Updated: Aug 14, 2019
Helen Fitt started researching geotrails in Waitaki in July. A postdoctoral fellow at the Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Tourism at Lincoln University, Helen (“Since my recent PhD I’m Dr Fitt, rather than Miss Fitt,”) will be the first to commence research under the memorandum of understanding signed last year between Lincoln University and the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust (WWGT).
With the title: Exploring integration opportunities for tourism operators through the creation of geotrails in the Waitaki Whitestone aspiring global Geopark, Helen’s project explores opportunities for tourism-related businesses associated with the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark. Particularly, it considers whether there may be opportunities for local businesses to develop closer relationships with each other and the Geopark through the development of ‘geotrails’.
Geotrails combine the provision of information about the geological landscape with other local activities or attractions with the aim of enhancing visitor experiences. They commonly combine geological education with local gastronomy (including food and wine), attractions (including cultural heritage and biodiversity), and mobility—or ways of getting around (including activities like cycling, horse riding, rock climbing, or scenic flights); one Geopark in Germany has a geotrail that mixes wine tourism with educational activities around geology and soils, whilst a geotrail in Austria combines white water rafting with education on glacial processes and formation of the local landscape.
The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust has already begun efforts to create a ‘geogastronomy’ trail so Helen’s research will begin with engagement with the local gastronomy sector and may expand into local attractions and mobility: ways of exploring, interacting or moving through the environment such as mountain biking, horse-riding, walking and climbing: “which is a very direct interaction between people and geology!” The research will explore opportunities for the creation of geotrails within the Waitaki district and the strategies that might be needed to facilitate their development. “It’s all about building a regional coherence which ties together the various offerings,” she explains.
Her first thoughts? “It’s important to note I’ve only spoken to a few operators so far. All are really passionate about what they’re doing, keen to develop the area and tell people about their business. But a need for a sector representative to link the respective parties is something that has already come up. People say they often don’t know who to talk to – is it the Geopark Trust, Waitaki District Council or Tourism Waitaki? They would really like a designated person to go to with issues or questions.”
Dr Fitt doesn’t have set expectations about the research’s outcomes. “I want a range of views and perspectives, I need to find the people who aren’t engaging or are engaging negatively with the geopark; hear from them, and start a conversation. While the research is conducted under an MOU it is carried out independently so people can feel free to be truthful. I want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly.” Helen expects her interviews to be finished by the end of August, with a report produced in September, in time for WWG Trustees to use the findings in the resubmission for UNESCO
accreditation, should they choose to.
New WWG trustee Helen Jansen says, “One of the key aspects of a successful geopark is education, done by telling the stories of the area: how it evolved, is connected, and the influences of time, geological forces and eventually people. The geotrails provide a marvellous vehicle for telling those stories. There are any number of 'routes' through the Waitaki that have stories. Having independent input into what the community feels the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark could offer guides the understanding of those of us that are pioneering this designation in New Zealand.”
People involved in gastronomy in Waitaki who are interested in being part of the study can contact Helen Fitt directly by calling 03 423 0482 or emailing Helen.Fitt@lincoln.ac.nz.