Exploring Laurel Hill's Sugar Pine Forest

Laurel Hill’s Sugar Pine Walk is a gem of a location to both photograph and explore. For those who’ve already strolled amongst the pines—with golden light streaming through and a carpet of fallen needles crunching underfoot—you know the feeling. For those who are yet to visit, I hope my photos and descriptions here do the enchanted forest justice. 

Planted in 1928, the sugar pines have been left alone, growing unhindered into giants over the proceeding decades. While the walk itself is only 500m long, it’s easy to loose track of time simply wondering among the towering trees. 

How To Get There

The forest lies at the midway point of Sydney and Melbourne—about a 5 hour drive from either capital city. The plantation itself is located just north of the country town of Laurel Hill (and a 15 minute drive south of the more well-known Batlow). 

Arriving from the north, turn left onto Knopsens Road to enter Bago State Forest (if you reach Laurel Hill, you’ve gone too far). Follow the logging road (it's unsealed, but still accessible for 2WD cars) for about 400m into the forest, and on the right will be the car park and entrance to the Sugar Pine Walk.

Tip: Search for “Sugarpines Walk” in Google Maps, or use this link for the exact location.

All-Weather Photography

Under different lighting conditions, the pines seems to take on completely new identities, from golden forest to haunted woods to winter wonderland.

On most visits I've opted to walk among the trees on sunrise. With an open clearing to the east, the morning sun floods in, illuminating the forest floor in golden light and igniting the trunks aglow. Clear mornings also make for perfect conditions to capture sunstars shining through the trees (as in the topmost photo). To do so, align your camera on a shadow/sunlight boundary and use a small aperture (i.e. f/18 or f/22) to create well-defined light beams.

Yet even when the sun isn’t shining the sugar pines are just as photogenic—if not a bit more eerie. 

On a recent visit I had camped nearby, looking to capture more of that golden morning light. Yet overnight rain brought with it thick morning fog, blocking any and all sunshine into the forest. Unable to control the weather (as much as any photographer would dearly like to), I soon embraced the conditions for what they were and instead captured ghostly scenes of the limbless trunks against a fog-white backdrop.

Additionally, in the depths of winter when the conditions align, the local Tumbarumba region receives fresh snow—an oddity when country NSW comes to mind. I’ve seen photos of the forest blanketed in snow, but have yet to experience the curiosity for myself. Perhaps this year could be my year…

Flying High—The Plantation From Above

The rise of drone photography has opened up a new opportunity to capture the much beloved (and much photographed) forest.

On my most recent trip to the sugar pines, after the sun had set behind the western hills, I sent my drone up and over the plantation to capture the forest from above. The patterns from up there are unlike anything from the ground and only add to the charm of the forest.

In terms of composition, look to vary the drone’s height and camera angle. See what the forest looks like from 20m above, and then compare with how it looks from 120m above. Likewise, I tend to shoot most of my drone photos looking straight down onto the landscape, but experiment by tilting the camera to capture the tree tops on an angle.

Final Thoughts

I’ve wandered through the sugar pines of Laurel Hill over half a dozen times, yet the forest keeps drawing me back.

Perhaps it’s the limbless trunks towering above. Or the golden light flooding the forest of an early morning. Or the eerie streams of fog snaking through the trees on a brisk winter’s day. 

Whatever it may be, each time I walk away humbled by the grandeur of the giants, knowing I’ll return soon.