Waitaki Whitestone of 'global geological significance'

Jun 13, 2023

Waitaki River runs through the heart the newest UNESCO Geopark, Waitaki Whitestone.

The only UNESCO Global Geopark in Australasia wouldn’t have become so without mana whenua.

UNESCO Geoparks are areas of global geological significance, managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development. There are 177 such parks in 46 countries.

Waitaki Whitestone spans more than 7000km2 stretching from the east coast of the South Island through the Waitaki Valley to the base of the Southern Alps. The landscapes, rivers and tides of the area hold enormous cultural significance for Ngāi Tahu.

Te Rūnanga o Moeraki General Manager Victoria Campbell says the Geopark appellation is significant.

“It enables the Waitaki region to be showcased internationally as part of the UNESCO brand and marketing. It highlights the value and mana of the Waitaki region.”

Victoria Campbell explains how mana whenua input and interpretation of the history of the land was decisive in UNESCO bestowing the Geopark status.

“It wouldn’t have happened without our understanding of the landscape and our stories.”

She says the rūnaka spent several years on the project, working closely with the Waitaki District Council, Vanished World, University of Otago academics and the Waitaki community.

Te Rūnanga o Moeraki will be involved in managing visitor experiences in the Waitaki, including developing mana whenua-led initiatives associated with the geopark, Victoria Campbell says.

Waitaki Whitestone offers exceptional insight into the history of the Earth’s eighth continent, Te Riu-a-Māui (Zealandia). It provides evidence of the formation of the continent, which broke away from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana about 80 million years ago.

The continent then became submerged under the ocean for millions of years before tectonic forces thrust New Zealand above the waves and the current mountain-building phase began. Today, about 94 percent of Te Riu-a-Māui remains submerged, stretching from east of New Zealand all the way north to New Caledonia.

Victoria Campbell says the Geopark has so many amazing geological features.

“I recently took my son’s class on a field trip along the Āraiteuru coastline and up the Waitaki Valley.  The children loved learning that the valley used to be under water, identifying fossils, visiting the rock art, and learning about the Moeraki Boulders. For me, it’s the rich connection to the sea and the formation of the valley.”