How to throw a scavenger hunt birthday party

This is one party idea you will want to repeat year after year.
This is one party idea you will want to repeat year after year. Photo: Getty

When I was a kid my favourite part of the year was the big scavenger hunt that our school organised. Each family would have to drive around the local area with a list of things they had to find and the first car back with all the things would win a prize. I remember Dad driving crazy fast and Mum yelling at him to slow down, but I just wanted to win. (I don't think we ever did, but it was fun nonetheless.)

So when my daughter turned ten a couple of weeks ago and wanted a huge sleepover party, because she couldn't possibly cull the list of friends down to four, I managed to talk her into a big scavenger hunt instead. Unlike the one we had as kids, which involved driving everywhere because we lived in the country, my daughter's hunt was on foot.

She invited fifteen friends, and after various illnesses, the list dropped to 12 so it was perfect for three teams of four. Each team had a willing parent volunteer to go with them. Excitement was high as twelve kids bundled into our house, slapped sunscreen on, borrowed a hat and got ready to run. To make the teams random, each of the three parent helpers drew four names out. They then wrapped coloured ribbons around themselves so everyone would know which team they belonged to.

Each team were given their scavenger hunt clues. The clues were broken into sections. They had to find some things, answer some questions, and photograph various items to bring back proof.

The teams read their first clue. In order to send them in different directions, we made sure each team had a slightly different order of clues. As we blew a whistle to start the race, the teams burst out of the house and started running at mad speeds down the street, with the three poor parent volunteers trailing behind.

Because we had 12 girls who lived locally, most of them had good working knowledge of their area, so we had to make some of the clues a bit tricky. Each team had to find a feather, a lemon, a takeaway menu and a random thing (the best would win a bonus point.)

They had to photograph some guerrilla art, a bicycle with a front basket, a house that belonged to a student at their school, the sad teddy that lives on David Street (it is in fact a teddy tied to a tree with a very sad expression), a space monkey on a wall somewhere, and themselves posing as mannequins out the front of a shop.

They had to find out the price of goldfish at the pet shop, the price of unleaded petrol, how many palm trees were in a particular street, and what the sign said outside the community gardens.

We gave each team some money because they had to buy things, like a themed outfit for each of them to wear from the local op shop. And the team that bought the cheapest item in a single transaction grabbed themselves a bonus point.


And my personal favourite was to go to the all-day place that sells things made in circles with holes in the middle and buy JUST ONE strawberry or lemon or vanilla and don't eat it!!!

I was with one of the teams and they ran for pretty much the whole hour and a half, excitedly searching out the next clue. As we came around corners we kept bumping into the other teams and it would spur everyone on to go even faster. It tested them, it made them laugh, and they loved working in a little group to try and outdo their friends.

With all of our finds in our bags, the teams hurried to the park where the finish line was. It was close. The three teams came in about ten minutes apart, spilling everything they'd found and gathered. It was judged, and argued and jostled, and red team were declared the winner. They scored a bonus point for finding an old copy of the American novel, True Grit that had been left out on a road. Nobody really cared about the prizes. Nobody really cared about winning. They just loved running on their streets, with their team and trying to think fast.

Starving, they ate all the food we'd prepared, and drank bottles and bottles of water, and then mooched around in the park, happy to be with each other and just hang out.

It was one of the cheapest and simplest parties I've ever organised, and the kids all had a ball. So I'm planning on doing it again next year and the year after and the year after that, changing the clues and making it harder, because it's fun, it's good exercise, and it's free!