West Coast's 'walking' rātā wins Tree of the Year

The Walking Tree, winner of the 2024 Tree of the Year award, is located near Karamea cemetery on...
The Walking Tree, winner of the 2024 Tree of the Year award, is located near Karamea cemetery on the West Coast of the South Island. Photo: Supplied / Gareth Andrews
A northern rātā (Metrosideros robusta), located near a cemetery in Karamea on the West Coast, has won the Tree of the Year award in a landslide victory.

The tree, known affectionately as The Walking Tree, as it looks like it is walking across the paddock in high heels as well as having a resemblance to one of J R R Tolkien's sentient, tree-like Ents from Lord of the Rings, won 42 percent of the votes in the annual competition.

Brad Cadwallader from the Arboricultural Association told RNZ's Morning Report the tree captured the imagination of the New Zealand public.

"It just strode out into the lead right from the very start."

The northern rātā is one of New Zealand's tallest flowering tree species and can live up to 1000 years.

The Walking Tree had some strong competition, including from the famous tree in Lake Wānaka.

"It's a bit of a darling of the social media world, that Wānaka Tree, but it actually came last in the competition," Cadwallader said.

Another tree that was in the finals was a huge tōtara planted on Geraldine's main street on the site of the first house in the South Island town.

But it was the northern rātā that ran away with victory.

The area the tree is in was cleared around 150 years ago to make way for farmland, but the tree was left in the middle of the field.

"It's just west of Karamea township, by the cemetery. From the main road there you can look slightly north-east and you'd see it in the middle of the paddock.

"The farming family back then clearly thought it was special because they left it," Cadwallader said.

As for the famous pose the tree is in, Cadwallader said that was a bit of a mystery.

"Rātā begin their lives as an epiphyte up in the canopy of a host tree and then they grow down to the ground.

"That host tree has now gone. Maybe the tree was either very, very big, or there may have been another tree that fell and lent against the host tree, and that's why the roots have split near the ground and given it that walking appearance."

NZ Arb runs the Tree of the Year campaign.

President Richie Hill said the tree highlighted the uniqueness and diversity that existed within Aotearoa's notable tree population.

"This award recognises the significant role that trees play within our communities, not only enhancing our local environments but also providing a sense of place for past, present, and future generations," he said.