‘Waitaki Whitestone’ preferred candidate for UNESCO Global Geoparks programme

Moeraki boulders

Moeraki Boulders, one of the well-known tourist sites that would be part of Waitaki Whitestone. Credit: Kirsten van der Zee

The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO has endorsed the ‘Waitaki Whitestone Aspiring Geopark’ to bid for international UNESCO Global Geopark status.

Waitaki District Council submitted an expression of interest to become a Geopark in April this year. The proposed Geopark would encompass most of the Waitaki District. It includes well-known tourist sites such as Vanished World and Moeraki Boulders.

Waitaki district Mayor Gary Kircher says, “This is a real acknowledgment of the international uniqueness of our beautiful part of New Zealand. The Waitaki Whitestone Aspiring UNESCO Global Geopark is not only an asset for the Waitaki and Otago, but the entire South Island, and New Zealand as a whole.”

An independent Geoparks Expert Advisory Panel, established by the National Commission late last year, carefully considered all expressions of interest in the context of UNESCO’s criteria.

“We were impressed by Waitaki Whitestone’s well-considered, high quality application, which is already in an advanced stage of development,” says Dr Geoff Hicks, Natural Sciences Commissioner, New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, who chaired the Panel.

Waitaki District Council’s Chief Executive Fergus Power led the project team that developed the Expression of Interest document. “I am immensely proud of the effort that the entire team has put into this,” he says. “In just 90 days, they have created a world class document and a vision of an absolutely unique tourism offering. Success would not have been possible without the efforts of all of the volunteers (currently led by Mike Gray, the Chair of Vanished World) who have created the ‘Vanished World’ trail during the past 17 years. This trail lies at the heart of the geopark, and but for all of that effort, we would not have been in a position to launch our bid for UNESCO Global Geopark status.”

General Manager of Tourism Waitaki, Margaret Munro, echoed Mr Power’s sentiments and said that she looked forward to progressing the global geopark application. Ms Munro has departed for Greece to participate in a UNESCO Global Geoparks intensive course. She will also take the opportunity to visit UNESCO Global Geoparks in China before returning to New Zealand to assist with further implementation.

Waitaki District Council will submit a letter of intent to UNESCO by 1 July and will then be required to develop a full dossier by the end of November, which will be assessed by an expert team in Paris.

There are currently 140 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 38 countries. If Waitaki Whitestone is ultimately successful it will be the first in Australasia and would most likely gain UNESCO Global Geoparks status in 2019.

For more information about the UNESCO Global Geoparks and the Global Geoparks Network visit www.unesco.org/geoparks or www.globalgeoparks.org.