Australia is an enormous country with huge climatic variation, but summer tends to be warm or hot wherever you go. While popular cities like Sydney and Melbourne 'only' see average high temperatures of around 78° F (25° C), it's not unusual for them to experience heatwaves with temperatures of more than 100° F (37° C). At these times, locals and visitors alike flock to the beaches; fortunately, there are many excellent options around all of the main cities (with the exception of inland cities like Canberra and Alice Springs!) Coastal cities are also much more humid than inland ones, so this can make relatively lower temperatures feel more uncomfortable.
In Australia, 'south' doesn't automatically mean cooler temperatures in the summer, as southern cities like Melbourne and Adelaide can get very hot, and inland Victoria and South Australia have broken heat records. But the southern island of Tasmania, Australia's only island state, is significantly cooler in summer. It's surrounded by sea and has mountains inland. Although it does get hot, and has suffered from devastating bush fires in recent years, if you can only travel to Australia in the Southern Hemisphere summer and aren't a fan of scorching temperatures, Tasmania is a good option. The average January high in Hobart, Tasmania's capital, is 70° F (21° C).
Summer can be a dangerously hot time to be in the desert. Inland towns tend to be much hotter than coastal ones, with some of the hottest recorded temperatures on earth occurring in inland Australia in the summer. The opal mining town of Coober Pedy in South Australia, for example, has some underground housing to help beat temperatures that regularly reach 107° F (46° C) in January. Outback road trips aren't recommended in January: breaking down could be deadly.
The further north you go, the wetter it's likely to be in January. Although more southern cities like Sydney and Melbourne can experience rain in the summer, their wetter seasons are autumn and winter. But Australia's most northern city, Darwin, is very wet in January, as is Northern Queensland.
Crowds and Costs
January is a popular time for international travelers to visit Australia, because for many from the Northern Hemisphere, Australia in January means escaping a cold winter. Australians also tend to be on vacation in January, especially earlier in the month, as the summer school holidays run from mid-December to late January.
In January, expect beaches in many popular areas, especially along the length of the New South Wales coast, to be at their busiest. Sydney beaches (such as Bondi, Cronulla, and ) can get pretty crowded, but that's not the case everywhere.
Domestic airfares also tend to be more expensive in January, or need to be booked well in advance if you're on a limited budget. Accommodation around the New Year period should also be booked far ahead of time.
Where to Go
If you're traveling to Australia in January it's best to stick to the coastline of New South Wales (including Sydney) and Victoria (including Melbourne), or cross the Bass Strait to Tasmania. These places can experience very high temperatures, but there will be more ways to find relief, and plenty of fun activities in mid-summer.
If you do want to venture to northern areas in January, be aware that you won't be able to swim in the sea in many places because of the presence of deadly box jellyfish. In north Queensland and northern Western Australia, they linger from November to May. These aren't just 'ordinary' jellyfish that will give you an uncomfortable sting: box jellyfish can kill an adult within minutes. Other nasty, but slightly less deadly, jellyfish are also present.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
What to Do
If you love lazing on a beach or water sports, January is a great time to be in Australia. City beaches in Sydney (Bondi, Manly) and Melbourne (St. Kilda) are convenient if you're staying in the city as they're just steps from big-city facilities yet have (perhaps surprisingly) clean waters and sands. New South Wales and Victoria have a long and beautiful coastline, so if you'd prefer a more remote or small-town beach destination, there are many options.
Aside from beaches, lovers of the outdoors can enjoy hiking or gentle sightseeing in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, the highlands of inland New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory/Canberra, and Tasmania. You don't have to go far off the beaten path to spot famous Australian wildlife like kangaroos—in fact, it's not uncommon to see them lounging on the lawn of a house in Australia's bush capital, Canberra! For rugged, long-distance trekking, you can't beat Tasmania. Almost half of the island is protected national park or reserve land.
And, of course, if you want to enjoy big-city attractions with a bit of air conditioning, the museums, galleries, shops and restaurants, theme parks, zoos, and aquariums of Australia's cities are top-notch.
Country Music Festival, Tamworth. The Country Music Festival in rural New South Wales is a good reason for music fans to head inland in January.
Sydney Festival. The Sydney Festival offers arts, music, theater, dance, and other attractions, early in the month.
Australia Day. The country's national holiday is held on January 26th, commemorating the beginning of European settlement in Australia in 1788. In recent years it's become a day for Indigenous Australians and their allies to highlight the injustices and inequalities that they continue to face, and has been unofficially renamed Invasion Day. You're likely to see Invasion Day events and rallies in cities like Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.
Traveling to Australia in January? Check out these great itineraries
Best of Eastern Australia: Sydney, Cairns, Gold Coast, and Melbourne - 10 Days. Discover four cities along the coast of eastern Australia, along with several scenic day trips.
Self-Drive Tour: Melbourne, Healsville, Blue Mountains, Sydney, and More - 14 Days. On this self-drive journey through Australia, visit two major cities, and plenty of scenic stops in between.