Seasonal Planning for Australia Travel
Australia is such a large country (technically, it's a whole continent!) that whatever time of year you want to go, somewhere will be at its best. Because of the regional variations in climate, choosing your destination wisely for the season is important. For example, if you have your heart set on tropical Northern Queensland, it would be better to visit during the dry season (which roughly corresponds with the late autumn, winter, and early spring in southern regions). Likewise, for city sightseeing in Melbourne or Sydney, opt for spring or fall, when temperatures are pleasant but not hot.
Even in spring and fall, much of Australia runs hot, and by summer, the temperatures can be extremely challenging. While average summer highs in many southern coastal areas are around 82°F (28°C), it's not uncommon for temperatures to reach 104°F (40°C). Humidity tends to be higher and temperatures a little lower in coastal Queensland, while the desert is positively scorching. There's also the real threat of bushfires in much of the country in the spring, summer, and fall. There's no true way of predicting where might be affected and when, though, so it's best to keep up-to-date with the news when in the country.
This doesn't mean parts of Australia don't experience cold temperatures because they do! Many visitors to Australia are surprised by how chilly some southern parts of the country can be in winter. Tasmania gets colder temperatures than the mainland, and snow is common in the mountains (although rare in sea-level cities). Similarly, the southern coastal cities of Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney can be cool in winter, with average daytime temperatures of around 50°F (10°C), while inland Canberra—at 1,900 feet (580 meters) altitude—averages around 44°F (7°C). That's good news if you'd like to ski in the nearby mountains, where there are commercial ski fields.
When referring to the regions of Australia, it's best to make a distinction between the tropical north, the south, and the inland desert. There's still a lot of variation within these regions, however. The tropical north includes coastal areas of Northern Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia, which experience two seasons: the wet and the dry. The south consists of Tasmania and southern cities on the mainland, including Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and Canberra. The desert is what's usually referred to as the outback.
|Seasons||Pros||Cons||Best for||Where to Visit|
|Spring (Sep-Nov)||Pleasant temperatures||Some rain, beaches may be too cool for swimming||City sightseeing, hiking, road trips, theme parks||Sydney, Melbourne, Alice Springs/outback, Western Australia|
|Summer (Dec-Feb; Nov-Mar in tropical north)||Hot weather, generally clear skies in the south||Very hot weather, bush fires; flooding in north||Beaches, outdoor activities in southern areas||Tasmania, coastal Western Australia, NSW coast, Southern Queensland coast|
|Fall (Mar-May)||Pleasant temperatures||Relative crowds at popular places||City sightseeing, hiking, road trips||Sydney, Melbourne, Alice Springs/outback, Southern Queensland coast|
|Winter (Jun-Aug; Apr-Oct in tropical north)||Skiing in mountains; generally mild temperatures||Rain, flooding; cooler temperatures||Desert sightseeing, road trips, skiing, beaches and water sports in tropical north||Whitsunday Islands, Great Barrier Reef and Northern Queensland, Canberra/nearby ski fields|
Spring in Australia (September to November)
Spring is one of the best times to travel in Australia because the weather is generally mild to warm, depending on where you go. November will be more suitable than September if sea swimming or spending time on a beach is important to you. Head to Southern Queensland (Brisbane, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast), Northern New South Wales (NSW) (Noosa, Byron Bay), or the Perth area later in spring for the best swimming options. Read this article to discover Queensland in eight days.
Now is the time for big-city sightseeing. Places like Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Canberra, and Brisbane are excellent choices. These cities are close to beautiful national parks, beaches, and offshore islands (except inland Canberra!) to explore when the weather is fair. They also have many galleries, museums, shopping opportunities, and excellent restaurants for cooler or rainier days. Meanwhile, the Australian outback (less busy now that it is low season) offers Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, Alice Springs, and the national parks (Kakadu, Litchfield) of the Northern Territory (NT).
Early spring is also a good time for a long-distance road trip because the conditions are suitable for long periods in the car (that is, they're not too hot). Depending on how much time you have, you can drive the Great Ocean Road south of Melbourne or follow the northern NSW coast between Sydney and Brisbane. (Check out this fun self-driving tour of the Great Ocean Road.) If you have longer, then Adelaide to Perth, Adelaide to Uluru/Darwin, Brisbane to Cairns, or Brisbane to Uluru are epic options. By late spring, temperatures will be getting too hot for a comfortable road trip through the desert.
Events in spring
King's Park Festival, Perth. This festival includes a variety of walks, art, talks, and plant-related attractions. Held in September.
Tulip Time Festival, Bowral NSW. Held in September, 90,000 tulips bloom in the NSW Southern Highlands.
Floriade, Canberra. This is one of Australia's largest flower shows and usually runs from mid-September to mid-October.
Adelaide Film Festival, Adelaide. Held every second year in October.
Byron Bay International Film Festival, Byron Bay NSW. This film festival in October is another reason to visit the gorgeous northern NSW seaside town.
The Melbourne Cup, Melbourne. Horse racing enthusiasts won't want to miss the biggest race on the Australian calendar, the Melbourne Cup. This is held every year on November 5.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Summer in Australia (December to February)
Australia swelters in summer, so be prepared for the heat if visiting this season and keep the outdoor pursuits to a minimum. Having said that, summer is the perfect time to hit the beaches in much of the country—in the tropics, be sure to look for beaches with "stinger nets" for a swim free of deadly jellyfish. Most cities have attractive, accessible, and clean city beaches. Check out Fremantle in Perth, Manly and the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and St. Kilda in Melbourne. For more remote beach adventures, head to southern Western Australia, the long coastline between Sydney and Brisbane, or the south coast of NSW.
