Hikers on the Israel National Trail.
(photo credit: DOV GREENBLAT)
After finishing up a dive through Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or ambling among Cambodia’s legendary Angkor Wat temples, trekking enthusiasts across the globe can now head out for a hike on the Israel National Trail – all from the comfort of their computer screens.
The 1,100-kilometer trail, which stretches from the country’s northern tip at Kibbutz Dan and winds southward all the way to Eilat, is the longest footpath ever to be photographed for the Google Maps Street View Trekker project.
Equipped with two 360-degree cameras strapped to their backs, some 250 volunteers from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Google Israel took turns hiking the trail this summer – capturing panoramic images of the route over the course of nearly three months.
A virtual rendition of the path is now available to nature lovers near and far, as the Israel Trail joins the ranks of natural and historic sites like Great Barrier Reef and Angkor Wat, as well as the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids of Giza, Petra, the Galápagos Islands, Everest Base Camp and a number of other global destinations available through Street View Trekker.
“The Israel National Trail is, from today, available to every citizen of Israel and any country, to enjoy and explore Israel’s landscapes and nature,” said SPNI CEO Moshe “Kosha” Pakman.
“Putting the trail on Google Street View will without doubt encourage hikers from Israel and overseas to experience the trail, both from a screen and with their feet, and enjoy the trail’s natural landscapes and cultural richness.”
Setting out in May to map and capture the Israel Trail, the volunteers not only carried Street View Trekker backpack cameras, but also 50 kg. of food and supplies and 1,200 liters of water amid scalding heat, according to SPNI, the organization responsible for inaugurating the path in 1995. Along the way, the hikers described traveling from 1,208 meters above sea level at Mount Meron in the Golan Heights to 195 meters below sea level at the Sea of Galilee, also encountering 48 camels throughout their trip.
The Israel Trail includes a wide variety of natural terrain, ecology and historical sites, weaving its way through the Galilee, the Carmel mountains, the Mediterranean coastline, Tel Aviv, Rosh Ha’ayin, Elad, the Modi’in region, the Judean lowlands, archeological sites at Beit Guvrin, the Negev Desert and the mountains surrounding Eilat.
Google launched its much broader Street View project in 2007, to enable web surfers to explore neighborhoods and see panoramic street-level images around the world. While the project started with cameras fastened to pickup trucks, lasers and GPS tools, the technology eventually expanded to incorporate specially designed devices that can capture 360 degrees of images and withstand varying conditions, according to Google.
Today, in addition to the Street View Car, some of the equipment includes snowmobiles, tricycles, trolleys and the Street View Trekker backpack used by the Israel Trail hikers.
The wearable Trekker backpack – first used to photograph the Grand Canyon in 2012 – enables image gathering “while maneuvering through tight, narrow spaces or locations only accessible by foot,” information from Google explained.
Meir Brand, managing director for Google Israel, stressed the company’s pride “that after much hard work, the Israel National Trail is joining some of the world’s greatest heritage and nature sites on Google Maps.”
“This project brings the trail to anyone who wishes to explore it, from anywhere and on any device,” Brand said.
“In making this unique trail available to anyone to explore virtually, we hope many more people will discover the trail’s beauty and story.”