It’s now possible to head out on safari in Kruger National Park or climb the Drakensberg Range from the comfort of your living room or office thanks to a new project that has made 170 trails within South Africa’s national parks and reserves available on Google Street View.
The tech giant, working with a South African team, used 360-degree cameras to capture thousands of images to compile the virtual tours. More than 200 volunteers, many of whom are professional rangers and guides for SANParks, KZN Wildlife Ezemvelo and CapeNature, were used over a 12-month period to complete the data acquisition. The remainder of the team was comprised of outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of technology – the Google Street View programme actually encourages people to apply to borrow the 360-degree camera technology to help map the planet.
Each team member was required to wear a custom-made, 22kg backpack that has no less than 15 cameras mounted on it. The on-board technology then tracked the backpack’s exact location as the volunteers hiked the trails, recording 360-degree photos every two seconds (about every metre).
The project, coordinated by Drive South Africa, has ensured that all 19 national parks, as well as 17 nature reserves and numerous other areas of historical, natural and cultural significance are now all available on Google Street View. The combined length of the 170 trails was around 900km. Google, who chose the tenth anniversary of the opening of its first African office to make the exciting announcement, also noted that another 230 points of interest were also recorded.
Andre Van Ket, project initiator, tells Lonely Planet News: “we’re delighted that South Africa’s prime tourist attractions – the wilderness areas that protect our wildlife – are now discoverable on Google Street View. These days most travel experiences begin at the Google search bar – and to have South Africa’s natural heritage there for anyone to explore can only lead to more interest in South Africa as a holiday destination.”
Street View users can now walk in the footsteps of struggle icon Nelson Mandela, climb seven new trails to the top of Table Mountain, hike the famous five-day Otter Trail, track cheetah on foot and walk with elephants and other incredible wildlife (the trekkers were guided by qualified rangers in all wilderness areas).
Additionally, seven of South Africa’s eight Unesco World Heritage Sites can now be experienced. Users can see Mapungubwe Hill, home to an ancient African civilisation, the Richtersveld with its arid moonscapes, the towering Drakensberg Mountains, and iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s oldest Unesco site and a critical habitat for a range of species.
South Africa hopes the virtual tours will give people a taste of the country and whet their appetite to see the country first hand. Or for those who’ve long planned a visit, it may just move the country further up their bucket lists.