A Rotorua ranger has set the scene for a virtual game of hide and seek to be played across New Zealand as part of Conservation Week 2016.
Community Ranger Caraline Abbott used geocaching as a way to engage the community with outdoor recreational areas three years ago and the concept is now being used by the Department of Conservation (DOC) on a national scale with sponsorship from Air New Zealand.
"Rotorua was the first district to use geocaching to connect the public to conservation areas and its success here has led to it being adopted as a nationwide competition for Conservation Week", said Ms Abbott who is the supervisor of DOC's community team.
Geocaching is an activity enjoyed by millions of people across the world but non-participants - known as muggles - are often unaware due to the secretive nature of the activity. Participants use GPS to find small hidden containers which contain a logbook and occasionally some trinkets.
DOC Rotorua caches are placed on walking tracks such as Okere Falls and Mount Ngongotaha and also around the Sulphur Bay Wildlife Refuge although the geocaching community have hidden caches in many other areas.
Ms Abbott said many of the participants are domestic or international travellers who visit specific areas to find caches.
"The average person would probably pass 3-4 geocaches each day without even knowing it but those who are serious about geocaching will take every chance they can get to 'log a find'. There's even a geocache on the moon and on ship wrecks under the water"
She said the department was one of New Zealand's biggest providers of recreational assets and were always looking for ways to connect people to nature.
"Geocaching is a fun way to motivate people to get immersed in the great outdoors and exercising."
When a cache is found the find is logged using the geocaching website or app and the finder describes the area and provides information about themselves.
"Other DOC offices started to realise geocaching was a tool to help receive information about wind fallen trees or sightings of threatened species. As a result of DOC's involvement with geocaching in Rotorua, the concept has been taken across the country and now Air New Zealand are sponsoring the activity by providing trinkets to be included in the caches and a grand prize of return flights for four anywhere on the Air New Zealand domestic network".
Additional geocaches will be placed in public conservation areas before Conservation Week 2016 which runs between September 10-8 18.
This year's theme is "healthy nature, healthy people".
Activities planned for Conservation Week include glow worm tours with Blue Lake Top 10, a kayak clean-up of the Ohau channel with River Rats, a community tree planting day, kiwi aversion training for dogs and a healthy nature, healthy people photography competition with prizes from Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre.
Details will be provided on Eventfinda and the DOC website in the next week.