Image: Footprints Waipoua - Tane Mahuta

World First 'Family of Ancient Trees'

Image: Kauri Walks sign

Background and Concept: the World's First Sister Tree Relationship as documented by Tourism New Zealand Japan Office

Tane Mahuta, Waipoua, New Zealand and Jomon Sugi, Yakushima, Japan


To establish the world's first sister tree relationship, raising the profile of both the regions and encouraging international tourists to experience both destinations. To showcase New Zealand's leadership in the development of cultural and environmental tourism strategies and products.


For both regions to learn and share knowledge that helps to foster continued prosperity and protection of unique environments and cultures for future generations to enjoy. In time other significant trees, surrounding communities and cultures can be introduced to this concept.


Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) Japan has been promoting the Northland region and more specifically the Waipoua Forest as a place to learn about the history, culture, and unique flora and fauna of New Zealand for over 5 years. Tane Mahuta, is the largest kauri tree in New Zealand, and is an icon of both the region and the nation and continues to impress hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

Two years ago TNZ realized that over 250,000 local Japanese a year visit Yakushima (now 400,000) and of that 50,000 visit a similar tree on Yakushima (Yaku Island) off the coast of Kyushu in southern Japan. We were put in touch with the head of the local tourism authority, and local businessman on Yakushima including Mr. Shiba, a leader and eco warrior who for many years campaigned for the protection of the natural environment of Yakushima and for this environment to secure World Heritage Status.

Following a visit to Yakushima by TNZ staff member Naoki Inohiza, we realized that there were many similarities between not only the two famous and very old trees, but also the history and culture of the two places and their current economic situation. TNZ thought that the type of people visiting Yakushima were likely to be similar to TNZ's target audience and that if only 5% of the visitors to Yakushima came to see NZ's big tree, it would have a significant impact on tourism to NZ and the Waipoua and Hokianga districts. It was realized that this could be the hook to get these people to visit New Zealand and Waipoua and so the idea of an official sister tree relationship was conceived.

Through the promotion of the kauri forest, TNZ Japan had met Koro Carman and Shane Lloydd, co-owners of Footprints Waipoua, a tour company based in the Hokianga that conducts guided day and night walks through the Waipoua Forest. TNZ invited them both to Japan in March 2007 to a tourism trade show to introduce the Japanese travel industry to a nt side of Maori culture, story telling. Whilst in Japan, Shane and Koro visited Yakushima with TNZ staff Naoki Inohiza and Ayako Takei and met with Mr. Shiba and the local community.

This meeting was the start of a very powerful relationship that exposed the similarities in history, culture, spirituality, language, and vision. Soon after that TNZ staff visited Waipoua and met with the local Maori community to talk about the opportunity of tourists coming from Japan, to their region to learn about their culture and to see the great tree, and more importantly, the benefits that this could bring to their communities through employment and economic growth, a vision that Shane Lloydd and his family have had for the region for many years.

In November 2007 TNZ held an event in the Roppongi Hills area of Tokyo that celebrated the contemporary nature of some of our musical talent. At the end of this trip, another group of TNZ staff, including CEO George Hickton, Regional Manager - Japan Jason Hill, Naoki Inohiza and Kylie Ruwhiu-Karawana accompanied Shane Lloydd and Koro Carman to Yakushima Island.

TNZ realized that there was a great story to be told, two cultures, two communities, and two great trees, growing and developing for thousands of years, on opposite sides of the equator, both struggling to protect their environments, both struggling to protect their culture, and both looking for ways to reinvigorate their communities. The spiritually and physically powerful symbols of both places are Tane Mahuta and Jomon Sugi.

There are currently 47 sister city relationships between NZ and Japan but not one with the Hokianga and Waipoua regions. Why establish another sister city relationship when we could establish the world's first sister tree relationship and then use this process as a template to include other globally recognised ancient trees so that other surrounding communities and future generations can benefit from enjoying a sustainable pathway forward.

Timeline of Project Activities:

2002 - TNZ starts a trade focused promotion for Northland titled Kauri, Maori, Bay of Islands.

2006 - TNZ introduces story telling as a way to introduce our regions and our country to the world.

2007 - March:

2007 - April:

2007 - November:

2008 - January:

2008 - April:

2008 - May:

2008 - June:

2008 - August:

2009 - March:

2009 - April:

Family of Ancient Trees to Boost Tourism

Tourism New Zealand Press Notice: 23 April, 2009

Two of the world's oldest trees could help bring more Japanese visitors to New Zealand.

The two trees - Waipoua Forest's giant kauri Tane Mahuta and Jomon Sugi, a giant cedar on Yakushima Island off the coast of Japan - have brought the two countries closer in a ground-breaking 'Family of Ancient Trees' agreement to be signed in Northland today.

The agreement, much like a sister city relationship, will see the two trees promoted together in both countries. Japanese travel agents are already planning products and brochures that will see Tane Mahuta promoted alongside domestic travel to Yakushima.

"Yakushima is Japan's most popular World Heritage Site in terms of domestic travel with around 250,000 Japanese visiting the island each year. The connection between the two trees will give Japanese nature-lovers a compelling reason to visit New Zealand," says Tourism New Zealand Chief Executive George Hickton.

"New Zealand's natural beauty is already the key attraction for international visitors and the Japanese market is no exception," says Mr Hickton.

Japanese officials arrived in New Zealand on Tuesday accompanied by media outlets Kyodo News, MBC TV, Nishi Nihon newspaper and Minami Nihon newspaper, which have a combined audience of more than 3.5 million. The agreement is also currently one of the top 10 listings on Yahoo Japan's homepage.

New Zealand guests including the Minister of Conservation Tim Groser, members of local iwi Te Roroa, local councillors and Tourism New Zealand representatives will also attend the signing.

Mr Hickton says Tourism New Zealand intends to expand the initiative to include trees of significance from other countries around the world.

"The family tree project is a living example of kaitiakitanga, or guardianship of the environment, a core value in the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2015. This project fits well with Tourism New Zealand's work in Japan to promote walking holidays in New Zealand and provides an opportunity to share New Zealand's environmental attractions with others."

Japan is New Zealand's fifth largest tourism market and one of our highest spending markets. Though visitor arrivals from Japan have been in decline in recent years, average spend by visitors from Japan increased 16 per cent to NZ$4,290 in the year to December 2008.

Benefits of the Project:

Waipoua, Hokianga, and Kaipara communities


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Updated: March 2014 | © 2014 Footprints Waipoua