The Best Time to Travel Australia

In Australia it's possible to ski on fresh Victorian snow in the in the morning and fly to Surfers Paradise to catch a wave in the afternoon.

People often underestimate the size of the place and the distances that need to be covered to get from one region to another.

Choosing what time of the year to travel Australia is fundamentally important because the seasons relate directly to the activities and sights on offer.

The Seasons

Australia enjoys the climate of the southern hemisphere. When it is summer in Australia, Europe is experiencing winter and vice-versa. When you head south in the northern hemisphere you get closer to the equator and the regions get hotter. When you head south in Australia you get closer to Antarctica and the regions get cooler.

The seasons in Australia and the southern hemisphere are -

  • Summer - December, January, February
  • Autumn - March, April, May
  • Winter - June, July, August
  • Spring - September, October, November
The Wet Season and Dry Season

To confuse matters more, the top end - or most northerly parts of Australia experience a tropical weather pattern (monsoon). The 'Wet' season in the north coincides with summer and generally lasts from December to March. The wet season makes travel difficult, with road closures and access to many tourist attractions impossible by car. Days can be spent waiting at bridges for water levels to subside enough so a crossing can be accomplished. The wet season eats up time. The wet season also makes the countryside burst into green, native animals breed abundantly, prices fall, waterfalls flow and the majority of tourists vacate for a more comfortable southern summer. The wet is hot. Really hot, with high humidity. It is also spectacular, with stunning lightning shows and a fantastic landscape. Tropical north Australia is like no other place. The red outback ruggedness is maintained amidst a carpet of green and the land fills with an onrush of water.


map of climate zones
The Climate Zones and Travel

The map indicates the basic climate zones of Australia. Note the vast inland of the continent is mostly dry, arid desert.


A. The 'Wet' begins to build up in November and humidity skyrockets. A combined high temperature and high humidity make for very uncomfortable conditions.

In the wet daily rainfall tends to increase the further north you go. Many dirts roads will officially close or become impassable. Water may rise over bridges for periods of time. Major highways generally remain passable. Some communities become landlocked over much of the wet and supplies are flown in.

Many people cannot tolerate these monsoonal conditions. Those that hang around are treated to amazing wetlands, vibrant plant and animal life and sensational thunderstorms.

Most Comfortable Travel Months - June, July, August


B. Unlike the map, in reality the climate zones overlap and the uppermost part of this zone experiences high humidity as well as high temperatures. What it doesn't get is the monsoonal rainfall. The lower part of the region experiences much drier conditions. Rain activity usually arrives with the onset of storms or cyclones but most of this area is semi-arid with lower rainfall than the tropics.

What is constant here are scorching summer temperatures. 45°C (113°F) are common maximum summer temperatures with many towns experiencing an overnight minimum of 30#176;C (86#176;F). The coastal regions tend to be cooler and many of the beaches on both coasts are stunning.

Most of the attractions through this region are outdoors based - gorges, canyons, big rocks, ranges etc.

Most Comfortable Travel Months - June, July, August


C. Again, the further north in this region the hotter the summers. The big difference here is that the winter nights can get very cold - zero and below. Rainfall occurs in the winter months and can be very infrequent in places.

Autumn and Spring can be sensational throughout this region and there are some great wildflower displays on offer. As we said - summer temperatures can soar and winter can be bitterly cold. If you can put up with the summer heat then tourist attractions become less crowded and prices tend to fall a little. It is in this region and the previous zone (B.) most overseas visitors will encounter the image of 'Outback Australia' that is promoted through films and the media.

Most Comfortable Travel Months - April through September


D. Technically a temperate zone with a mediterranean climate, travel through these coastal belts is generally good most of the year. Summer in Perth or Sydney can be mildy uncomfortable for those coming from a European winter however the beaches are at their best. Spring and August are delightful while winter here sees the 'grey nomads' (retirees) hitch up the caravan and head for the more northern parts.

This is where 80% of the Australian population resides - water is abundant, plants grow readily and the climate is pleasant.

Best Travel Months - March, April, May - September, October, November


E. The hills and mountains alter the climate through these cooler zones. Tasmania tends be colder than the mainland overall while any part of this cool temperate zone offers great scenery. This is where the Australian Alps can be found. Snow-skiing, hiking and sight-seeing are available all year round. Winters are very cold (ie: snow) while summer is warm to mild. Autumn can be a pleasant time for exploring the higher altitudes.

Best Travel Months - Mainland: October through April, Tasmania: November through March

School Holidays

Unless you want to share pristine beaches with hundreds of kids and be subject to overpriced airfares and booked out accommodation, try to avoid the Australian school holidays. It's customary for Australians to get out to the bush or the beach for Easter and school holidays. Camping grounds swell with tents, caravan parks overflow and tourist attractions become over run.

Summary

The majority of people touring and travelling Australia avoid the summer heat at both ends of the continent. Use the map as a guide and understand that the coastal fringes are cooled in summer by an ocean breeze. Some beachside locations are at their best at the height of summer.

Many travellers' vision of the outback includes the hot, desert like landscape often portrayed in movies. If you can handle extreme heat then the summer or wet season offers opportunities to see the countryside in a different light. November brings an exodus of caravans from the north of Australia as people head back south for the milder temperatures. Places like Queensland's Karumba return to a sleepy population of 600 for Christmas after supporting 2000 tourists for most of the year.

In the west, iconic destinations like Mount Augustus are virtually deserted and it is possible to have the place to yourself although summer temperatures of 48°C (118°F) make for a tough climb to the top.


The article How Long Does it Take to Travel Around Australia? examines the logistics of touring while Where is the Outback? offers an insight into the location of the 'Never Never'.

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