Renowned for its sun-drenched beaches, glistening waters and laid-back outdoor lifestyle, Australia is sometimes thought of as strictly a summer destination. But there are many reasons to visit in the cooler winter months of June, July and August. In recent weeks Sydney has enjoyed temperatures as high as 68, so travelers would be forgiven for wondering if it’s winter at all!
Although the waters at Bondi Beach might be a bit too chilly for a dip, winter is the best time to head to popular spots such as Cairns, Port Douglas and the Whitsunday Islands in the far north of Queensland -- a three-hour flight from Sydney and home to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. Not only will visitors avoid the humid wet season, but they will also be able to swim in the ocean, which is usually off limits during the summer because of stinger (jellyfish) season. Hotel rates are traditionally higher during this peak period, but in the past year or two, lower demand for this region has resulted in prices remaining competitive year-round.
Heading Outback? Winter also is the best time for exploring the baking plains of the Australian Outback and destinations such as Uluru (also called Ayers Rock), Alice Springs and the Nullarbor. Although nighttime temperatures can drop to 40, the daytime is much more pleasant than in summer, when this region regularly gets to 100 or higher. Similarly, places such as Darwin in the Northern Territory, home to the iconic Kakadu National Park, and Broome in Western Australia, a popular diving and snorkeling spot, are best visited in winter to avoid the humid conditions of the summer wet season.
Further south, cities such as Melbourne and Sydney may be much cooler (bring a coat or jacket, but leave the thermals at home), but winter visitors will benefit from fewer crowds and a market crowded with travel bargains. In Australia, the big school holiday break is from late December to late January, making summer a very expensive time to travel. By contrast, the domestic airlines (Virgin Blue, Jetstar Airways and Tiger Airways) slash fares across the country during the winter months of June, July and August, making it cheaper and easier to get around. We are also seeing great rates at the moment for hotels in both Sydney and Melbourne, with many 4- to 4.5-star properties recently offering rates in the Australian Travelzoo Top 20 about US$85-$105 per night, including tax.
Best of all, with so much competition on the trans-Pacific route from the West Coast to Australia, flights Down Under are very reasonable, making Australia a perfect option for a late summer (or should that be winter?) break this year.