As soon as I learned Google had added seven of New Zealand’s Great Walks to Street View, I was hooked. What a fabulous idea, I thought, being able to walk every step of the Routeburn, Rakiura and Heaphy without leaving the house!
Obviously it doesn’t beat actually walking them in person, but fancy technology reaching a stage everyone can see all these walks, at any stage, from any angle.
So I was a little surprised to find such negative comments about the development on social media. These comments made me re-think my initial enthusiasm at this new variation of a great tool.
I pondered the suggested downsides; the influx of tourists on these overcrowded walks, the decline of adventure, the domination of a global enterprise now seeping into our backcountry through cracks in the door. But my final conclusion was the same as my initial reaction, which was along the lines of ‘woohoo – this is great!’.
And here’s why; I’ve yet to walk the Milford Track, so the first question that popped into my head was ‘is the Milford really worth it, for those who have walked tracks like the Routeburn?’ Ten minutes later, I had my answer – simply, yes, it is.
You may argue ‘where’s the adventure in that?’ But walking the Milford’s expensive, especially for someone considering a trip to New Zealand from the opposite side of the globe. And no-one’s making you check it out before you go – you can always keep it a surprise.
The new device may well attract more people to the Great Walks, but these walks are supremely popular anyway, and at least tourists will have a better understanding of the terrain than if they didn’t check it on Street View first. It may even give people a reality check.
But the clincher for me is the joy this technology will bring. For many, this is as close as they’ll ever get to walking such trails, either because their body won’t allow them, their commitments are all-consuming, or they live too far away. For others, the gadget will provide fond memories of when they completed the trail in years past.
And who knows how important this historic documentation might prove in the future? If industry, bad habits or invasive creatures further destroy these wild areas, what better way to compare then-to-now than with a tool guiding you through these incredible landscapes at a more ecologically prosperous point in time.
I haven’t yet heard an argument to negate these positives, so if you have one I’d be keen to hear from you.
Perhaps the images from Google will inspire some lovely photo ideas of your own. We’re calling for entries to the 2016 Wilderness Photo Competition – see our website for details and keep it in mind for your upcoming trips – you might just capture the winning image. And check out p20 for our masterclass in photographing mountain landscapes.