Ballarat tourism and activity levels are getting a boost from a new new type of treasure hunt known as a geotour that has been laid out in 25 secret spots around the city and surrounding areas.
A geotour is part of the popular hobby of geocaching, described by its participants as a cross between orienteering and a treasure hunt using mobile phones.
The Ballarat GeoTour, launched earlier this year, is Australia's only geotour and in its first three weeks the hidden caches were found more than 1000 times.
The geocaches are listed on the Geocaching app, with hints, and players follow GPS coordinates to the hide site but must then hunt to find the caches which range from the size of a thumbnail to a shoe box.
"It takes in all the highlights of Ballarat," said Gemma Siemensma who led the team to create the Ballarat GeoTour.
"There are quite a few around the lake in the gardens, near Sovereign Hill, the Buninyong Botanic Gardens, Mount Buninyong, Woowookerung lookout, Black Hill lookout, Gong Gong, Learmonth, Miners Rest, Burrumbeet, Goldfields Track, Ballarat-Skipton Rail Trail and more."
Some of the caches are even 3D printed to tie in with their location, including a 3D printed gold nugget near a Sovereign Hill lookout and a cannonball near the Eureka Stockade site.
Ms Siemensma said there were many benefits to geocaching not just for participants but for the whole community.
"Geotours are a unique aspect of geocaching. This particular geotour is the only geotour in Australia and because they are so unique, it encourages people to come to the area, stay in town, spend money and see the sights," she said.
The Ballarat GeoTour received funding from VicHealth through their Reimagining Health grant program for its health benefits of getting people active.
"We just thought that if you come to Ballarat, what would you want to see ... or what would we want visitors to see," Ms Siemensma said.
Some of the caches are strategically placed to encourage people to return to Ballarat for further geocaching adventures if they get hooked on their new outdoor hobby.
The geotour contains caches on the Goldfields Track and the Ballarat Skipton Rail Trail, but along each of those trails there are more geocaches to find that are not part of the Ballarat GeoTour set.
"On the Goldfields Track right now from White Swan right out to Creswick there are 60 caches along there, and from where the Ballarat to Skipton Rail Trail starts at the Ring Road to Linton there's caches that whole way," she said.
"If you come along and do the GeoTour you get out walking, and part of the philosophy if we take them to the Goldfields Track once they see the rest of them they'll get more active, come back to find those so Ballarat's tourism benefits and more money is put in to the community.
"It's such a cheap activity because all you need is a mobile phone with data, and a pen, but most people at least buy a coffee while they are here, some buy lunch and some stay overnight or for a couple of nights."
Ms Siemensma said geocache tourism was popular with players visiting different towns and locations just to find caches, or deciding to find caches when they had travelled to a new place on holidays.
"Like many people, I first saw geocaching on Facebook, Googled it then the next day I found one and seven years later the rest is history," said Ms Siemensma who also sits on the Victorian Geocaching Committee.
"I started when I lived in Ballarat city and now I live between Ballarat and Creswick ... and when I started I liked it and went off finding caches down tracks and in places I didn't even know existed. I was amazed at what was on offer around Ballarat ... and as a local it was discovering amazing locations in my own backyard and that's what sucked me in," she said.
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"And that's what keeps me going now. When I go somewhere else on holiday, at the main tourist spots there will be a cache but there will also be caches down tracks and in areas only locals know about. You get taken to lots of cool locations off the beaten track."
When a cache is found, geocachers add their name to the log book (hence the need for a pen), put the cache back in its hiding place then go on to the Geocaching app and record their find.
"It's like orienteering but there's an object at the end. It's getting you out, giving you an excuse to go outdoors and a purpose in going somewhere."
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