Whitestone geopark work just beginning

Fergus Power.
Fergus Power.
The possibility of a geopark being established in the Waitaki district could be one step closer, but there is plenty more work to do, Waitaki District Council chief executive Fergus Power says.

The council's proposed Waitaki Geopark bid was this week named by the New Zealand National Commission for Unesco as its preferred candidate for certification as a Unesco Global Geopark.

The commission this year called for submissions for New Zealand Unesco geoparks for the first time.

The bid includes 101 sites of geological interest throughout the Waitaki district - from Palmerston, north along the coast to the Waitaki River mouth, and up the Waitaki Valley.

Mr Power said while exciting, the hard work to earn global geopark status had just begun.

"It's one milestone down and there's still two more milestones to meet, really."

Those included the preparation of a dossier that needed to be with Unesco's head office in Paris by November 30, which if signed off, would be followed by an inspection by geopark experts in 2019.

"The Unesco requirements are quite numerous and detailed," Mr Power said.

"The sorts of things they're keen to see demonstrations of is attention to good visitor management, environmental protection, ensuring the geopark is sustainable and making sure the geological sites ... are well protected. The geopark is rather large, in essence the entire Waitaki district and, of course, that's one of the real advantages. As a concept, it's a concept the community can buy into, really, from one end of the district to the other.

"A geopark isn't just about geology, it's about the interaction of humanity with those landforms."

A business case would be prepared by the project's project group, led by Mr Power, that demonstrated what level of external financial investment would be required and whether it was worthwhile.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment would be approached about support from its provincial growth fund, plus support would be sought from other government agencies and charities.

New Zealand National Commission for Unesco chairwoman Robyn Baker said Waitaki's application "checks all the boxes" required by Unesco.

"New Zealand has many areas of outstanding geological significance and having Unesco's official endorsement of its international relevance will be a huge coup for local community and indeed for the country. The New Zealand National Commission for Unesco is delighted to be introducing this programme to New Zealand and, of course, if Waitaki Whitestone becomes the first Unesco Global Geopark in New Zealand ... it will be hugely exciting.

"If Waitaki Whitestone is given Global Geoparks status we would expect it to see an increase in tourist numbers."

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