Newly planted forest a symbol of care, hope

The first roots of Queenstown’s "Welcome Forest" were put down on Saturday — and the man behind the idea hopes it will serve as a "challenge" to other communities to follow suit.The new forest, at Kelvin Heights’ Jardine Park, is designed as a symbolic welcome to newcomers to the Wakatipu.

Planting the native trees, including beech, totara, kowhai and wine berry, were about 100 residents, many of whom were migrants.

The project was run by Trees That Count, a spinoff of national environmental charity Project Crimson.

Its chairman Joris De Bres, the former race relations commissioner, said he returned to the Human Rights Commission last year after the Christchurch mosque attacks and started talking to several organisations about creating a national network of welcome forests.

Queenstown residents Franco Nobell, originally from Argentina, and Daniella Mercado, from Mexico,...
Queenstown residents Franco Nobell, originally from Argentina, and Daniella Mercado, from Mexico, plant a tree at Jardine Park’s new Welcome Forest. PHOTO: FEDERICO PAGOLA

"It’s basically creating a place where migrants or newcomers to a region or district can put down roots — it’s a kind of investment in the place for them, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity for the community to acknowledge and welcome migrants and newcomers," he said.


"We’ve had people from all over [on Saturday] — Argentina, India, China, the Philippines, Brazil, Ireland, America — it’s been interesting to see just how many people here are migrants and who have really valued the opportunity to create this forest which we hope will go on for many, many years to come.

"So it’s a celebration of the diversity of a place, doing something that both, in my view, expresses manakitanga, as a kind of welcoming and caring for people, and kaitiakitanga, which is caring for the environment."

Through the support of Z Energy, trees had already been donated to Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland this year for their welcome forests, but due to Covid-19, Saturday’s planting day in Queenstown was the first time Trees That Count had been able to hold an event to launch the forest.

Mr De Bres hoped the resort’s effort would "stand as a challenge to other areas ... to do the same all over New Zealand".

Also present on Saturday was Human Rights Commission race relations senior adviser Andre Afamasaga, who said Covid-19 had made "the new normal" a common phrase.

"The new normal is things like this — it’s just a wonderful symbol of what’s possible when different groups come together.

"We need to be intentional about building this wonderful, harmonious thing we all desire.

"It’s hope in a better future for us — there’s something so hopeful about the act of planting a tree.

"We’re not doing it for now.

"When our kids are adults, this is going to be an incredible location."

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