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New Zealand's famous Wanaka tree, a symbol of hope, vandalized

The most famous tree in New Zealand — and possibly in the world — was tragically vandalized this week, according to police. Locals view the tree, located in Lake Wanaka, as a symbol of hope.

Wanaka police said Thursday that they are investigating the situation after a report of vandalism. They are looking to speak with anyone who may have information regarding the incident, which they believe occurred overnight on Tuesday.

Branches appear to have been hacked off of the willow tree, which stands alone semi-submerged in the water at the southern tip of the lake, on New Zealand's South Island.

"The tree, a local tourist attraction at Roys Bay, was discovered damaged early on 18 March with several large branches having been removed without authorization," Area Response Manager Senior Sergeant Miriam Chittenden said in a statement.

The tree, known on social media as #ThatWanakaTree, is a very popular Instagram spot and tourist attraction — it's even listed on Google Maps using the hashtag. Comparing older pictures to those taken recently, one of the iconic lower branches that typically hangs horizontally above the water is now missing.

The branches of the Wanaka tree were found stranded on the shore. Luisa Apanui Photography
Locals were devastated to learn of the vandalism. Luisa Apanui Photography

The branches were found discarded on the shore. Local photographer Luisa Apanui called the vandalism "heartbreaking," especially given the "negative news at the moment" surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, which has heavily impacted tourism

"Everyone is pretty devastated. The tree even survived the floods in December and it's so sad to see someone did this on purpose," Apanui told local media.

"This tree in Lake Wanaka is one of the most famous scenes in all of New Zealand, but apparently someone decided to take a saw to it yesterday and cut off some branches," a tourist wrote on Instagram. "People are not happy about it at all."

"A lot of people here today, just standing here, asking the same thing ... Why?" another wrote.

In 2014, Dennis Radermacher won New Zealand Geographic's photographer of the year in the landscape category for his picture of the tree. "'The Lone Tree' has weathered the lake's rises and falls for at least 20 years; its bare branches offer a resting place for shags," the description of the winning photo said.

Wanaka Tree, Lake Wanaka at sunrise, New Zealand
Lake Wanaka at sunrise, before some of the tree's branches were sawed off.  Getty
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