28 Jul 2019

How a geopark could benefit Waitaki

9:08 pm on 28 July 2019

A new research project into Waitaki's aspiring UNESCO Global Geopark could help other councils break ground with their own bids.

Waitaki River.

The Waitaki River. Photo: Paul Le Comte

The Waitaki District Council and Tourism Waitaki are putting together a submission to become the first UNESCO geopark in Australasia.

The new project, led by Helen Fitt, a postdoctoral fellow at Lincoln University, is considering how the community can benefit if the bid goes through.

"As the first New Zealand aspiring geopark, this area is breaking ground for New Zealand. It's an exciting place to be doing research," Dr Fitt said.

Dr Fitt said it could trigger more councils to apply for the special status.

"The New Zealand national commission for UNESCO can recommend up to two geoparks a year to apply for this status.

"It seems quite unlikely that this will be the last geopark to go forward.

"So, it's an excellent opportunity to learn ... both that we can make this one as good as it can be, but also to feed into the development of any subsequent New Zealand geoparks."

Dr Fitt started researching geotrails was part of a memorandum of understanding between Lincoln University and the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust.

Looking at other established geoparks around the world, she said different operators were starting to work together more closely.

That was part of what she was examining as she gathered a range of perspectives on the potential UNESCO geopark.

The title of her research is exploring integration opportunities for tourism operators through the creation of geotrails in the Waitaki Whitestone aspiring global Geopark.

"In geotrails, what you often have is connection of different elements of business. For example, there's one geopark ... where there is a white water rafting trip which is combined with geology education around how the local landscape that you're rafting through was formed.

"When you look at the offerings that there are in the Waitaki district, there are quite a lot of small operators working, to some extent, on their own at the moment and connecting some of those together into more cohesive offerings."

Not everyone was onboard with the prospect of a geopark on their doorstep, Dr Fitt said.

"On one hand there's a huge amount of enthusiasm from some of the local operators who are really keen to share what's special about the area, and they have enormous passion for what they do and for the place in which they do it.

"Some people do have concerns about what increased tourism might mean for the area."

"One of the really big challenges is bringing the different views together in something which can generate progress and change."

The research could prove a boon for the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust as it prepares to lodge its latest application - a one was submitted to UNESCO in November but later withdrawn.

Dr Fitt said she hoped her research could help with the bid.

"I very much hope that the research will be able to inform what the geopark trust decides to do."

The report on her findings is expected to be publicly released later this year.

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