching community of NZ announced they were hosting their first Mega Event, the gangsters couldn’t resist the opportunity to be part of it, so after begging and pleading with our respective wives we were all granted a leave pass to head across the ditch. Plans soon took shape and while there was plenty of enthusiasm to conquer all and see everything, we settled for a 10 day loop around the South Island. As with all our trips, there was plenty of things to prepare. Flights were booked, accommodation and transportation was locked in, caches solved and routes organised. It all came together on the 17th Oct 2012.

Day 1: As QF45 landed in Christchurch we were filled with excitement. The snow-capped mountains and majestic plains were the first thing that caught my eye. Collecting our Juicy van was our ticket to finding our first cache for the trip. The tally quickly added up as we made our way around the suburbs. It was in these suburbs where we got our first glimpse of the devastation from the 2011 earthquake. It started with buckled and pot-holed streets, roads that didn’t line up with bridges, some houses abandoned through to whole neighbourhoods evacuated, flooded streets and the demolition of the QEII stadium. The sense of shock and sadness was overwhelming. Our first night in Christchurch was spent in jail, the renovated Addington Prison was a novel place to stay. This backpacker style accommodation was a fun reminder to my backpacking adventure years ago.

Day 2: We’d all experienced some form of communication difficulty since arriving so this morning we headed straight for a Telecom shop. This detour ate into our caching time and coupled with a slow find-rate due to being in a big city we opted to leave the hustle and bustle and head towards Dunedin. Before leaving town we nabbed a few selective cache types like webcam’s and earthcaches. As we drove south we were constantly amazed at the vista. Snow on the mountains, braided rivers and green plains had us camera happy. However our focus was the upcoming 80 cache Thompson’s power-trail. This trail which starts at Rakaia heads inland through rural farmland, caches are dotted along both sides of the road and we quickly accumulated some good numbers here. After completing the trail we headed for Ashburton and our nights accommodation.

Day 3: Our gangster trips always uncover an array of cool cache locations and often a quote or two that sticks in my memory. Today we visited an old pile box (war bunker) and some interesting WWII tank blockades, however a moment that had us laughing for days was actually a DNF for us. We’d been searching for a cache when we decided to move on, however a nearby property owner approached us where she asked “what are you doing in my bush”. While Matt kindly explained the finer details of caching to her, the rest of us laughed uncontrollably about us being in her bush.
Moving down the coast we stopped at Timaru and Waimate where we found a plethora of caches. By days ends we’d arrived in Oamaru, this picturesque town offered so much. Not only did we find our share of the local caches, but we stumbled across some penguins in the wild and a place called “Steampunk”. This funky attraction consisted of old steel items welded together to form some unusual displays which came to life when operated by a coin.

Day 4: Reluctantly we had to leave Oamaru, it had captivated our interest with its beauty and attractions. Driving further south we continued to find highway caches, some of which provided us with some historical war interest, others made us laugh with oversize chooks laying eggs or climbing signal towers while some earthcaches enlightened us to the local geology, the Moeraki Boulders was one such cache. These massive cylindrical boulders were incredible. By mid-afternoon we’d arrived in the picturesque Dunedin where we soon stumbled upon the worlds steepest street and an impressive lookout. By late afternoon we were on our way to the 1st NZ Mega event. Arriving at the event we were all taken by the remoteness and the boggy conditions. With registration complete we attended a symposium on reviewers and caught up with a few Aussies but deciding the whole mega event thing was a little disappointing and it was time to move on! Back in Dunedin we checked into our accommodation where we made ourselves at home for the next 3 days.

Day 5: It was a day filled with various achievements, milestones and cache types to name a few. We spent the morning seeing the sights and caching through Dunedin CBD before attending a flashmob CITO event at the Octagon where we caught up with more Aussies over celebrating the NZ mega. After a hearty café lunch we headed out into the suburbs where we continued our NZ caching average of 50 finds per day. It was on this particular outing that the guru of earthcaches came to the fore-front. Professor Thompson, as we nicknamed him with his bag of tricks pulls out a refractometer and set about measuring the salinity of the nearby water. Likewise at another earthcache he starts studying sand composition with his own magnifying glass. Another interesting spot that caught my interest was a cool letterbox cache that highlighted a disused obscure rail tunnel.
To complete the day, Matt headed out for dinner with some other reviewers while we had Chinese takeaway and a few bourbons.

Day 6: From first light we noticed how bitterly cold it was, a harsh southerly wind that had persisted for the past few days had intensified, but that didn’t stop us. We headed off towards the Otago peninsula. The road out along the peninsula wound its way along the foreshore offering great views across the bay. Once again, there were a few standout caches, these included Yellowhead & Grandad’s army. The latter being an amazing insight into NZ war history and the measures that the Kiwi’s took to protect themselves. It was here that we explored old gun placements, bunkers, ammunition shelters and a seal that rested on the rocks. Continuing our drive out to the end, we joined a tour at the Royal Albatross centre which explored the headland and its habitants. Our tour-guide Mary, who had ancestry lines back to the original landowners, was very informative as she showed us the birds and war history.
Heading back towards Dunedin we detoured via Lanarch Castle, this iconic tourist landmark overlooks Dunedin harbour and normally offers spectacular views, but today it was far from inviting as it snowed and hailed for us. Needless to say we didn’t stay long and thus continued back into Dunedin for a well-earned bourbon.

Day 7: A change from our original plans saw us travelling further south today, instead of a large inland loop. Once again we had to dodge the unpredictable weather and on a number of occasions we drove past caches due to the rain. There were a few memorable finds, some included a wellington boot, an impressive whale fossil and a rail tunnel. However the highlight caches for me was our visit to Nugget Point and Slope Point. The Nugget Point cache took us to a very exposed lighthouse perched high on the cliff and offered breathtaking views, while the Slope Point cache took us to the most southern point of mainland NZ. At both spots the weather tried its best to deter us, but for me it probably highlighted the ruggedness of the area. The remaining drive into Invercargill offered very little caching but we did see plenty of white bait fishing huts that dotted various river banks. Once in Invercargill we found some backpacker accommodation where we shared a good meal and a few bourbons.

Day 8: We spent the morning caching and sightseeing around Invercargill. While the caching was pretty standard we did see the “Worlds fastest Indian”. Back in the 70’s Burt Munro (a local man) held the land speed record on his Indian motorcycle. Today his bikes, his grave and a memorial can be found in Invercargill.
Pressing north towards Queenstown we slowly got closer and closer to those snow-capped mountains that had followed us for much of our trip. Stopping in Kingston we were lucky enough to see the Kingston Flyer (steam-train) travelling the tracks. We were also surprised to see a plaque highlighting historical flood heights and how much of the area would be underwater. Tracing the edge of Lake Wakatipu we eventually arrived in the adrenalin capital of Queenstown. This bustling town was a hive of activity and where-ever we turned there were masses of people soaking up the atmosphere. We quickly found some accommodation in the heart of town and soon sort about booking some form of adrenalin activity which this town is renowned for. We chose the Shotover Jet ride after giving some seriously consideration to the 300m bungee swing.
With a day of fun and relaxation planned for tomorrow and our hostel having its own public bar we wasted little time in getting a feed and hitting the pub where a combination of cheap booze, lots of laughter and time to unwind made for a great night on the town.

Day 9: Seedy stomachs and hazy heads was our wake-up call this morning, but there was no sympathy from anyone as we were soon on the bus heading out to the Shotover River for our jet boat ride. After donning our life jackets and raincoats, final instructions were given and then we were skimming down the river, dodging cliff walls and submerged rocks at phenomenal speeds. As the driver gave the signal our jet boat was soon doing 360deg spins, all of which quickly cured our hangovers. My only regret was that was all over way too quickly. Heading back to Queenstown we experienced another one of those memorable quotes, this time the female bus-driver had accidentally left the rear bus door open. So Tomo impromptu-ally yells out to her “your back door is open”. Well, that brought us all to tears of laughter and a somewhat sticky moment for the bus driver.
Back in town we headed straight for the Skyline Chalet. A picturesque gondola ride soon had us admiring the amazing views from on top, but our focus was on the toboggan rides and we wasted no time in consuming five rides down the slick track. We then watched as Matt not do one, but two bungee jumps from the nearby “Ledge” facility. Back in town and with the afternoon free we jumped in the car and headed out to grab a few caches around Arrowtown, Glenorchy and an amazing trip part way up to the “Remarkables”.
Following our over-indulgence in alcohol the previous night we spent our last night in Queenstown fairly low key. A pizza and bourbon was about the extent of my partying. After catching up on a few logs it was lights out for an early.

Day 10: Saying goodbye to Matt felt a little strange but he had other activities in Queenstown while the rest of us had to get back to Christchurch. Being on the road by 7.30am paid dividends as we made our way north through the mountains. At every turn there was another beautiful turquoise lake lined with an abundance of caches. At one point we took a detour into a nearby valley where we came across an abandon goldfield filled with miners ruins dating over 150 years. Once again if it wasn’t for caching we’d never have found this incredible place. Pressing on we were soon at Lake Tekapo where our best chance of seeing Mt Cook was dashed by the high cloud, not deterred we stopped and took some spectacular photos of the mountains and lakes. Soon enough we were negotiating our final mountain pass and were back at the Canterbury Plains. Having driven all day Christchurch still seemed so far away so we opted to stop at Ashburton but with the fair in town, accommodation was scarce and we were forced to press on to Rakaia for the night.

