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Let us introduce to you one of our amazing Geoeducators Dr Sophie Briggs. She has been highly involved with the application to get the UNESCO Global Geopark status and is now leading the School of Rocks programme. 

Kids digging fossils

1. Tell us a bit about your background.

I grew up in Whakatāne, where I first became fascinated with geology while working as a tour guide on the active marine volcano Whakaari (White Island). I was fascinated by the power of the steamy fumaroles and the beautifully intricate patterns made by the sulfur crystals. This inspired me to study geology and learn more about the processes that shape Earth. After becoming familiar with some of New Zealand's world-famous geology as a university student, I wanted to see what the rest of Earth had to offer. This took me to Perth where I worked as an exploration geologist, quantifying the abundance of gold, iron, and even uranium in some remote parts of the Australian outback. The next stop was California where I did my PhD research, which lead to field work in Antarctica and back home in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. After travelling the world, I still think New Zealand is the most geologically fascinating place on Earth.

2. What makes the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark special for you?

We're lucky to live in a country with an incredibly diverse range of landscapes, rock types, fossils, and man-made features which together reveal the land's dynamic geologic history, and our place in that history. What I think really sets the Waitaki district apart is that everywhere you look there is a strong connection between us as humans and the geology around us. It is easy to remain oblivious to the fact that our towns, cities and our lives have been shaped by geologic processes, which generally operate on much slower timescales than we do. But I can go to Duntroon and see an ancient marine world frozen in limestone, and imagine what it would have been like back in a time when penguins stood taller than me. I can go to Cape Wanbrow and walk my way through the remnants of a calm, quiet ocean, punctuated by intervals of violent submarine volcanic eruptions. The fact that the sea level was so different back then reminds me that everything is in flux, and even dry land doesn't last forever. And then I can stroll back to town where the buildings and paving stones tell the same stories, and the local cuisine bears the mark of rich volcanic and limestone soils. The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark brings our geologic heritage to life.

3. What is your favourite place in the Geopark?

That's a tough one - I'm still discovering more hidden treasures all the time! A spot that's always been a favourite of mine is Boatman's Harbour on Cape Wanbrow, just around the coast from the penguin colony. At low tide you can hop down to the beach to look at the cliff face, which displays the most attractive 'pillow basalts' in the world (in my opinion). These pillows formed as basaltic lava oozed out slowly into the soft sediments on the seafloor. The blobs and tubes of lava stack on top of each other to form pillow-like shapes, with limestone filling in the gaps between them. Wave erosion has cut a vertical cliff face right through the pillows, revealing their crystal-rich interiors and glassy quenched rims. Although pillow lavas commonly form on the seafloor, it's rare for them to be exposed above sea level. That makes Boatman's Harbour a real gem.

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