Visitors from the Northern Hemisphere must laugh at Australians rugging up during our ‘winter’, when temperatures often only drop to the positively mild 20-degree mark. Even Melbourne and Hobart — cities renowned for their bitter winters by Australian standards — only dip to 13 degrees 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 do fall below freezing, but days are far more pleasant than the oppressive summertime.
Areas like the Northern Territory, West Australia’s Kimberley region and tropical Far North Queensland are all also better experienced mid-year, when the humidity and heat become more manageable. Plus, winter’s the only time of year 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 bee hive.
For three weeks every winter, Sydney’s most iconic 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 two million visitors flock to 60-plus locations around the city for the world’s largest festival of light, 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 Alice away from the 40-degree summer temps, plus you’ve 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.
State of Origin
Sports fans, meet the greatest sporting rivalry you’ve probably never heard of. Neighbouring east coast states Queensland and New South Wales go to civil war over rugby league supremacy in a three-match series that commands extraordinary public attention — so big, in fact, that the 2017 decider was the most-watched broadcast on Australian television this year, full stop.
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.
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 NSW and Falls Creek, Mount Buller and Mount Hotham in Victoria for their powder fix — and hey, Australians love a party, so the apres-ski scene is as lively as you’ll find anywhere on earth.
Tens of thousands of humpbacks flee the glacial temperatures of Antartica 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 Hemsworth brothers — is the ugg boot, and they’re 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, instead.
There’s something magical in the air of 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. Visitors from interstate and overseas arrive in droves for the out-there Dark Mofo festival at world-renowned modern art museum MONA, the chance to glimpse the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis), plus the Nude Solstice Swim in the River Derwent for those unafraid of a little shrinkage.
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.
Let’s be honest, summer is high season, and you’ll pay the price for the privilege of visiting Bondi Beach when it’s 30 degrees rather than 18. But 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.