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Food Hui organisers had heard about geogastronomy and invited us to send someone to talk about regional food. So we asked Fleur Sullivan, because she’s ebullient, engaging, a food legend of New Zealand AND a big fan of the Whitestone Geopark. So how was it?

“My part was to talk about our [Waitaki’s] food story. Everyone certainly knows me, and I guess they thought they knew my story, but no! Mine was a brand new food story! I said I’m here from the Waitaki district to tell you about this huge opportunity we have to create our own food story. A story of geogastronomy in what will be the only UNESCO Geopark in Oceania, located in North Otago.

Photo: Restaurant Association of New Zealand

Being a panellist was really exciting but I had only 15 minutes! I explained I can only get cranked up in 15, and the presenter said he would save me an extra 10. I told them about geogastronomy, how it connects the restaurateurs, from Riverstone at the river where in my grandfather’s memories the moa were chased to the water’s edge, their bones becoming the treasures now in the museum in Oamaru for all to look at. In the middle of Victorian Oamaru we have Cucina, who launched the first geogastronomy menu, and I’m down here in Moeraki, where we have the boulders and the remnants of early Maori habitation coming out of the cliffs.

In North Otago we have been given a gift that no one else has got. Within the region we have wonderful produce; history and a living heritage: the Waitaki Valley gives us the grains, wines and meat, Totara Estate exists in pristine condition, Clarkes Mill is all restored and begging for people to go there and they will, because it will be part of the Geopark. The people who will come will connect all these dots together. How can anybody look this gift horse in the mouth?

We have to raise awareness of our food, and raise a toast to our history. We’ll have more pride in what we’re doing if we have an understanding and a theme to it. The UNESCO brand offers us an umbrella of dignified tourism.

Photo: Restaurant Association of New Zealand

I want the district to know that it’s not going to cost them money, research is being done and should be done, and we need a governing body to ensure this happens and the Geopark Trust is that body.

If I could talk to the people who are negative about the Geopark then they would truly understand the pride they should have in our district. Look at the world, the poverty, the lack ‒ we have an abundance and a duty of care to protect it. The geosites won’t be damaged, they need to be safeguarded, and becoming a geopark will ensure that.”

Fleur sees parallels between the Geopark’s beginnings and the early days of the Goldfields Trust, which she helped start 30 years ago. “I had to sell the idea to a district larger than North Otago, and I struck such apathy setting it up! Now people bequeath their money to the Trust and there’s a huge amount of employment and income for everyone from farmers, farriers, horse dentists, saddlers … not to mention all the people on the route who feed and water the Cavalcade.

“I spent all that time in Central Otago watching tourists go on the ‘gold ribbon route’ (Auckland- Rotorua - Christchurch-Queenstown-Te Anau) while we in the hinterland were struggling for survival – it was the money from the goldfields that was taken north to establish our country and yet people did not realise that by using our history and our geology as a platform for marketing, we would attract valuable tourism dollars ‒ it’s like throwing a pebble in a pond and watching the ripples, and here in North Otago the catalyst is the Geopark.”

Moral of the story? “People have got to think about other people, have to got to be kind. Whatever you do in life, you can’t take it with you, so you shouldn’t stifle other people’s chances to be passionate, to do creative things. The Whitestone Geopark is somewhere you can take your children, enjoy, and give them the start in what could become a life-long journey of learning and possibly a career.

Along with the geological sites and everything that’s in the area, they will be able to enjoy the end product of all this wonderful fertility on their plate.

I am pleased to see that the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust has appointed a geo-educator to help educate the community on the district’s geology, and I would urge people not in favour of the UNESCO Geopark to contact her.”

About Eat New Zealand:

A not-for-profit New Zealand food movement dedicated to connecting people to our land through our food. We believe our home grown food is world class. The quality of our produce, the skill, creativity and passion of our people, and our spirit of respect and openness means the food we create is of the highest global standard. We're closer to the source. Pull up a seat at our table!”

“We're a New Zealand food movement dedicated to connecting people to our land, through our food. We're a collective of New Zealand's chefs, producers, media, tourism and event operators, who have all been inspired to create a national platform to promote and champion our best food, drink, and culinary tourism opportunities. We're working on increasing our unique culinary credentials by showing New Zealand’s food stories & people to the world.”

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