The southern cities can get hot in summer but they're also full of air-conditioned indoor spaces. 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. Families might want to head to the Gold Coast, which has a lot of amusement parks, including water parks, that kids will enjoy.
Tasmania remains cooler than most of mainland Australia in summer (although it also experiences heat waves and bush fires) and is an outdoor lover's paradise. If you want to hike, Tasmania is the best place in summer. A large proportion of the island comprises forested, mountainous national parks or preserves. Alternatively, the Blue Mountains west of Sydney are an excellent place to retreat in the heat of summer.
Events in summer
Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, Sydney/Hobart. This important yacht race starts on December 26 and can be seen from Sydney Harbour.
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, Sydney. The Sydney Festival offers arts, music, theater, dance, and other attractions, early in the month.
Australia Day, nationwide. The country's national holiday is held on January 26, 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 they continue to face. It has unofficially been renamed, "Invasion Day." You're likely to see Invasion Day events and rallies in cities like Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Sydney. Sydney's Mardi Gras is a huge festival that lasts for most of the month, with a glittering parade through the central city that brings everyone together.
Chinese New Year, Sydney. Australia, especially Sydney, has a large Chinese population, and Chinese New Year is celebrated with enthusiasm. Sydney's Chinatown is an excellent place to check out the festivities. The festival often falls in February, although it's sometimes in late January.
Fall in Australia (March to May)
With spring, fall is another ideal season for travel to Australia as temperatures are generally warm but not too uncomfortable. As in the summer, most travelers will feel more comfortable sticking to the coastline of NSW, Victoria, South Australia (SA), Tasmania, or southern WA. In many ways, autumn is ideal for planning a big trip around Australia—whether by road or air—because many places are accessible and comfortable.
Travelers wanting a beach vacation can still have this at the start of the season. Sydney might have the odd cooler day, but conditions will generally be pleasing and sea temperatures warm. If you want to venture to northern areas in early autumn (including north WA and Northern Queensland), know that deadly box jellyfish will still be present in the sea until about May. Conditions are also great for city sightseeing. Don't overlook the underappreciated bush capital, Canberra, which has some of the best galleries and museums in the country, like the National Gallery of Australia and the War Memorial Museum.
Autumn is also a good time to embark on certain road trips. The Great Ocean Road south of Melbourne is a scenic option at any time of year. If you'd like to cross the outback, conditions in the desert this season are still pretty hot in the daytime, but if you have an air-conditioned vehicle and take emergency supplies, this is a better time for a road trip than the summer. Alternatively, you could fly to Alice Springs and then join an overland tour to Uluru, such as this excellent outback adventure.
Events in autumn
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Sydney. The Sydney Mardi Gras starts in February but often extends into March. It's a huge, colorful celebration of queer pride.
Moomba Festival, Melbourne. This festival offers family-friendly events and entertainment along the Yarra River and is held in early March.
ANZAC Day, nationwide. ANZAC Day on April 25 is a significant holiday in Australia (and New Zealand) that commemorates those killed in war. Travelers interested in history, especially military history, might want to be in Canberra on ANZAC Day when a dawn service is held at the Australian War Memorial.
Sydney Royal Easter Show, Sydney. This fun, family-friendly event runs for two weeks around Easter. It's been running for almost 200 years (the first show was in 1823) and is Australia's largest annual event. Although it started as an agriculture show, you can expect fairground rides, music, dance, and other entertainment.
Barossa Valley Vintage Wine Festival, Barossa Valley. This wine festival is held every two years, just outside Adelaide. Food and wine enthusiasts won't want to miss this event in one of Australia's premier wine-producing regions.
Winter in Australia (June to August)
Winter is a season of contrasts in Australia. On the one hand, you have a typical "winter" in southern areas, with colder temperatures and even snow in the mountains. On the other, in the north, conditions are best for a tropical beach vacation or for exploring the rich national parks of the NT in warm weather that's not wet or stiflingly humid. Northern Australia shines in winter/the dry season.
"Stinger season" in tropical Australia generally ends in May. You'll no longer find the deadly box jellyfish in the sea by June, yet check local conditions before taking the plunge. To lounge on a beach, head to northern WA (such as Broome) or Northern Queensland (the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsunday Islands, and Port Douglas are perfect). Resorts in these places are likely to be busy with domestic tourists, especially around school holidays. (In contrast, the NT beaches are generally a no-go because of the presence of crocodiles.) Experience the best of the tropical north on this week-long tour that includes Port Douglas and Cairns.
For a different winter experience, skiing is possible in some mountainous parts of Tasmania, NSW, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Although Australia's mountains aren't as high as many others around the world—Australia's highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, is just 7,310 feet (2,228 m)—the nearby ski fields provide enough snow for skiing from mid June.
Events in winter
Peak Festival, Snowy Mountains NSW. This festival at the Perisher Ski Field in New South Wales kicks off the ski season in early-mid June. Australian musicians entertain, and ski pass/festival ticket combos are available.
Vivid Sydney, Sydney. This festival of lights brightens up the wintry city. Highlights include colorful light projections on the Sydney Opera House and other landmarks. It's usually held from late May into June.
Melbourne International Jazz Festival, Melbourne. Music lovers should go out of their way to attend this music festival. Local and international musicians perform at venues around the city from late May to early June.
Coonawarra Wine Festival, Coonawarra SA. Wine enthusiasts may want to head to South Australia, where the Coonawarra wine region (south-east of Adelaide and just north of Mount Gambier) holds a month-long wine festival.
City2Surf Run, Sydney. Keen runners could also check out Sydney's City2Surf run, held on the second Sunday in August. You can enter the 8.5-mile (14-km) race competitively or just for fun.