This week we highlight some of the most remote, far-flung and/or exotic places captured by the Mapillary community. These are places you won't find on any other photo map.
Last week Katrin shared seven creative photo mapping innovations from our community. This week I’ve enjoyed exploring and writing about seven places off the beaten track. I regularly navigate the map to see where people are contributing photos from, but in writing this up, I was blown away by the exciting destinations our community has captured. Without getting too sentimental, I think the list really highlights the diversity of our planet and how many places are worth protecting. This selection is by no means exhaustive, so I’d love to hear about the odd/exciting/beautiful places you’ve discovered or contributed to Mapillary.
Saint Paul Island, United States (by jfact0ry)
One of the amazing things about the United States is how geographically diverse the country is. Mangroves in Florida, deserts in Arizona, mountains in Colorado, the Great Plains of Oklahoma and the icy tundra of Alaska. In searching for the places on this list, I was really happy to find sequences on Saint Paul Island, the largest of the Pribilof Islands, volcanic islands in the Bering Sea that are officially part of Alaska.
The Pribilof Islands have had a rough history. More permanent settlement began when Russian fur traders ventured east in search of fur seals. The local Aleutian people were relied upon to hunt seals due to their intimate knowledge of the area and living off the land. Russian influence waned when Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million. Today, those on the islands have done well for themselves considering the harsh conditions, developing infrastructure to take advantage of their location in some of the world’s richest fishing grounds.
Nukuʻalofa, Tonga (by horslips)
Spread out across 700,000 km2, Tonga is an archipelago with 169 islands but only 103,000 inhabitants. It’s one of the first countries to welcome each new day, being situated just before the international date line at +13 UTC and +14 UTC during daylight saving time. This particular sequence was taken in the capital Nuku’alofa on the most populous island, Tongatapu. Coral reefs surround the island, making it an ideal place for snorkelling. The seclusion of Tonga means that while it is becoming more popular with tourists, there is less infrastructure than you would see elsewhere in the region. This makes it the perfect place to visit if you’re looking to get away.
On a more serious note, islands in the Pacific Ocean see the effects of nature to a far greater degree than many other parts of the world witness. Rising sea levels hit the low-lying islands first, while volcanic eruptions lead to the creation of new islands as recently as 2015. Additionally, with so little land and a heavy reliance on the surrounding oceans, many locals are acutely aware of the respect one must have for the environment.
Havana, Cuba (by havana)
While not as remote or far-flung as some of the other locations on this list, Havana has been uniquely isolated. Additionally, access to the internet is still quite limited and strict controls are placed on which content can be viewed. For this reason, it’s more difficult for locals to show the world the unique sights and architecture that characterize the country's capital. Local mappers have been using action cameras, smartphones and 360º cameras to change this and reveal what this city has to offer.
The classic and well-preserved cars from the 1950s and bright colors have been well documented in movies and tourist guides, but the photos taken by the local mappers allow you to explore everyday Havana. You can now explore places like the Capitol building, Parque Central and San Salvador de la Punta Fortress, which historically guarded the entrance to Havana’s port. The fort was completed in 1630 and was used extensively until the end of the 19th century when its role as a protective bastion was greatly diminished with advancements in weapons. In addition to these historical sites, locals are also capturing important transport networks, showing how digital technology is being leveraged by citizens to create maps and improve infrastructure.
Svalbard, Norway (by barentz)
Svalbard is one special place. Upon arriving in Svalbard via ship or plane, you’re immediately in awe of the large and ominous mountains that dominate the icy landscape. Looking around, you feel you’re standing in some sci-fi epic more so than anywhere on Earth. Combine this with the months of darkness in winter and light in summer, and you wonder how humans ended up here at all.
The human history of the island is dominated by coal mining, with Russians, Americans, Swedes, and Norwegians all playing a central role in developing the infrastructure. Geologically the islands have seen a remarkable and rather odd history. Over millions of years, the islands have made their way from near the equator, past modern-day Europe all the way to their northern location between latitudes 74 and 81 degrees North. As such, the climate has changed from being one that supported lush tropical rain forests to one that supports only the toughest of mammals like polar bears, reindeer and the Arctic fox. With the era of coal mining coming to an end, Svalbard is battling with the dilemma of growing tourism while retaining what is one of the world’s last great wildernesses.
Pokhara, Nepal (by sashazykov)
Despite being Nepal’s second largest city, Pokhara is yet to be photo mapped. Both local mappers and tourists are helping to change that. The city is a world-famous hub for extreme sports, like paragliding, kayaking and whitewater rafting. For those seeking a more tranquil experience, Phewa Lake mirrors the mountains that surround it, creating what I’m told is a remarkable spectacle. Venture into the nearby forests if you’re seeking out wildlife like the intelligent Gray langur.
The city also serves as a gateway for treks in the Annapurna range. The Annapurna Massif itself haunts the annals of mountain climbing, being regarded as one of the most dangerous climbs in the world. Recent statistics make for sombre reading, with a fatality-to-summit ratio of 34%. Maybe it’s best to play with the monkeys and take selfies at Phewa Lake. In all seriousness, the region has a captivating beauty that entices many to wander beyond the city and into the mighty Himalayas.
Rothera Research Station, Antarctica (by Edward Young)
Continuing with the theme of icy locations, we’re jumping to the other side of the world, Antarctica! My colleague Janine convinced her friend Edward Young to take some photos when he was down there running a marathon, you know, as you do (you can read more about that here.)
These photos, some of the coolest on Mapillary, were taken at Rothera Research Station in the British Antarctic Territory. Rothera has an airport which serves as an important logistics facility for the territory, with propeller planes flying in from the Falkland Islands before continuing on to Britain’s forward-operating bases.
There are seven countries with territorial claims in the Antarctic, however the recognition of such claims is becoming contested. Today, there are 40 year-round research stations and 30 countries that operate bases in Antarctica. Scientific and economic interest in the region is set to intensify over the next few decades.
Easter Island, Chile (by lyonwj)
Although I have yet to visit, the heads of Easter Island elicit an erie feeling every time I see them. “The heads”, properly known as Moai, are thought to have been a way for the Rapa Nui people to honor their ancestors.
Perhaps equally remarkable and mysterious, however, is the fact that humans settled Easter Island as early as they did. The nearest continental point is 3,512 km away in Chile, making the island even more remote than many other contenders on this list. Despite this, estimates from carbon dating suggest settlement occurred sometime between 700 CE and 1200 CE. Archeologists are unable to narrow the date range further or categorically determine whether the first settlers came from the Gambier Islands (2,600 km away) or the Marquesas Islands (3,200 km away).
The presence of sweet potatoes has even encouraged theories that settlers came from South America, or that they at least had some interaction with the region. Whichever theory holds true, it is a testament to the remarkable seafaring ability of the first settlers that they could survive such a voyage on catamarans and leave such a lasting legacy with the Moai.
I hope you enjoyed this trip around the world to some of the more exotic locations the community has been capturing. What are some of the more remote locations you’ve travelled to or stumbled across on Mapillary?