Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust delays Geopark application

Matakaea Shag Point. Credit: Kirsten van der Zee

The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark (WWG) Trust has decided, in consultation with the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, to delay its application for UNESCO accreditation of the Waitaki Whitestone aspiring Geopark (WWaG).

This decision was made following recommendations made in a report commissioned by the Trust and written by Professor Patrick McKeever, a founding member of the Global Geopark Network who visited the WWaG in February this year.

In his report, Professor McKeever complimented the team who produced the application, saying, “It is obvious that this is a very well-produced and designed dossier, carefully prepared, and backed by strong enthusiasm, dedication and drive. These are very strong assets to have when developing a UNESCO Global Geopark. There is enormous scope across the district for the development of strong and strategic partnerships”.

Professor McKeever firmly believes all the necessary components of a Global Geopark exist, but that there is a need to demonstrate this more explicitly. The key action areas required are generating further government support, implementing a coherent, consistent and modern signage, interpretation and branding strategy, which links together the many sites and facilities within the Geopark, a stronger expression of the relationship of Māori to the land, increased education and outreach; and increased public participation in Geopark activities.

Gerard Quinn, Executive Manager of the Geopark Trust, said, “I’m very pleased that we carried out our due diligence. Professor McKeever’s visit was extremely productive, in that it gave us good guidance and a clear picture of where we need to be. UNESCO accreditation will be a massive boon to the Waitaki – but it needs to be the whole of Waitaki: residents, businesses, accommodation providers, food producers and wine growers – with everyone on board to help us achieve it.

“At the end of the day this will be a community-owned and run project and the district is certainly starting to really get behind it and feel a sense of ownership. Corporate sponsorship is on the horizon so it’s important we continue our programme of education and encouraging community involvement so as to not lose the momentum we have gathered, while we act on the points raised in Professor McKeever’s report. He also recommended that Waitaki Whitestone Geopark increase opportunities to network with other Global Geoparks, so that, as the first geopark in Oceania, we can learn from friends with experience.”

Mr Quinn went on to say, “the Trust wishes to make an exemplary application on the way to becoming an exemplary Geopark, and we thus wish to solidify our likelihood of gaining UNESCO Global Geopark designation by actioning Professor McKeever’s recommendations.”

The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO affirmed withdrawing the current application will not prejudice the reception of an updated application to be submitted in November this year. This would delay an anticipated visit by UNESCO until June 2020.

“Meanwhile it’s full steam ahead for the Geopark project team and our partners. Community engagement has increased since Professor McKeever’s public lecture in Oamaru in February, and hopefully we will soon be able to announce our first commercial partner.  Our School of Rocks science programme is being delivered to local primary schools by Dr Sophie Briggs. Lincoln University’s Centre for Excellence in Sustainable Tourism for Regions, Landscapes and Communities is currently in the district establishing Masters and post-doctoral research which may provide a strategic environmental assessment to inform the Geoparks’ Masterplan.  And Visitor Solutions Ltd is well underway with the Validation Business Case which will estimate the economic benefit of the Geopark and provide confidence to future investors, both public and private.

The Trust is committed to putting its best application forward and becoming the first UNESCO Global Geopark in Australasia and Oceania.”