Witness the Turning of the Fagus in Tasmania

When the days get shorter and the nights get chillier, you know autumn is setting across Tasmania and one of the most spectacular natural phenomena is hot on our heels – the turning of the fagus. During this time, Tasmania’s highlands are set ablaze as the leaves of fagus trees turn to magnificent hues of red, orange, and gold before dropping for winter.

The turning of the fagus draws bushwalkers far and wide as they take their annual pilgrimage into Tasmania’s bush in hopes of witnessing the most fiery displays the fagus can offer. If you’re keen to join them this autumn, here’s the lowdown on the history behind the tree and when and where to go to catch Tasmania in its most stunning autumn state.

The Tree

The turning of the fagus is all thanks to the deciduous beech (Nothofagus gunnii). Best known as fagus, you may also hear it referred to as tanglefoot by bushwalkers who have been tangled up in its twisted, ground-hugging limbs. 

The fagus is the only cold-climate tree in Australia and is endemic to Tasmania, preferring the cool and damp climates of Tasmania’s western, southern, and central highlands. This short tree struggles to reach its peak heights of 2.5 metres, so it can look more like a shrub growing around lakes or scattered on rocky hillsides. 

Acting as a living fossil, the fagus tree is a reminder that Tasmania used to be part of the supercontinent of Gondwana. When Gondwana broke up, the landmasses of South America, New Zealand, and Australia drifted north with beech trees on board.

The Leaves

The fagus stands out amongst its neighbours in autumn as its green leaves turn to shades of red, orange, and gold before dropping completely for winter. But why does this tree act in this particular way? In short, when the days are long and there’s more sunlight, a pigment called chlorophyll keeps leaves bright green. When autumn takes over and there’s less sunlight, less chlorophyll is produced, fading the leaves into their red, orange, and gold hues before they drop for winter.

When To Go

There is only a short window to see the turning of the fagus in its most riotous and vibrant state. While Mother Nature controls the exact timing of the ‘turn,’ it typically takes place from late April to early May

Since it only lasts around three weeks, when you hear that the fagus is turning or see photos start to flood social media, grab your camera and bushwalking gear and travel to a fagus hot spot as soon as possible.

Where To Go

To catch the annual turning of the fagus up close and widespread, lace up your bushwalking boots and head out to one of the two most popular fagus-viewing destinations: Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park or Mt Field National Park. 

Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park

Up north, Cradle Mountain’s iconic mountain peaks and landscapes turn into a golden paradise that bushwalkers and photographers can’t stay away from this time of year. There’s a number of walking tracks throughout Cradle Mountain, but these are the ones that are most likely to lead you to fiery Fagus:

  • Dove Lake Circuit
    • Distance: 6 km
    • Time: 2 hours
    • Starting Point: Dove Lake Car Park
  • Weindorfers Forest Walk
    • Distance: 750 m 
    • Time: 20 minutes
    • Starting Point: Waldheim chalet
  • Crater Lake Circuit
    • Distance: 7.25km
    • Time: 3 hours
    • Dove Lake Car Park

Mt Field National Park

Mt Field National Park is also popular in autumn as bushwalkers in the south chase the turning of the fagus. These are the best treks to see the fagus, including options for avid bushwalkers and those who prefer to stay in the warmth of their car:

  • Tarn Shelf Circuit
    • Distance: 15.5 km loop
    • Time: 5-6 hours
    • Starting Point: Lake Dobson Car Park 
  • Seager’s Lookout
    • Distance: 2.90 km
    • Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
    • Starting Point: Lake Fenton Car Park
  • Lake Dobson Road
    • Drive past the boulder section and you’ll see the fagus through the window

Gear Up

If you’re heading out on a ‘turning of the fagus’ trek this year, be sure to grab your beanie and layer up to stay warm and comfortable. Here are our top picks for autumn bushwalking gear: