Wendy Whiteley's secret garden in Sydney. Thanks to Sydney Museums, it can be enjoyed virtually through an online video. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Wendy Whiteley's secret garden in Sydney. Thanks to Sydney Museums, it can be enjoyed virtually through an online video. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Self-isolation survival pack: Virtual landscapes

COVID-19 quarantine restrictions got you feeling like the walls are closing in? In the first of our series of self-isolation sanity preservers, an armchair travel guide to the choicest digital journeys through landscapes and cities.

The origin of the word ‘quarantine’ is traceable back to 15th century Venice, when ships arriving at the mercantile city state during plague periods were forced to isolate at sea for forty daysquaranta giorni, in Italian, or quarantena in the Venetian dialect. Thankfully, the amenity available to 21st century isolators is slightly less straitened than that offered by a harbour-bound carrack. Instead of rum and dice, we have the boundless virtual realms of Google, so while you might be for all intents and purposes confined to cabin, shore leave in some of the world’s most remarkable natural and manmade wonders is just a click away.

While most of us are familiar with Google’s Streetview, to help us locate ourselves around the city, or to help in the hunt for the perfect weekender, Streetview gallery is a curated gallery of extraordinary places to visit. Often distinctly off-grid, and far from the nearest street, the gallery explores the farthest corners of the earth. You can virtually experience canoeing down Lava Falls rapids in the Grand Canyon, checking out the views from the world’s highest peaks, such as Camp Colera high amongst the Andes, or stand and marvel at the Academy of the Dazed – a spectacular library that was the centre of intellectual life in Siena around the 1550s.

For the data snoops out there, Citymapper is an excellent online resource. Its primary function is to use the power of open data, mobile and payment technology to make transport sustainable. It comes with dashboards for many cities around the world and information on local transport and mobility related subjects. It also has an interesting function called Citymapper Mobility Index, which maps the movement of people across dozens of cities. It allows you to watch how social distancing is impacting the city, with its Pedestrian Counting System. As of 31 March both Melbourne and Sydney were tracking at 15% and 14% respectively. Milan is down to an extraordinary 3% of pedestrian traffic compared to usual pedestrian loads.

Most of the biggest and best gardens around the world have a growing online presence. For a traditional approach, you can travel to London, to watch an overview of the plants, places and experiences with Kew Gardens. The narrative video provides glimpses in to the gardens’ history and it current vast array of trees, flowers and diverse landscapes.

If you Google your favourite botanic garden + virtual tour, you’ll likely find something like this, from the United States Botanic Garden. The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney has, just-in-time its seems, launched a new interactive Garden app, which you can download from here.  Also from Sydney, but at a much more intimate scale, is a short film of Wendy Whiteley’s garden by Sydney Living Museums. Wander through pathways snake that their way between giant fig trees, glossy foliage, dramatic flowers, sculptures and found objects, all from your sofa.

Beyond complex multi-functional online resources, there are also more simple ways to connect, digitally with nature. The National Trust shows the way through its Twitter account. It has just launched a delightful thread called #BlossomWatch — to help lift people’s spirits. The National Trust is urging the public to emulate Japan’s hanami custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, these days often shared through photos of nature on social media.

As the days grew shorter and colder in the southern hemisphere, and more isolating with COVID-19 restrictions biting, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of the joys of spring, currently bursting forth up north.

With thanks to Helen Norrie and Michelle Grosser for help in sifting through the gigabytes.