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Take a hike – Google SA

Take a hike – Google SA

No really, Google SA wants you to take a hike… from your seat.

Google SA on Tuesday launched new South African destinations on Street View, where one can study South Africa’s natural beauty with Google Maps.

Yup, you read it correctly and you’re in for a treat, as Google South Africa announced the launch of a new gallery called Discover South Africa on Street View, where users can experience four amazing sites virtually.

In March last year, Google SA launched the Mzansi Experience sites to showcase, in 360º imagery, South Africa’s outstanding natural beauty. Now these additional four virtual tours enable visitors to see the sights for themselves on their phones, tablets or computers.

“In 2012 we brought in equipment to be carried on your back, which is now known as the trekker backpack,” said Sven Tresp, Street View special collections program manager at Google. “The design is based on the original camera used in the car for Google Street View.

“We had been driving the streets of the world for a couple of years by then and realised, it’s not only roads that people want to see. They want to see beautiful imagery of landscapes around the world…locations like Table Mountain. People want to explore.”

Google engineers were prompted to come up with a system that sits on your back and can easily be carried on a hike to take those pictures. “It’s basically a camera device that allows for pictures to be taken with 360 views and in HD,” Mich Ashtanga, communications and public affairs head, Google SA, added. “Think Google Street View but strapped to your back.

“After a while the backpack became too heavy for us so we thought we’d pass on the baton and give somebody else a chance to continue,” said Tresp.

This then gave way for the Trekker Loan Program, where organisations, like Discover Africa, an online travel company, could apply to Google with a proposal, containing information on the country they were based in and what exactly they hoped they’d expose the world to.

“We assessed applicants and chose the more fitting candidates,” Tresp explained. Once chosen, the contenders then received training on the Trekker from Google and waited until delivery to take to hills.

The technology based on the car cameras is 10 years old now and there are efforts in the pipeline to decrease the size and the weight – all 25kg of the backpack but as Tresp mentioned: “The Google Fit system is well provided for here.”

In all seriousness, there are plans in place to make the system more compact. Currently, Google also offers a camera loan programme which is available to individuals who take to the streets to amass local pics.

But why would we want this imagery?

“Google gives people maps,” explained Tresp. “and why do we show people imagery? In fact, the question should rather be: why are people requesting imagery?

“User behaviour, when booking holidays, for instance, has changed. We used to attend conventions or received catalogues that showed us the latest and greatest. ”

A screenshot of Lanner Gorge

This is not how it’s done anymore. People go online and want to see imagery and locations. They want to know whether the hotel they chose is close enough to the city centre or the beach. “That’s why we collect imagery because it’ll help you make decisions on where to go,” Tresp clarified.

According to Atagana, people from across the globe have written to Google to thank the internet giant for giving them the opportunity to explore places, they never dreamt they would see.

Andre Van Kets, co-founder and marketing director of Discover Africa Group, spoke about his Trekker experience.

“Two years ago, I was doing some research into 360 cameras and in my search I discovered the Google Trekker. I wanted to be a part of this.

“My dream was to map out all of South Africa’s wilderness areas – rich, natural heritage that wasn’t yet on Google Maps. The cities were all done by the cars, but we needed to get down to the real exploring.”

In 2014 and 2015 Google had covered some of the big national parks but Van Kets felt the exposure for every other South African landscape was lacking and with a team of aides set about capturing the South African scenery.

“I certainly couldn’t do it on my own and so enlisted volunteers to make it a really South African experience. They had to learn to use the equipment and off they went to take pics.

“We visited 12 nature and game reserves and along the journey. We walked in six areas with the big five and over 170 trails. We were in nine provinces, saw six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, sent 35 Terabytes of information back to Google and we estimate that we took around 250 000 individual photos.

“The best part though, is that we met people from all walks of life.” Van Kets added. “Here technology brought people together for a good cause –  to brag about our beautiful country and our beautiful people.”

Screenshot of Bourke’s Luck

So, if you’re interested in exploring a little have a look at the links below. There are more locations earmarked for launch by Google SA in the near future.

Chapmans Peak Lookout, Table Mountain National Park, Western Cape, is a popular hike for locals and tourists. Those who reach the summit are rewarded with 360 panoramic views of The Atlantic Ocean to the west, False Bay to the east, the fishing village of Hout Bay to the north, and the white sands of the 7km-long Noordhoek Beach to the south.

Lanner Gorge, Kruger National Park, Limpopo, is roughly 11km long and home to abundant wildlife including crocodiles, hippos, baboons, leopards and others. Due to its steepness and status as a wilderness area, access to this area is extremely limited.

Bourke’s Luck Potholes, Mpumalanga is a natural water feature marking the beginning of the Blyde River Canyon. Carved out over centuries by the Blyde and Treur Rivers, which meet there, these connected pools and sandstone outcrops present an ever-changing landscaping of outstanding beauty.

Tugela Gorge Hike, Royal National Park, KwaZulu Natal, is rated as one of the top hiking trails in South Africa and features lush forest, icy, clear rock pools and curved canyon walls in the stunning Drakensberg region.

This type of 360-degree, panoramic imagery is now available in 66 countries. “We are excited about the many possibilities we have yet to explore, and to bring more useful and beautiful imagery to Google Maps users around the globe,” said Atagana.

Clare Petra Matthes

Hi, I'm Clare and I am a freelance writer and Tech journalist as well as the owner and founder of where I review tech devices and also cover emerging technology news. Outside of I write for a number of publications and have regular tech slots on chaiFM radio station and eNCA's Tech Matters national breakfast TV news show.

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