Virtual getaway

Jon Reid
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Winter 2014 is starting to feel like it will never end.

Temperatures have been hitting record lows from Newfoundland to New Orleans. With the “polar vortex” sweeping North America, even for those with the means to escape south, you need to go even further to find a taste of summer. For those without either the means or the time, maybe the Internet can provide some temporary relief.

Think of somewhere warm, like the Great Barrier Reef!

As of Sept. 25, 2012, Google Maps gave users the ability to virtually walk, or in this case swim, along parts of the Great Barrier Reef via Street View. If you haven’t used Street View before, it provides panoramic or 360 degree views at street level across many cities. A user can click through the highlighted routes, stop at any point and view the surrounding area.

This was cool technology for exploring cityscapes but Google has brought it so much farther since 2007. Now you can browse the Great Barrier Reef and see a vast array of corals, manta rays, turtles, schools of fish and even other, non-virtual, explorers. Check out sea lions around the Galapagos islands or the Underwater Museum of Isla Mujeres.

A once in a lifetime dive has got to be with the whale sharks at Isla Contoy. These swimming virtual tours are like snapshots of the best warm weather vacation of your life.

When it comes to warm weather destinations, it’s hard to think warmer than the Amazon. With World Forestry Day coming up on March 21, it’s a great time to take a hike on an Amazon forest trail. Members from Street View and Google Earth Outreach explored and mapped portions of the Amazon Basin in August 2011. Besides the unreal scenery, it’s said that you can spot some wildlife tucked into the jungle. I haven’t spotted any yet but there are plenty of places left to check.

If oceans and jungles aren’t your thing, try some historical destinations. The World Wonders Project ( gives us virtual access to sites like the archaeological areas in Pompeii. Don’t forget to schedule some time for cultural stops at some famous museums either.

The Art Project has amazing tours of forty six museums ranging from the Acropolis in Greece, Tate Britain, China’s National Palace Museum to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York.

While Google provides some unique virtual experiences around the world, they certainly don’t have a monopoly on virtual tours. The National Gallery in London, England has a fantastic tour experience built into their site ( which allows you to browse the galleries with in frame details of the works you click on.

Virtual tours can help you out once the summer hits too. If you have a need for some really “cool” scenery, hop over to the Street View for Churchill, Manitoba.

The panoramas captured from the tundra buggy mounted Street View Trekker in October and November 2013 include some awesome captures of polar bears interacting or just chilling.

If polar bears aren’t for you, Street View has polar options ranging from the Canadian Arctic to the Antarctic.

While we’re still sitting in our own deep freeze, adjust your space heater, snuggle into a blanket and enjoy the ultimate virtual staycation.  

At least until another rolling blackout hits your neighbourhood.

Jon Reid is an IT professional working in Corner Brook. His column appears every other Tuesday in The Western Star.

Organizations: Google, Underwater Museum of Isla Mujeres, Amazon Tate Britain National Palace Museum Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art National Gallery Canadian Arctic

Geographic location: Street View, Great Barrier Reef, Newfoundland New Orleans North America Galapagos islands Amazon forest Amazon Basin Pompeii Greece China New York London England Manitoba Corner Brook Western Star

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