PARIS: Now, you can experience South Africa's wildlife and vicariously trek its national parks through the eyes and lenses of local wildlife rangers who have captured the essence of the nation.
All this thanks to a team of nature-loving South Africans in partnership with Google Street View and South African Tourism who have released a large collection of 360-degree imagery of the country's wildest areas.
Along with the main attractions from the African country, which include the Kruger National Park, Table Mountain and Cape Point (these three locations are also known as the The Mzansi Experience), viewers can now also look at 170 new trails from South Africa's national parks and reserves.
The e-trails, launched on November 9, extend the existing Street View imagery of South Africa's wilderness areas to include all 19 national parks, 17 previously ‘un-trekked' nature reserves and many sites of natural, cultural and historical significance in all the nine provinces of South Africa.
It took more than 200 volunteers from across the country, and 12 months of mapping out the lesser explored parts of South Africa before the images could be put together. Wildlife rangers from SANParks, CapeNature and KZN Ezemvelo, along with guides, hikers, nature-lovers, and tech-enthusiasts worked on the project.
"The hundreds of volunteers who helped along the way proved to be truly passionate about showing the best of South Africa through their participation in the loan program," said Magdalena Filak, Programme Manager for Google.
The project is part of Google's Street View Camera Loan Programme, which encourages people to apply to borrow the 360-degree camera technology and map the planet.
The team of volunteers was coordinated by loan programme partner Drive South Africa. Andre Van Kets, outdoor enthusiast and founder of the Cape Town-based travel company, saw the potential in this technology to showcase South Africa to travellers around the globe.
The applicants to the program capture 360-degree view of the locations using a uniquely crafted multi-camera set up.
"The trekker camera is a 22kg custom-made backpack fitted with 15 cameras pointing in all directions. The on-board technology plots the camera's exact location on the trail. While recording, the camera takes a 360-degree photo every two-seconds. It's basically the off-road equivalent of Google's Street View cars," Van Kets said.
"For the first time, travellers and wildlife lovers from across the globe can explore the full spectrum of South Africa's diverse wilderness areas on Google Maps and Street View," said Sisa Ntshona, CEO of South African Tourism.
Through their gadgets, Street View users can now trace the footsteps of 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 wildlife.
Additionally, seven of South Africa's eight Unesco World Heritage Sites are also on the e-list. Users can experience South Africa's treasured spots like the Mapungubwe Hill that is home to an ancient African civilisation, the Richtersveld that is known for its arid moonscapes, the Drakensberg Mountains that is known for its height, and iSimangaliso Wetland Park that is South Africa's oldest UNESCO site and a critical habitat for a range of species.
All this can be viewed at ‘South Africa in 360', a micro-site launched by Drive South Africa. The website is inspired by a similar project showcasing the US National Parks, and is an immersive virtual-reality adventure to South Africa's four top tourist destinations and some of its lesser-known gems.
"This is the way in which we do tourism," said Sisa Ntshona. "Collaborations like this, with entrepreneurs and world-renown brands, Google, that will ultimately define the success of South Africa as a unique destination," he added.