Australia’s size means there’s a lot of climatic variation, but without severe extremes. The southern third of the country has cold (though generally not freezing) winters (June to August). Tasmania and the alpine country in Victoria and NSW get particularly chilly. Summers (December to February) are pleasant and warm, sometimes quite hot. Spring (September to November) and autumn (March to May) are transition months, much the same as in Europe and North America.
As you head north, the climate changes dramatically. Seasonal variations become fewer until, in the far north, around Darwin and Cairns, you’re in the monsoon belt with just two seasons: hot and wet, and hot and dry. The Dry lasts roughly from April to September, and the Wet from October to March; the build-up to the Wet (from early October) is when the humidity is at its highest and when the locals confess to being at their most irritable. The centre of the country is arid – hot and dry during the day, but often bitterly cold at night.
When to go
Truth be told, any time is a good time to be somewhere in Australia. When it’s cold down south, it’s magnificent in the north and the Centre; when it’s too hot and sweaty up north, the southern states are at their natural finest. There are also the numerous festivals and other public spectacles that are on show every month, from the summertime food-and-wine banquets and large-scale concerts, through mid-year arts celebrations, to end-of-year footy finals, horse races and yachting contests.
The seasons in Australia are the antithesis of those in Europe and North America. Summer is December to February; the weather and longer daylight hours are tailor-made for swimming and other outdoor activities across much of the country. Summer is also school holiday period and consequently high season for most places. Unless you want to compete with hordes of grimly determined local holiday-makers in ‘Are we there yet?’ mode for road space, places on tours, seats on transport, hotel rooms, camp sites, restaurant tables and the best vantage points at major attractions, you should try to avoid Australia’s prime destinations during the peak of school (January) and public holidays. During these times, you’re also likely to encounter spontaneous rises in the price of everything from accommodation to petrol.
Winter is June to August, when temperatures drop with the latitude. This is officially designated the tourism low season for most of the country, but not the Northern Territory, Queensland and top of Western Australia. Winter in this northern stretch offers respite from the humidity of the wet season (which runs roughly from October to March, with the heaviest rain falling from January onwards; the Dry lasts from April to September) and the temperatures are highly agreeable. It’s also when roads and tracks are most accessible up north. Autumn (March to May) and spring (September to November) both enjoy a lack of climatic extremes everywhere.
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT…
A willingness to use 'mate', 'no worries' and 'she’ll be right' liberally
An appetite for seafood, steak, beer (other than Fosters), barbecues and fresh fruit
A travel insurance policy covering skydiving, bungee jumping, diving, skiing, abseiling and white water rafting
Warm clothes because winter does actually occur in Australia…well, down south anyway
Extra-strength insect repellent to fend off merciless flies and mosquitoes
Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat to deflect fierce UV rays
A towel and bathers/togs/swimmers/swimming costume/cossie/trunks/Speedos/budgie smugglers…for the beach
Good maps for outback meanders and binoculars for the wildlife while you’re there