Geopark evaluation begins

International evaluators have arrived in the Waitaki district to consider the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark’s application to become the first Unesco Global Geopark in New Zealand.

For the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark, the evaluation is the culmination of four years’ work.

The trust submitted its application for Unesco Global Geopark status in November 2019, but the border closures due to Covid-19 had prevented international evaluators from visiting New Zealand to assess whether the Waitaki geopark is suitable until now.

"Getting to the point of assessment to become part of the Unesco Global Geopark network is no small feat," Tourism Waitaki general manager Margaret Munro said.

The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark trust had been working on the Unesco project since 2018, with support from the Waitaki District Council, Tourism Waitaki, iwi and stakeholders.

With few other Global Geoparks in the South Pacific, the evaluation was a "once in a lifetime opportunity" for the Waitaki district and it should not be underestimated what Unesco status could do for the district’s profile nationally and internationally, Mrs Munro said.

"Geoparks are such a new concept in New Zealand, but across Asia and the northern hemisphere they have proven to be drawcards for all sorts of visitors, offering an experience wrapped around the natural environment through a distinctive educational lens," she said.

"We are all hoping for the best outcome from the Unesco assessment taking place next week."

The three-day evaluation starts today with a powhiri at the Moeraki marae.

The international assessors, Nickolas Zouros, of Greece, and Anchel Belmonte Ribas, of Spain, will then visit various sites across the district, including the Moeraki boulders, Puketapu, Devil’s Bridge wetland, the Takiroa Maori rock art shelter, Oamaru’s Lookout Point, Elephant Rocks and Duntroon’s Vanished World Centre. They will also take a helicopter flight to view the district from above.

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