New Zealand’s most photogenic tree has become a star of social media and in doing so puts the South Island town of Wanaka on the world stage.

Tourism New Zealand is celebrating the fame of a lone tree that grew from a fence post in Wanaka on the South Island to become an unlikely social media sensation bombarded by Instagrammers.

“The straggly crack willow tree on the shores of Lake Wanaka is thought to be at least 80 years old,” 100% Pure New Zealand’s official website states. “Not so unusual, you might think. But more recently, this venerable tree has become a social media star. Known as #thatwanakatree it is attracting photographers from around the world, keen for the perfect shot.”

A custodian of local history, 85-year-old Wanaka artist and writer Gwenda Rowlands, remembers the fence line from nearly 70 years ago when she first visited it in a dinghy with her father and brother.

“It was 1939, and I remember it growing there – and that’s not yesterday,” she is reported as saying. “So it has been growing slowly all that time… it shows anything that is alive has a determination to live.”

The most photogenic tree on the planet

These days, dozens of amateur and professional photographers gather on the shores of Lake Wanaka at dawn and dusk to photograph the “most photogenic tree in the world”. The tree even has its own dedicated Facebook page and has been featured in international publications such as The Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald.

The hashtag #thatwanakatree has ticked over more than 13,000 times on Instagram.

The tree is the focus of photography tours and people pose naked beside it, have their wedding photographs taken in front of it or meditate beneath it.

To Gizelle Regan from Lake Wanaka Tourism, the tree’s popularity is thanks to its accessibility to the township of Wanaka, its symmetry, and the extraordinary backdrop of snow-topped mountains and a vast, shimmering lake. Regan calls the tree an “icon” that is quintessentially Wanaka and has helped to bring visitors to the town.

Five more famous trees

While famous on social media, Wanaka’s straggly willow isn’t the only tree to capture the attention of travellers throughout the world. Others include:

GENERAL SHERMAN: This tree in California’s Sequoia National Park is said to be the biggest tree by volume on the planet, with measurements from the 1970s marking at down with a volume over 52,500 cubic feet, 83 metres tall and 30m wide. Though said to be 2000 years old, it’s not overly ancient for a sequoia, which can live 3000 years. It’s named after a civil war general, William Tecumseh.

THE SUNLAND BOABAB: Located in Modjadjiskloof, South Africa, this monster is 22 metres high and almost 50m wide, and arguably the widest in the country and possibly the widest of the species on the planet.

9/11 SURVIVOR’S TREE: A simple little callery pear tree touches the hearts of many people around the world. It was recovered from the rubble after 9/11, and despite having a trunk charred and its upper branches shattered with only one of its branches alive, the NYC Parks Department gave it a lot of TLC at a Bronx nursery. It came good and in 2010 the tree was replanted at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

THE ASHBRITTLE YEW: Found in the remote village of Ashbrittle, this seven-trunked tree is thought to be Britain’s oldest living thing with experts suggesting the tree in the St John the Baptist churchyard is 3500 to 4000 years old. To put it in perspective, that means it was already mature when Stonehenge was born!

TREE OF LIFE: This Bahrain landmark is a mesquite tree which grows in the middle of desert. The tree is believed to be 400 to 500 years old. Its long roots probably have found some underground water source, but it is still a miracle as it is the only green living organism living in a vast and barren desert. The local inhabitants believe  this was the actual location of the Garden of Eden.

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