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  • Writer's pictureRach Stewart


The Wanaka Tree Photography Blog

The Wanaka Tree, That Wanaka Tree, That Willow Tree, The Wanaka Willow ... there are many names for the most famous tree in the world and whichever one you want to call it, we all know which tree you are talking about. The little willow growing in a lake in the town of Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand!

The Wanaka Tree started its life as a branch acting as a farmers fence post over 80 years ago and has since become an absolute sensation and celebrity, being top of the list for many landscape photographers.

Growing alone in the southern end of Lake Wanaka surrounded by the Southern Alps and crystal clear water, The Wanaka Tree has set itself up to be one of the most perfect landscape images available in New Zealand to both Wanaka photographers and anyone who visits.

I first photographed the Wanaka Tree in June 2015 which was a few years before it became the full celebrity that it is today. I had seen quite a few photos of it from other landscape photographers and decided that I had to see this little tree for myself.

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The June 2015 winter was an absolutely epic season with a lot of snow and a large dump just before I visited the South Island for the first time for landscape photography. When I finally got to see The Wanaka Tree, the surrounding mountains were covered in snow and it looked just as beautiful as all the landscape images I had seen previous to visiting.

One of the best things about the Wanaka tree and Wanaka photography is that the tree looks different in every season. The weather can change the look of the surrounding scenery making every visit something special, even in the pouring rain.

During summer the Wanaka tree leaves are green, Autumn they are yellow with the surrounding mountains (if you're lucky) covered with the first sprinkle of snow, in Winter the tree is bare but the mountains are white and wintery, and in Spring the leaves are starting to grow back.

The Wanaka Tree during winter with snowy mountains
A more recent photo of the Wanaka Tree with the bottom branch missing

Unfortunately in March 2020 the Wanaka Tree was vandalized with the bottom two branches being sawn off and left along the shoreline.

Eight years later I still love photographing the Wanaka tree any chance I can get. It truly is one of my favourite Wanaka photography scenes and I don't think I will ever get sick of seeing it.

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The Wanaka Tree is an easy 100 metre walk from the Wanaka Rotary Playground. There is a carpark nearby and just head left down the lake track and you will be at the tree in about 3-4 minutes.



I should just briefly note, that the Wanaka Tree is a celebrity in itself and the foreshore can get very crowded especially during the Autumn Season. My advice is to turn up early and claim the spot you want the most and stay there.

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In my opinion the Wanaka Tree is best photographed at sunrise as the sun comes up and creates the most beautiful light on the tree. Sunset is also nice but you lose the sun behind the mountains quickly and there is no light on the tree.


When shooting the Wanaka tree with the wide angle lens there are quite a few nice compositions you can set up on your screen to capture the Wanaka Tree.

Most of the wide angle landscape images I share in this blog are taken on my 16-35mm lens from various parts of the Wanaka tree shoreline.


The Wanaka Tree Autumn Photo
The Wanaka Tree taken on my 70-200mm lens

If you head back towards the carpark and set up a 70-200mm lens or similar, you can capture the Wanaka Tree cropped into the frame and compressing the mountains to look even bigger than what they appear to the naked eye.


There is plenty of room along the Lake Wanaka foreshore to move around and compose different angles of the Wanaka Tree and the mountains.

The Wanaka Tree sunrise with Mount Iron
The Wanaka Tree looking back towards Mount Iron



Winter would have to be my favourite season to photograph the Wanaka Tree. The surrounding Southern Alps are covered in snow and the tree is bare giving it such an ethereal feel on a cold winters morning when the early morning mist is around.


The Autumn Wanaka tree is a beautiful sight ... bright orange leaves adorn the tree and surrounding vegetation, and on quite a few occasions the mountains have had their first sprinkle of snow making for an incredibly beautiful Wanaka Tree landscape photo.


Summer at the Wanaka Tree
The Summer Wanaka Tree

The Wanaka Tree during Summer looks quite different to the Wanaka tree in Winter. The canopy is green and the tree is in full growth with willow leaves. I have only photographed the Wanaka Tree once during summer and it was in the middle of a storm (!!) so I've never seen it on a sunny day, but I loved the atmosphere the storm created giving the effect that it really was all alone out there in the lake.


The Wanaka Tree during spring
The Spring Wanaka Tree

In Spring time you might be lucky like I was and have a late snow dump on the surrounding mountains and see the Wanaka tree with new green shoots sprouting. I loved stopping by Lake Wanaka during the spring season and seeing the tree look so different to Autumn and Winter.

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And there you have all the information I have gained over 8 years photographing the Wanaka Tree! I hope it inspires you to come to New Zealand and explore this beautiful little tree for yourself.

If you are interested in prints of any of the New Zealand Landscape Photography seen in this blog, please feel free to head on over to my New Zealand Photography Print Store and have a little look around.


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