New Zealand’s most famous tree has been the victim of bad visitor behavior.
A willow tree at the southern tip of Lake Wanaka, which appears semi-submerged in the water and is a massively popular Instagram spot, was attacked by someone with a saw sometime around March 17, according to Stuff.co.nz.
One local told Stuff, “The famous lower branch that hangs horizontally out over the water that is really picturesque has gone.”
Locals reported seeing some branches that had been sawed off washed up on shore.
Located on New Zealand’s South Island about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Dunedin, the tree is known as #ThatWanakaTree – Google Maps even lists the spot’s name with the hashtag in it.
In 2014, Kiwi photographer Dennis Radermacher won the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year award for best landscape photograph for his picture of the tree, and since then its fame has continued to grow on social media.
Many consider the tree, which appears to be rising alone out the water, a symbol of hope.
Despite its out-of-the-way location – there are no posted signs or wayfinders – travelers will drive there just to get a snapshot, and a small local economy has sprung up around it.
The surroundings are just as beautiful as the lone willow. The lake is at the foot of Mount Aspiring National Park, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Te Wahipounamu.
The park is as notable for its fauna as for its flora – this is the only known home of the kea, the world’s only alpine parrot species.
New Zealand has a keen interest in preserving its many beautiful natural places.
The government asks visitors to sign the “tiaki promise” – a pledge to be good stewards of the environment – upon arriving in the country. “Tiaki” means “to guard” in the Māori language.
“We have a deep and symbiotic relationship with our environment here in New Zealand,” Stephen England-Hall, CEO of Tourism New Zealand, told CNN Travel when the promise made its debut.
“You are welcome to come and to experience our landscape, but we want you to please be mindful of the fact that it’s a really important place.”
Sadly, That Wanaka Tree is not the only natural site to deal with vandalism. In fact, it’s not even the only tree.
California’s popular Joshua Tree National Park has also dealt with the repercussions of social media fame and overtourism.
During the government shutdown in January 2019, visitors to the park cut down some of the namesake Joshua trees – which do not grow anywhere else on the planet – and left behind graffiti and litter.