A screengrab of the Drive South Africa video shows a volunteer mapping a wilderness area. Picture: YouTube

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 country.

All this is 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, which include the Kruger National Park, Table Mountain and Cape Point (these three locations are also known as The Mzansi Experience), viewers can now also look at 170 new trails from South Africa’s national parks and reserves.

The e-trails, launched last month, 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.

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.

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“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 programme,” 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 co-ordinated 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 programme capture 360-degree views 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.



Picture: Isimangaliso Wetland Authority
“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, chief executive 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 treasured spots like Mapungubwe Hill that is home to an ancient African civilisation, the Richtersveld that is known for its arid moonscapes, the Drakensberg Mountains and iSimangaliso Wetland Park, 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.

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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-renowned  brand, Google, ﷯will ultimately define the success of South Africa as a unique destination,” he said. – IANS

* Kapila is with the Media India Group, a global platform based in Europe and India, encompassing publishing, 
communication, consultation services and event 
management.