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The first Global Geopark in NZ?

In 2000 a group of land owners and volunteers in the Duntroon area, with assistance from the Geology Department of Otago University, established the Vanished World Fossil Centre in Duntroon and the Vanished World trail with sites throughout the Waitaki District.  

For 17 years, Vanished World Inc has operated the ‘Vanished World Trail’ in the vicinity of Duntroon.

Scenic Moeraki Boulders at high tide

Recently the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO has invited Expressions of Interest in the establishment of up to two UNESCO Global Geoparks in New Zealand.

As the global geopark opportunity has been explored, it has become apparent that the Waitaki has a range of potential geosites (geologically-interesting sites are known as ‘geosites’ in the parlance of UNESCO Global Geoparks) falling outside the current geographic extent of the Vanished World Trail. All geosites within the district have been mapped. This process has resulted in recognition that virtually the entire Waitaki district is covered with geosites. As a result, the Global Geopark’s boundaries have been established as being the existing boundary of the Waitaki district.

On 30 April 2018 Council lodged its Expression of Interest (EoI) in establishing the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark as the Waitaki Whitestone UNESCO Global Geopark. It is anticipated that the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO will announce its decision regarding endorsement of Council’s bid on or about 30 May 2018.

Organisations and businesses that have expressed support for the Global Geopark application include Tourism New Zealand, The University of Otago, Waitaki Tourism Association, Tourism Waitaki, Riverstone Kitchen, Whitestone Cheese, Heliventures New Zealand and the Waitaki Valley Winegrowers Association.

Irrespective of the nature of the outcome of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO’s decision, the work undertaken over the past several weeks by all of the participants in the Project Group and the Advisory Group supporting the global geopark EoI has resulted in a much-improved understanding of the wide range of attractions that the Waitaki district has as a geo-tourism destination. Preliminary surveys of the numbers of visitors to some of our geosites have shown surprisingly high visitor attendances – especially in light of the fact that these sites are not actively marketed to any significant extent.

The establishment of the Geopark (and the potential for future endorsement by and adoption of the ‘brand’ of UNESCO as a UNESCO Global Geopark), along with the creation of substantial interpretation materials  and an attractive web site – means that numbers of visitors can confidently be expected to increase.  The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark web site is undergoing ongoing construction, and patience is requested as the site is gradually populated with information.

Visitors can continue to enjoy the Vanished World Trail, as interpretation and other assets are gradually developed in relation to the wider Waitaki Whitestone Geopark.

It is important to bear in mind that the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark is in its infancy, and will mature over time.  The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark will be inviting volunteers to assist with the ongoing development of the geopark following the 30 May decision of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO.

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