New Zealand

Oceania’s first UNESCO Global Geopark is Waitaki Whitestone Geopark

Aotearoa, New Zealand is now one of only 48 countries globally that has this distinguished UNESCO designation

The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark has officially been designated as New Zealand’s first and Australasia’s only UNESCO Global Geopark.

There are only 19 others in the Southern Hemisphere and New Zealand is now one of only 48 countries globally that has this distinguished UNESCO designation. There are about 1000 Geoparks around the world, however, just 195 have this highest designation. 

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UNESCO defines a Global Geoparks as: “a single, unified geographical area where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.” (UNESCO.org)

The tourism industry in the Waitaki is already set to show the largest increase in job opportunities for the district. With the addition of the UNESCO Global Geopark designation, this will be set to grow. 

The New Zealand tourism industry has another UNESCO-designated site to draw those already familiar with these significant areas of the world. Increasing numbers of tourists who are interested in engaging further with their destinations will stay longer and give back to their destination resulting in the Waitaki.

Aviemore lake Photo Credit: Mirror mountain, Danielle-van-Duin

This accolade highlights the importance of the region’s unique geological and cultural heritage.

Located in Te Waipounamu, the South Island of New Zealand, the Waitaki Whitestone UNESCO Global Geopark covers an area of over 7,200 square kilometres and is renowned for its diverse and spectacular geological features, including limestone cliffs, glacial valleys, and ancient marine fossils.

The UNESCO Global Geopark designation recognises the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark’s outstanding geological and cultural heritage and its commitment to sustainable development, education, and community engagement.

A Geosite in the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark.

The cumulation of many years of work by the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark and Vanished World saw the Executive Board of UNESCO endorse Waitaki’s nomination during their latest session in May 2023. The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust submitted its application to UNESCO in November 2019.

After a two-year wait due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the application was able to progress last year with an evaluation mission and the exciting news of being nominated as one of eighteen new UNESCO Global Geoparks. 

A Geosite in the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark.

The nominations were presented to the Executive Board of UNESCO for its endorsement during their session this week. The designation will bring many benefits to the Waitaki District and New Zealand as a whole. It will boost tourism and provide opportunities for local businesses and communities to develop sustainable tourism initiatives.

The Waitaki Whitestone UNESCO Global Geopark will also serve as an educational resource, providing opportunities for students and researchers to study the area’s geology and cultural heritage.

Chair of the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust, Helen Jansen, said: “We have always believed that this is a very special area, telling the story of the 8th continent. Despite interruptions, we kept the dream alive and kept working at it, and were prepared to be adaptable.

“It is the collective wisdom of many contributors over the years that has brought the Waitaki and New Zealand to this exciting and historic moment. We are making a significant contribution to the global understanding of the land and its cultures.”

View of boats and Cape Wanbrow at Oamaru Harbour

Te Rūnanga o Moeraki Upoko, David Higgins said: “We welcome the announcement and support from UNESCO Global Geoparks in the recognition of our ancestral landscape and cultural sites and their significance to Kāi Tahu whānui. We see this as a positive step forward to support our aspirations to protect these sites for visitors and future generations to enjoy.”

A Geosite in the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark.

Waitaki Mayor, Gary Kircher said: “This has been a long time coming – some would say it’s been 25 million years! But thanks to the work of many volunteers, we have succeeded in becoming New Zealand’s first UNESCO Global Geopark. The opportunities this creates for us now need to be built on, to make Waitaki the best Global Geopark in the Southern Hemisphere, sharing our stories with the world!”

A Geosite in the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark.

Liz Longworth, NZ National Commission for UNESCO, Chair said: “We are pleased to congratulate Waitaki on officially becoming Aotearoa New Zealand’s first UNESCO Global Geopark, in fact, the first one in Australasia.

“As a designated UNESCO Global Geopark Waitaki Whitestone Geopark is no longer a single entity but part of a network that raises awareness of our geological heritage on a global scale. A network that will help promote and enhance sustainable geotourism in the Waitaki region to a domestic and international audience.”

Bushy Beach

Geopark Manager Lisa Heinz said: “The desire to create a Geopark in the Waitaki started with the establishment of the Vanished World Trail and Centre in Duntroon and would not have been possible without the enormous contribution that the volunteer members of the Vanished World Incorporated Society have made. It is humbling to see how more and more communities have become an active part of the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark over the years.”

This milestone would have not been possible without the relentless effort of Waitaki communities. For this reason, the Geopark is planning a celebration weekend for the end of October, when the temperatures are warmer, with a variety of events and activities on offer.

The Trust hopes this will allow everybody to celebrate this milestone, learn more about our backyard, and feeling part of a global network of Geoparks that care for its environment and people.

The establishment and management of the Waitaki Whitestone UNESCO Global Geopark has been a collaborative endeavour from the start. The Trust would like to extend a special thank you to Te Rūnanga o Moeraki, Waitaki District Council, New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, Vanished World, Geology Department of the University of Otago, GNS Science, Tourism Waitaki, Key to the success of the application is the partnership with Mana Whenua. The Waitaki Whitestone UNESCO Global Geopark is a significant means of telling the story of the people of the land, OceanaGold, Adair Craik Chartered Accountants and Geopark ambassadors for their support and involvement.

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