Geopark nomination ‘enormous’

The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust is excited to be one step closer to having the area...
The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust is excited to be one step closer to having the area recognised as New Zealand’s first Unesco Global Geopark. Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher (left) joins (from left to right) Waitaki Whitestone trustee Melanie Jones, trust chairwoman Helen Jansen, Vanished World chairwoman Faye Ormandy, and Geopark geo-educator Sasha Morriss. Photo: Ashley Smyth
Four years of labour to have the Waitaki Whitestone recognised as New Zealand’s first Unesco Global Geopark is one giant leap closer to paying dividends.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisation (Unesco) Global Geopark Council has recommended the application made by Waitaki Whitestone be accepted by the Unesco executive board. A final decision is expected in April 2023.

Unesco assessors Nickolas Zouros, of Greece, and Anchel Belmonte Ribas, of Spain, visited the district for a three-day evaluation in July.

They were greeted with a powhiri at Te Runanga o Moeraki before visiting various attractions such as Te Kaihinaki (Moeraki boulders), Puketapu, Devil’s Bridge Wetland, Takiroa Maori Rock Art, Oamaru Lookout, Elephant Rocks, the Vanished World Centre and an education programme at Duntroon School.

Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust chairwoman Helen Jansen said the recommendation was a "huge accolade".

"It’s enormous for the Waitaki, it’s really significant for New Zealand, and in fact it’s significant for the whole of Oceania," Ms Jansen said.

During the annual Unesco Global Geoparks Council meeting in early September, council members assessed and considered nine new applications for Global Geopark accreditation.

It proposed to forward the nomination of seven new Unesco Global Geoparks to its executive board, for its endorsement during the European spring session next year —Waitaki Whitestone Geopark being one of them.

Some members of the trust tuned in remotely to the panel deliberations and had an "agonising wait" while they "dissected" other applications, Ms Jansen said.

"Then when they got to ours it took them about five minutes, and there was a unanimous decision ... which was just tremendous."

Fellow trustee Melanie Jones said the panel were excited by the fact this was a New Zealand first.

"For them, they were going, ‘this is fantastic, it’s a new country!’ That’s what got them so excited," Mrs Jones said.

"There’s other places in New Zealand that are desperate to become geoparks, so they want to set a really high standard."

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said he was "absolutely thrilled" at the news.

"We’ve seen what Dark Sky’s done for Mackenzie, and you know, there’s every reason to believe this will do for Waitaki a similar thing.

"But it’s absolutely not just about visitors. It’s about locals learning their own stories. It’s about those kids going and discovering geology, history," Mr Kircher said.

Ms Jansen said the vision of the trust was for Waitaki to become a place where kaitiaki of the land and its stories came together.

"The story of this land is of global significance and that has been recognised."

The journey began years ago with the vision of University of Otago geology professor Ewan Fordyce, and the volunteers of Vanished World, and it had been a "massive team effort from layers of people" ever since.

By Ashley Smyth