Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Becomes Aotearoa New Zealand’s first UNESCO Global Geopark.

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

One of 195

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.

“We are pleased to congratulate Waitaki on officially becoming Aotearoa New Zealand’s first UNESCO Global Geopark,” says Liz Longworth, NZ National Commission for UNESCO, Chair.

“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.” concludes Liz.

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.”


RNZ spoke to Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust chair Helen Jansen and Geopark manager Lisa Heinz about what it means to be a UNESCO Global Geopark.

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.

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. 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.

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. Te Rūnanga o Moeraki Upoko, David Higgins: “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.”

“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!” said Waitaki Mayor, Gary Kircher.

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