Nothofagus Gunnii, also known as the Tanglefoot Beech, or most commonly as "Fagus", to Tasmanians, is a small (usually 1-2m) deciduous tree endemic to Tasmania, and the only native deciduous tree in Australia.
Fagus is an ancient remnant from Gondwanan times, when Australia, Antarctica, South America, New Zealand and India were joined as the supercontinent Gondwana. The distributions of remnant populations of the tree across some of these continents (and as fossils in Antarctica) was a crucial clue in the piecing together of Gondwana.
Fagus is a fragile plant, and only small populations of it remain in Tasmania's remote alpine areas.
In autumn, as the Fagus leaves change to rust red and gold colours, they put on a brilliant display that's something of a pilgrimage for Tasmanian walkers.
In the four years since I've moved to Tasmania, I've been promising myself every year to make the pilgrimage, but circumstances have always conspired against me. This year I finally took the chance.
The walk we chose was Crater Lake, part of the Cradle Mountain National Park. We chose this one mostly because it's a fairly easy walk.
The walk starts at the Ronny Creek car park, which is also the start of the famous Overland Track - the walk is, in fact, the earliest stages of the Overland. There are regular shuttle buses from the Cradle Mountain visitors' centre that pass Ronny Creek, but arriving early, we decided to park at Ronny Creek itself.
From Ronny Creek - making sure to fill in the Walker's Registration Book, even for an easy day walk! - cross the road, and set out on the boardwalked Overland Track. After 700 metres, there's a junction at a footbridge. Turn left and cross the footbridge. The track then ascends fairly gently to Crater Falls, a beatiful set of falls in a forested setting. This is a good spot to pause for a breather, and admire the falls as they cascade through sunlight dappled, moss-grown rocks and myrtle trees.
Continue on from the falls further uphill, to the boatshed at the outlet of Crater Lake. Here is where the waters of Crater Lake spill out and form the creek that cascades over the falls.
Here is where you'll also get your first glimpse of fagus. Continue on around the shore of the lake, drinking in the magnificent scenery. The surrounding hills of ? ridge are reflected in the deep, still waters of Crater Lake, and, if you are lucky enough to be there in autumn, the hillsides all around will be flushed with brilliant gold.
You can return the way you came, but we decided instead to continue on and return via Wombat Pool and Dove Lake.
Continue around the shore of Crater Lake, following the Overland Track in a roughly south-easterly direction, to where it climbs up slightly higher and meets up with the Wombat Pool track, just below the steep ascent to Marion's Lookout.
If you're feeling fit, the climb to Marion's Lookout is well worth it for some magnificent panoramas around the Cradle Mountain National Park. Having been there before (that was our excuse, anyway), we decided to give it a miss, and begin the descent to Wombat Pool. The track heads north, then turns east to Wombat Pool, a pretty alpine tarn, then descends to Lake Lilla and finally joins up with the Dove Lake Circuit, for a short walk back to the Dove Lake carpark, where we waited for the next shuttlebus, to make the journey back to our car, at Ronny Creek.
All in all, the walk covered roughly 5 1/2 to 6 kilometres, and took us approximately 3 1/2 hours, including plenty of stops to admire the views, as well as for lunch.