Day 11: It was our last day in NZ and having seen our find tally approach 600 finds for the trip we decided it was only fitting that we’d push it to an even 600 finds. So as we neared Christchurch we found our final few caches. Returning our Juicy rental we waited for our flight and reflected on our tour of duty. The gangsters’ first O.S trip had been such a success, but it wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for a supportive family.

Thanks to Tomo, Matt and Jas for an awesome experience.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Well Rounded Cacher

This is a geocaching stat that for many others is simply a spreadsheet full of pretty boxes and for many years that was exactly what I thought of it. The term well rounded geocacher comes from a geocacher that has completed every possible difficulty/terrain star rating given to a geocache. The matrix of possible combinations totals 81 possibilities.

Most of the caches hidden around the suburban area are in the range of 3 stars and for most finders these can be achieved fairly comfortably. It’s when the star rating gets into the higher numbers towards 5 and the various combinations that the likelihood of achieving a successful find is greatly reduced. Likewise the number of caches hidden with these possible diff/terr ratings is greatly reduced.

Over the past few years I’ve been taking more of an interest in trying to complete the matrix. I’ve been searching out particular caches that filled a diff/terr combination. This has led me to do some pretty spectacular caches, both in difficulty and terrain. At this point in time it would be unfair of me to list my more favored caches in case I left out one.

For the past 4 months I’ve had one more cache to find to complete the matrix. It was a 5 terrain, 4 difficult cache and to my surprise there were only 4 or 5 of these in the whole of Australia, with my closest being some 1100km from home. As luck would have it, last week we drove within 100km of one of these rare caches. So after a bit of negotiating with Leonie a plan was executed.

On the 18th July I set off from our Gold Coast apartment in an attempt to find GC171JB Gemini I. This geocache lies atop of a Glasshouse Mount. It only has 15 finds which is a good indication of the difficulty it takes to find this cache. For me, the morning was dogged with rain scrawls, fog and slippery rocky conditions. An off-track bushwalk encompassing a 350m change in elevation was going to be a challenge.

An hour after starting my walk I was opening an ammo tin atop of Mt Tunbubudla with as much joy and delight as when I found my first cache. To complete my “well rounded” matrix by doing this type of cache (hard bushwalk) gave me so much satisfaction.

I wonder what’s next?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Australia’s 2nd Mega Event

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been 2 years since Australia’s first mega event, but as Easter 2012 rolled around, geocachers from all over Oz and many other parts of the world gathered to celebrate Australia’s 2nd mega event. This time Albury, in southern NSW played host to the huge event. A 5-day mega camp-out at the local equestrian event comfortably accommodated everyone.

For the Rats, we chose to head south early on the Thursday morning. We had the van packed, kids in the car and were on the road by 4am. The trip down the Hume Hwy was nice and easy, we stopped at Jugiong for breakfast where we met up with many other geocachers who were all heading south.

Soon after 10am we were setting up camp amongst friends. The place was a hive of activity with everyone catching up with old acquaintances or heading out in search of the many geocaches that littered the area. For us, we were keen to sit back and have a relaxing 4 days. The kids enjoyed playing amongst the many equestrian jumps or riding their bikes along the numerous tracks. The organisers had ensured there was plenty to do, so over the course of the following days we did a night cache with the kids and a specific kiddie’s cache.

Being Easter, there was the usual Easter egg hunt where 5000 eggs were scattered for all the kids. Once again the adults took part in the foam ball drop, where we were lucky enough to get a winning ball. One of the activities over the weekend was the “mega flashmob” held at the nearby pub. I don’t think the poor locals knew what hit them.

Throughout the remaining days we had a few trips out visiting various attractions like Hume Weir, a trip up Red Light Hill and a day down to Beechworth where we enjoyed the festivities of the Golden Horseshoe fair. Back at the mega event each night was filled with various entertainment on the big stage, in particular we enjoyed the BABBA concert where as a family we sang and danced the night away.

A geocaching weekend away wouldn’t be complete without a handful of caches and while I’d already found most of them, it was good to find some of the ones that had eluded us on our previous trip.

