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The Waitaki Whitestone aspiring Geopark is one step closer to becoming New Zealand’s first UNESCO Global Geopark following the recommendation from the UNESCO Global Geopark Council to accept the application. The next step is for the Executive Board of UNESCO to endorse the recommendation which is expected in April 2023.

The cumulation of four years of work by the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark saw UNESCO assessors Nickolas Zouros (Greece) and Anchel Belmonte Ribas (Spain) visit Waitaki in July. The three-day evaluation mission began with a Pōwhiri at the Moeraki Marae before visiting various sites including Te Kaihīnaki / Moeraki Boulders, Puketapu, Devil’s Bridge Wetland, Takiroa Māori Rock Art, a helicopter flight across the region, Ōamaru Lookout Point, Elephant Rocks, Vanished World Centre, and an education programme with Duntroon school, just to name a few.

During the annual UNESCO Global Geoparks Council meeting in early September, the Council members assessed and considered 9 new applications for UNESCO Global Geopark accreditation. The UNESCO Global Geoparks Council proposed to forward the nomination of seven new UNESCO Global Geoparks to the Executive Board of UNESCO, for its endorsement during the 2023 Spring (European) session with Waitaki Whitestone Geopark being one of them.

Chair of the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust, Helen Jansen, says: “The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark’s vision is for Waitaki to become a place where kaitiaki of the land and its stories come together. The story of this land is of global significance and that that has been recognised with the recommendation to the Executive Board of UNESCO for its endorsement, is a huge accolade. It was the vision of Prof. Ewan Fordyce and the volunteers of Vanished World for many years. It has been a team effort with Te Rūnanga o Moeraki, the Waitaki District Council, GNS Science and the collaboration of so many across organisations in the community. We can all be very proud of this success, thank you to all involved.”

Te Rūnanga o Moeraki Upoko David Higgins warmly welcomes the recommendation from the UNESCO Global Geoparks Council. “To recognise the significance of the Waitaki landscape and its people in the endorsement for our takiwā to be proposed as the first Global Geopark in New Zealand, is something we see as a great step in supporting our aspirations to share our cultural histories and ensure our ancestors’ footprints are visible throughout the landscape.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled to get this news! The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark has been a passion for many of the people involved and I believe more people are discovering the benefits of just how well it can tell so many of Waitaki’s stories, and not just to visitors but to us as well. Getting recognition from UNESCO for our wonderful Waitaki to be New Zealand’s only UNESCO Global Geopark lets everyone know just what a special place our district is!” said Waitaki Mayor, Gary Kircher.

“We are pleased to congratulate Waitaki on taking another large step towards becoming Aotearoa New Zealand’s first UNESCO Global Geopark. This is a significant achievement and the result of years of hard work,” says Robyn Baker, NZ National Commission for UNESCO, Chair.

“Designated UNESCO Global Geoparks are known to bring in increased visitor numbers, both domestically and internationally. These visitors want to experience the natural environment through an educational and sustainable lens, which is a great way to value and share the unique attributes of the Waitaki region and Aotearoa New Zealand.” concludes Robyn.

Geopark Manager Lisa Heinz says: “While we must be patient for a little longer for the endorsement by the Executive Board of UNESCO, this positive response from the UNESCO Global Geopark Council is very encouraging. The commitment and enthusiasm of Waitaki communities over many years, even before the existence of the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust, made this application a success and is something to be immensely proud of.”

The establishment and management of the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark has been a collaborative endeavour from the start. The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust would like to extend a special thank you to Te Rūnanga o Moeraki, Waitaki District Council, New Zealand Commission for UNESCO, Vanished World, Geology Department of the University of Otago, GNS Science, Tourism Waitaki, OceanaGold, Adair Craik Chartered Accountants and communities of the Waitaki district and Geopark ambassadors for their support and involvement.

The official UNESCO media release can be found here.

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