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“Australia” and “winter” are two words you usually don’t see in the same sentence, but when the weather cools down, the land down under remains just as hot a destination for international visitors. Whether you want to escape the cold in the country’s tropical north or embrace the (admittedly mild) chill, here are 13 reasons why winter’s a great time of year to visit Australia.
Sure, Australia shouldn’t be confused with Austria when it comes to ski slopes, but a lack of Kitzbühel-calibre resorts doesn’t stop Aussies from skiing and snowboarding. Snow bunnies can visit Perisher and Thredbo in New South Wales (NSW) and Falls Creek, Mount Buller and Mount Hotham in Victoria for their powder fix. Also, Australians love a party, so the après-ski scene is as lively as you’ll find anywhere on earth.
Visitors from the northern hemisphere must laugh at Australians rugging up during winter when temperatures often only drop to the positively mild 20C (68F) mark. Even Melbourne and Hobart – cities renowned for their bitter winters by Australian standards – only dip to 13C (55F) at their coldest, the sort of conditions you’d encounter in New York or Paris at Easter.
There are plenty of places in Australia that never get cold at all, including the Red Centre, meaning the middle of the year is ideal for a road trip through the Mars-like landscapes of the Outback. The well-worn path between Adelaide and Uluru via the Flinders Ranges is best tackled during winter when nights fall below freezing, but days are far more pleasant than the oppressive summertime.
Areas such as the Northern Territory, Western Australia’s Kimberley region and tropical Far North Queensland are also better experienced during the mid-year when the humidity and heat become more manageable. Plus, winter’s the only time of year that you can actually swim at the beaches in these parts of the world because the stingers (small jellyfish) clear away – a dip in summer is about as fun as a nudie run through a beehive.
For three weeks every winter, Sydney’s most famous landmarks are transformed into a canvas for Australia and the world’s most talented light artists, as the Harbour City becomes a sea of glittering light installations for Vivid Sydney. More than 2m visitors flock to 60-plus locations around the city for the world’s largest festival of lights, music and ideas.
Australia’s winter events aren’t all glitz and glamour – Alice Springs puts on a couple of more earthy festivals, too. Mid-year is already a more pleasant season to visit the town, away from the 40C (104F) summer temps. However, you’ve also got the Camel Cup, a horse race without the horses each July, and the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, a boat race without water, run in a dry riverbed, to pencil into your diary.
Sports fans, meet the greatest sporting rivalry you’ve probably never heard of. The neighbouring eastern states of Queensland and NSW go to civil war over rugby league supremacy in a three-match series that commands extraordinary public attention. It’s so big that the 2017 decider was the most-watched broadcast on Australian television that year.
And you’ve got more than just three games of football to look forward to. Footy fever grips Australia every winter, especially the Australian Football League (AFL) in Melbourne, when crowds of up to 100,000 pack into the revered Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to indulge in their sporting obsession.
Tens of thousands of humpbacks flee Antarctica’s glacial temperatures by heading north each winter, frolicking along the Australian coast between May and November. The entirety of the east coast – especially Hervey Bay in Queensland, where the Great Barrier Reef shelters newborn calves – provides terrific vantage points, as does the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia and Albany in Western Australia.
One of Australia’s biggest exports – along with coal, iron ore and the Hemsworth brothers – is the Ugg boot, designed to be worn in winter. You don’t want to slip a sweaty foot into a sheepskin boot when it’s baking hot, so grab a pair when you need to keep your trotters toasty.
There’s something magical in the air in Australia’s coldest state during winter, which provides the perfect conditions for feasting on all the gourmet cheese and wine and whisky the Apple Isle has to offer. Australians and international visitors arrive in droves to attend the out-there Dark Mofo festival at world-renowned modern art museum MONA, catch a glimpse of the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) and, for those unafraid of a little shrinkage, participate in the nude solstice swim in the River Derwent.
There’s something about chilly weather that makes you want to snuggle up in front of a fire with a beefy red wine – and Australia’s smorgasbord of world-class wine regions have got you covered. Margaret River south of Perth, Mudgee and the Hunter Valley outside Sydney, the Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley near Melbourne, and the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale on Adelaide’s doorstep can all oblige you with a bottle.
Summer is high season, and you’ll pay the price for the privilege of visiting Bondi Beach when it’s 30C (86F) rather than 18C (64F). Therefore, budget travellers would be wise to book their ticket to Australia in the middle of the year when you’ll be able to snap up great deals on accommodation, in particular, as well as transport and tours.