Lonely Planet Writer

How you can help protect New Zealand’s Instagram-famous Lake Wanaka tree

The beautiful tree that rises out of the water of New Zealand’s Lake Wanaka provides the perfect photo opportunity for travellers – but some visitors are also putting it at risk.

The lone tree of Lake Wanaka. Image by Ian.CuiYi/Getty Images

Already an Instagram sensation, the world’s love for “that Wanaka tree” on the South Island could also lead to its deterioration, as some people are climbing up its unique branches. The willow even lost a limb before Christmas, with concerns that its deterioration could continue without efforts to stop it – and public awareness of the need to protect the tree.

Aerial view of the Wanaka tree, famous lone tree of South island, New Zealand. Image by Benjawan Sittidech/Getty Images

Now, the local tourism board is planning to install warning signs in English and Mandarin, along with a graphic that will discourage travellers from climbing the beautiful willow. While it is often surrounded by water, when lake levels are low, which they currently are, visitors are able to walk right up to it.

Tim Errington, the arboricultural officer for the Queenstown Lakes District Council, told Lonely Planet that the Wanaka tree is a crack willow – salix fragilis – with a name that’s derived from the fact that the wood is brittle and easily snaps. He explained that the tree is already in a challenging growing environment, as the roots of the tree are often totally submerged by cold water, which slows its growth.

That Wanaka tree in autumn. Image by Henryk Welle/Getty Images

Now, efforts will be made to protect the tree from sustaining any further damage. “Warning signs will be placed near the tree identifying the issues around climbing the tree, though we really want to avoid putting up fencing as this would have a significant impact on the amenity of the willow tree and take away some of the beauty associated with its stunning backdrop. Though, should any further damage be sustained, Queenstown Lakes District Council may have to look into more substantial solutions to the issue around people climbing and damaging this very unique tree,” said Errington.

The tree is famous to the point that it has its own hashtag – #thatwanakatree – with plenty of beautiful pictures showing it jutting out of a lake with the mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park in the background in every season. But with crowds of tourists all aiming for the same shot, visitors may have to wait a while to get that iconic capture of the tree. Thankfully, the surrounding area is full of incredible sights, worthy of a photo op – and if you have the money to spare, you could even stay in this incredible new ultra-luxury villa that provides 360-degree views of the lake.