A ranger walks through the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. (Rudolph De Girardier, Google)
Cape Town - If you can't physically visit one of South Africa's national parks, you can now see them online.
Search giant Google announced on Thursday that all South Africa's national parks and reserves are available on the Google Street View platform.
A year in the making, the project aimed to create 360° imagery of the country's wildest areas and comprised 206 South African volunteers.
"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.
Collectively, the volunteers trekked 900km on foot in all nine provinces, explored 170 new trails, and encountered lions, cheetahs and elephants on foot.
"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° photo every two seconds. It's basically the off-road equivalent of Google's Street View cars," said Andre Van Kets of loan programme partner Drive South Africa.
Unesco heritage sites, such as iSimangaliso Wetland Park, as well as Mapungubwe Hill, the Richtersveld and Drakensberg Mountains are some of the natural environments on display.
All of South Africa's 19 national parks are covered on the platform, which also has built-in functionality to give tourists an overview of the country's natural heritage.
"Harnessing technology allows SANParks to showcase the 19 South African National Parks like never before. Google Trekker allows South Africans and foreigners to explore and discover what the different parks have to offer.
"We're really excited that this introduces a new dimension to planning a trip and what better way to do it than through a virtual itinerary which you can then make reality," said Janine Raftopoulos, SANParks head of Communications.
Some of the volunteers expressed their joy at being part of the project.
Lyanda Nyandeni, a tour guide at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in KwaZulu-Natal, said: "It is a great privilege for me to carry it."
"It was really exciting," said Mate Modisha, a field ranger at the CapeNature Grootvadersbos Nature Reserve.
The South African programme follows other Google programmes to map the Amazon in Brazil and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
"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," Van Kets said.
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