Looking to go Downunder, but not sure when to start? Not to sound flip, but there’s never a bad time to visit Australia. With mild winters and warm, inviting summers, this is an outdoor country 365 days a year, so there are genuinely no “bad weather” months to avoid in planning your Australia vacation.
With that said, Australia’s a big place! Different times of year will highlight different parts of the country and its climate in different ways. Each of the major cities offers its own festival and events calendar, and while Australia makes the most of the summer months, you’ll also find plenty to do over the winter.
So, what can you expect, and what should you keep in mind? That really depends on your destination, and which parts of the country you want to see. With so many potential trips to Australia to choose from, here’s our guide to getting the most out of the land Downunder at any time of year.
(And remember, unlike North America, Australian seasons “start” on the first of the month!)
SUMMER (December to February)
Okay, so the Aussie summer ‘barbie on the beach’ is a cliché, but it’s a pretty great local experience if you can organize, or get yourself invited to one on your Australia vacation! Of course, this is only the tip of what it means to have summer in Australia, which varies widely according to which part of the country you’re talking about.
Sydney and Melbourne are arguably Australia’s best summer destinations, since the locals are relaxed, and both cities are in the full swing of festival season. Sydney Harbour literally comes ablaze each New Year’s Eve with one of the world’s most spectacular fireworks displays. The city then kicks straight into the Sydney Festival, which showcases artistic talent from around Australia and internationally. No sooner does this end than the city toasts the Chinese New Year, followed by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, celebrating two cultures who’ve become integral parts of Sydney’s identity. February can be a rainy month in Sydney, and it’s not unusual to get wet at either of these events. But this doesn’t stop them, and it shouldn’t stop you either.
It may not be as ‘showy’ as Sydney’s, but Melbourne’s summer is just as crammed with events, including Chinese New Year and Midsumma, the southern capital’s answer to Mardi Gras. Melbourne also hosts the Australian Open during the second half of January. This can cause hotel rates to spike, but there are still bargains to be had if you look (or have an agent look for you). The energy of this and other world class sporting events spreads right throughout the city, making it a fun time to be in town. If you’re here in December however, know that Melbourne’s highly unpredictable “four seasons in one day” have not been exaggerated. Locals often keep their jackets handy until at least New Year.
Summer holidays are peak season for Southeast Queensland spots such as the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. But if you can brave the humidity and occasional downpours, they can actually be a good time of the year to enjoy Brisbane, which relaxes its already easy-going pace as local families head for the surrounding coasts. If you want to dodge the crowds and high prices, school holidays last until the end of January, so February is a solid option. Another great destination to consider is Tasmania, where the mild temperatures are perfect for an active self-drive or hiking holiday, exploring the spectacular national parks.
Northern destinations such as Cairns and Darwin aren’t unappealing during the summer, and the coral spawning that happens during the season can make the colours of the Great Barrier Reef seem even more vibrant than usual. But the humidity can be tough to take, especially in Darwin. With that said, the frequent rains do raise the water level considerably in nearby Kakadu National Park, opening the door to some great nature photography. Finally, be ready for dry, scorching hot days, but pleasantly cool nights if you’re heading to Outback destinations such as Uluru.
AUTUMN (March to May)
Autumn is a good time to visit pretty much anywhere on your Australia vacation. The busy summer calendar has thinned out a little, but so have the tourist crowds. It’s also not unusual to have suspiciously ‘summery’ days in the big cities (it’s still warm enough for the beach along much of the east coast and in Perth), though you might want to wait until May if you’re trying to avoid the humidity in the tropics. Traditional family spots like the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are a great choice, offering all the best aspects of summer without the crowds or high prices.
This is also the most comfortable time of year to visit outback Australia. Meanwhile, the inland road between Melbourne and Sydney explodes with spectacular autumn colours, making this arguably the best season to swing by Canberra. A trip starting or ending in Melbourne in mid-March lands you amid the wacky antics, colours, and free music of the Moomba Festival. This rather unusual Melbourne staple includes the infamous “Birdman Rally,” in which competitors launch off a platform into the Yarra River dressed in full wings and costume…all for charity, of course!
