Large-scale . . . The Elephant Rocks tower over the visiting geopark proponents, New Zealand National Commission for Unesco commissioners and members of the commission's expert advisory panel. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Waitaki is getting closer to establishing New Zealand’s first Unesco Global Geopark.

On Monday night, the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust deed was officially signed in a ceremony at the Oamaru Opera House.

About 100 people watched as Mayor Gary Kircher, Te Runanga o Moeraki upoko David Higgins and Vanished World Trust chairman Mike Gray put their names to the deed that sets up a seven-member trust to oversee the park if it receives Unesco approval.

The party is dwarfed by the Anatini limestone formations. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

New Zealand National Commission for Unesco chairwoman Robyn Baker and two Unesco Global Geoparks expert advisory panel members – natural science commissioner Dr Geoff Hicks and Landcare Research Maori development general manager Holden Hohaia – spoke to the crowd after touring some of the 101 identified Waitaki “geosites” during the day.

Their visit continued on Tuesday with a helicopter tour and inspections of further historic sites.

The event was a “dry run” for when Unesco Paris assessors were likely to arrive early next year, Dr Hicks said.

The geopark proposal is founded on Waitaki’s spectacular 35 million-year-old geology, including volcanoes, moa, 2m-tall penguins and shark-toothed dolphins. Its formations and fossils are rated among the world’s best and are also largely accessible to visitors.

The Unesco Global Geopark network celebrates geological heritage and promotes sustainable economic development through tourism while safeguarding natural treasures.

Dignitary . . . New Zealand National Commission for Unesco chairwoman Robyn Baker speaks at the geopark official signing event on Monday night. PHOTO: HAMISH MACLEAN

Mr Kircher said the project owed much to the Vanished World volunteers who had worked tirelessly for the last 17 years.

“Without the efforts of these far-sighted people, we would not have been in a position to bid for Unesco Global Geopark accreditation.

“We have yet to complete the business case for the geopark, but it is clear that we have some very special features and stories to tell, and people will want to come to our place to experience them.

“That is going to be good for the whole district, with sites spread right across the 7000sq km of Waitaki.”

Waitaki District Council chief executive Fergus Power said a final dossier was being prepared to be sent to the Unesco Secretariat in Paris in November.

“I am confident we will be successful,” he said.

– Additional reporting by Hamish MacLeanurl cloneNike