Tuesday, 1 April 2014 11:16am
Ask Carrington College Warden Peter Walker what his hidden talent is and he’ll tell you it’s “using multimillion dollar satellites to find Tupperware in the woods.”
His answer may be light-hearted and silly, but it’s not all that far from the truth.
Pete, and hundreds of others like him in New Zealand, is into geocaching.
Not familiar with the term?
Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.
Caches contain a logbook where successful geocachers record their name (usually a codename) and the date they found the cache. Often there are small trinkets left behind from previous geocachers which are intended for trading. After signing the logbook, the container is replaced in its original hiding place for the next person to find.
Dunedin itself lays claim to the oldest geocache on the South Island – a cache placed on Flagstaff Hill on 11 November 2000.
Pete, a busy father of three young boys, got into geocaching after discovering that his phone was GPS enabled.
“The app store kept recommending these oddly named apps. I looked up geocaching and, having been previously involved with orienteering and regaining, I was keen to give it a try.”
Almost five years and over 1200 ‘finds’ later, he’s still enjoying the adventure.
“It’s taken me on great bush treks, climbing tall trees, exploring caves, working with others to tidy up areas of the city, conducting experiments on the beach and, most importantly, given me a great excuse to drag the kids into the outdoors and spend time with them.
"There are more than two million geocaches worldwide and over 20,000 in New Zealand, so there always tends to be a cache nearby to find."
“There are more than two million geocaches worldwide and over 20,000 in New Zealand, so there always tends to be a cache nearby to find. It’s also a great way to break up long trips and gives a purpose to a good long walk in the bush.”
Among New Zealand geocaching circles, Pete has become known for his placement of large hides and tricky puzzles.
HR Administrator Jane Bruce, herself an active geocacher, says, “He has placed one of the most popular geocaches in Dunedin – a ‘challenge’ cache which 82 per cent of the people finding it have listed as a favourite. The actual cache is a short bush-bash from the Swampy Ridge track, but before you can sign the logbook and claim a smiley you have to find the 10 oldest caches in the South Island – quite a task!”
Himself an Otago alumnus, Pete has spent the past six years at the helm of Carrington College and Cumberland College before that.
“I was fortunate enough to spend my years as an Otago student living in a Residential College and this sparked a passion for working with people in this type of environment. I’ve since spent most of my working life at Otago and can’t see myself anywhere else in the world.”
Peter is currently president of the New Zealand Recreational GPS Society and led organisation of the geocaching NZ MEGA event which attracted over 500 geocachers to Dunedin during Labour Weekend in 2012.
So what do his family and friends think of his unusual passion?
“The kids tend to think it’s great as there are often wee toys to trade and they like the hunt. Most people tend to be a little bemused but fascinated by it.”
If you hope to see Pete in action, you’ll need more than a bit of luck.
“One of the features of geocaching is that we try to make sure non-geocaching folk (affectionately called ‘Muggles’ in geocaching circles) don’t find the geocaches and accidently remove them, so a lot of geocaching, particularly in the urban areas, is conducted with a lot of stealth – so hopefully no one will catch me caching anytime soon!”