Autumn is also the ideal time, weather-wise, to visit Adelaide or Perth and their surrounding regions, as both of these cities get uncomfortably hot summers and (by Australian standards) cold, dry winters. In fact, while most of Australia’s cities are winding down their festival calendar for the year, Adelaide’s is just ramping up. Known as “The Festival State,” South Australia brings its food, wine, and culture loving capital to life in autumn, hosting both the Adelaide Festival, and the Adelaide Fringe in March.
Heading north along Western Australia’s coast, you’ll eventually reach the Ningaloo Reef. Here, you can enjoy the peerless experience of diving with gentle, majestic whale sharks from March, all the way through to October and sometimes as late as November.
WINTER (June to August)
Australia does have snowfields. If you’re really keen to ski on your Australia vacation, the region quite literally known as The Snowy Mountains has you covered. Just don’t expect the kind of world class slopes found in neighbouring New Zealand. Instead, winter in ‘The Snowies’ is your chance to gain an all new perspective on the Australian bush, rarely experienced by overseas visitors.
Winter in Australia’s southern cities is all about cultural tourism, particularly in Melbourne and Adelaide. Melbourne makes up for its chilly, damp days by ramping up its artistic offerings, bringing exclusive exhibitions to its museums and galleries, and filling out its theatre calendar. Adelaide may also surprise you, hosting the world’s largest cabaret festival in June (Melbourne’s is the second largest, and takes place immediately after). Sydney also gets in on the action with Vivid, a spectacular festival of live music, and free light-based art installations spread throughout the CBD from late May to early June. The considerably drier weather helps too. Zip up your jacket and take a day out on Sydney Harbour to see its colours and sights at arguably their best.
Don’t feel confined to the city though! Winter can be a great time for a self-drive, or a winery trip. Enjoy the famous reds of the Hunter Valley outside Sydney, or the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale outside Adelaide. All boast exceptional wineries ranging from big household names to small, boutique cellar doors. A night or two in these regions, staying at local lodgings with a warm fire and a bottle of red, makes a great addition to any Australia vacation in winter.
Unsurprisingly, this is also the most comfortable time to visit the tropics. Granted, it’s hot all year round, but in the winter, the humidity breaks and the rain dries up, leaving you to enjoy sunny, warm days in Darwin and Cairns, provided you’re ready for slightly higher prices and more tourists. You can head to the Outback with confidence during winter too. Just be ready for freezing desert temperatures after dark.
SPRING (September to November)
Much like autumn, spring is a great time to visit anywhere in Australia, with mild temperatures and few big tourist crowds. The main difference is that spring in Australia is sports season. To be fair, the country is sports mad at any time of year, but spring is when you’re most likely to notice as a visitor, particularly in Melbourne. September marks the end of Australian Rules football season. Melbourne takes the league so seriously (providing most of its teams) that it has a statewide holiday the Friday before grand final weekend. Like the Australian Open, it makes for a fun atmosphere, even if you don’t know a thing about the game. Victoria enjoys its sports inspired holidays so much, it has another one in November for the Melbourne Cup, a horse race known in Australia as “the race that stops the nation.”
One big springtime attraction to be enjoyed on an Australia vacation is whale-watching. The season for this can actually start as early as May, as the whales swim north to the warm waters off Queensland. But in spring, you have the chance to see them return to Australia with their newborn calves in tow. We could play favourites, but really, there are great whale-watching spots at many points along the Australian coast. This is also peak time for Australia’s wine growing regions, as the cold eases off, leaving the fruits of the winter in its wake. You may also want to slide a wildlife hub like Kangaroo Island into your itinerary. If you’re lucky, you might even see the native animals nurturing their newborns.
Western Australia offers a couple of unique treats during the spring months. The state is well known for its vast and beautiful range of wildflowers, over 60% of which can only be found in Western Australia. That’s over 7,200 species unique to the state! No surprise that spring is the best time of year to see them in full bloom, and several designated wildflower trails will ensure you see the flowers at their best.
So, when is the best time to visit Australia? Whether visiting on one of the many organized Australian tours or travelling independently, visitors can make the most of their journey Downunder at any time. Keeping the country’s seasonal offerings in mind simply lets you go deeper, creating the opportunity to discover new sides of Australia away from the tourist icons, or even the chance to live like a local for a while.