Soon enough, Monday had come and it was time to pack up and head for home. Our 5 days had gone so quickly. We’d made some new friends and caught up with many of our old ones. Thanks to the committee for such a good event.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Albury/Wodonga road-trip

The gangsters were on the road once again, this time we were heading to Albury/Wodonga and this time we had purpose to our trip. The 2nd Oz mega event was getting near and as with the past mega, we decided to find the local caches prior to the event so we can have a relaxing mega with our families.

On the 23rd Feb we headed down the Hume Hwy for 4 days of cachemania. We’d done our homework on the puzzles and mysteries while the maps and route were sorted. As we headed south we grabbed a few highway caches but our first night mission was to make a start on the “Black Ops GC32WN6” night cache. Arriving in Albury just on midnight we headed to WP1 of this respected cache where we were soon deciphering our next task. As the wee hours of the morning rolled on we worked through the next few stages of this multi, sometimes we chased red herrings while all the time collecting various other traditionals along the way.

After a few hours sleep, 2 day dawned and the hunt was on for the plethora of local caches, our route took us around the suburbs and nearby hills. The vista from some of these hills was magnificent. As the day progressed our numbers only climbed slowly and at times this frustrated us but we boxed on. As night fell we returned to our unfinished Black Ops cache, this cache had captivated us as well as frustrated us. Some of the waypoints are extremely clever and the owner should be commended. Our journey around the region solving this puzzle was tiresome but saw us grab many other traditional finds. By the end of our nights caching we still hadn’t completed the Black Ops marathon.

Day 3 and we were once again grabbing plenty of the local traditionals along with a mixture of mysteries and multis. Towards the end of the day we had our sights set on heading towards Wagga. We had pretty much cleaned out the area of local caches, except for Black ops. We’d left the GZ find for one of our last and as we recovered the cache it was pleasing to sign our names in what had been my longest cache ever.

Heading north along the Olympic way towards Wagga we stopped at many of the rural towns grabbing the scattering of caches in these towns. It was at Yerong Creek where we opted to take a slight detour to grab a few “off the beaten track” caches. This single lane, often overgrown goat track proven very challenging at times in the dark, but it provided a great spot for us to camp the night as we neared “The Rock”. Sunday dawned with us scouring from the showers which starting to lash the region and on more than one occasion the dirt roads became rather slippery and boggy.

As we arrived in Wagga, our focus was on the new Rubik’s tube caches, if past performance was anything to go by, these wouldn’t disappoint. The rain however was doing its best to dampen our enthusiasm and a number of times we had to change soaked clothing. The devious mind of Fred6603 had once again enthralled us and the new caches were masterful. By days end we’d worked our way round most of Wagga and upon checking in to a caravan park we settled in for a well-earned drink and nice BBQ dinner. The relaxed atmosphere was perfect and most of us were able to catch up on logs and a good yarn.

Our final day of this road-trip had us grabbing a few final caches around town in the morning before hitting the road just as rains really set in (see note). By the time we reached home I’d amassed 150 finds. Thanks to my fellow caching gangsters for another enjoyable caching trip.

(Note: Fate would have it that I was back in Wagga 7 days after this trip, assisting the local SES with property protection from the Murrumbidgee River flooding).

Friday, February 03, 2012

10 years & 6000 finds

Ask me when I found my first geocache whether I’d be still playing the game 10 years later and I would have laughed at you, but that’s what happened on the 27th January 2012.

When I found my first geocache “Trainspotting GCDFF” I wouldn’t have predicted that I would got so addicted to finding tupperware boxes, ammo tins or the like, but geocaching has become part of my life and to a degree part of my family’s life. This world-wide game has taken us to some amazing places, leads us on some crazy adventures and introduced us to great friends. I don’t know what I did before geocaching but I rarely leave home now without packing the gps and at every opportunity I’m on the hunt for my next find.

As our 10 year anniversary drew close I could see it was starting to line up with another milestone, our 6000th find was nearing so what better way to celebrate than to combine both. Some close friends wanted to the occasion with me so a geocaching event was organised.

The Rats 10 Year Anniversary / 6000th cache GC3AR0A was held on the 29th Jan not far from where I found my first cache. The day was well attended with many of our caching friends travelling great distances to share the event with us. The Stanwell Park picnic area provided a great backdrop as many of the attendees got to do a variety of new local caches. The day was topped off with a very unique logbook – a signed certificate commemorating the achievement.

Reflecting on our 10 years, the game has grown in leaps and bounds while the principle has remained relatively unchanged. The cache containers have changed, the cache density has increased, the cache hides have become harder and my love for this sport has remained. I hope in another 10 years I can boast another 6000 finds and still love this game.

Thanks to my close friends and family who made my 10 year event such a memorable day.