Wish you were here?

Published on 11 November 2021

vw photo.jpg

No one promotes a place they love better than the locals, so a new online portal providing free images to share while letting locals and intending visitors dive deep into the beautiful scenery Waitaki has to offer is sure to be popular.

Professional photographer Derek Golding is behind Virtual Waitaki, intended to be a resource for all local businesses, schools and those who wish to explore our district from around the world. The project has been a labour of love, epic in its scope, and has already found favour with Tourism Waitaki and the Whitestone Geopark, who both use the images on their website, allowing people to virtually explore places like the geosite Clay Cliffs, outside Omarama.

Geopark Manager Lisa Heinz says, “Virtual Waitaki gives the Geopark the opportunity to tell the story of our whenua on a different, virtual level. It’s great to see that the platform includes some of the features that we promote and tell the story of, for example Clay Cliffs, Anatini or Campbells Bay. It’s exciting to be part of this virtual journey and we are keen to explore the option of virtual tours through this platform in the coming months as well.”

In March 2020 the Waitaki District Council created a Support and Stimulus fund to aid the district’s recovery from Covid and $30,000 for Virtual Waitaki was allocated from the economic resilience portion of this fund.

Mr Golding has been working on Virtual Waitaki since October of last year. The principal photography - photos from locations in Oamaru, Waitaki valley, coastal Waitaki and East Otago, was finished in February, and the website 95% completed at that point. The imagery collected during the initial stages of the project totalled over 15,000 360-degree images, from underwater rock pools on the coast to Clay Cliffs in the east. These images are to be added to Google Streetview once the project is live, allowing another access route for virtual visitors and to help publicize the project and district.

Waitaki District Council staff had been user testing and integrating the tours, as well as using the imagery on council’s website, with Mr Golding updating the software based on the feedback he’s received.

The project is a portal allowing local businesses to take VR Snapshot photos of the selected locations across the district. “Initially, 15 locations were identified but I expanded that to 22,” he says. “All the imagery is released under creative commons 4.0, Share and Share-Alike. This means that anyone can use the imagery to promote the district, as long as the end product is not charged for.”

A business can use the imagery on their website to promote tours, accommodation or other services. The interactive panoramic tours can also be embedded into any business's website and there are instructional videos to show you how to do this.

“The locations are now easily accessible by people worldwide thanks to VR, and I'm hoping there will be a lot of interest from location scouts interested in not only the locations already used by Hollywood but some of the lesser-known ones too.”

The VR images are also able to be shared with Twitter and Facebook, as both these platforms allow for interaction with a 360-degree image.

“Waitaki has so many hidden gems away from the well-known tourist locations,” said Mr Golding. “Its diverse landscape is a traveller’s dream.”

Link to Virtual Waitaki: www.virtualwaitaki.co.nz