Australia is a vast country, though most visitors stay on the same tried and tested track, ticking off well-touristed pitstops along the way. But, of course, there’s plenty more to see beyond the usual Sydney, rock and reef holiday triangle. Here’s our pick of the best places to escape the crowds Down Under.More than most other developed countries, Australia seizes the imagination. For most visitors its name is a shorthand for an endless summer where the living is easy; a place where the adventures are as vast as the horizons and the jokes flow as freely as the beer; a country of can-do spirit and easy friendliness. No wonder Australians call theirs the Lucky Country.
It might seem surprising that Sydney is not Australia’s capital: the creation of Canberra in 1927 – intended to stem the intense rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne – has not affected the view of many Sydneysiders that their city remains the country’s true capital, and certainly, in many ways, it feels like it. The city has a tangible sense of history: the old stone walls and well-worn steps in the backstreets around The Rocks are an evocative reminder that Sydney has more than two hundred years of white history behind it.
You’ll need at least five days in this unique city to ensure you see not only its glorious harbourside but also its wider treasures. Delving into the surrounding inner-city areas of Paddington, Surry Hills and Glebe reveal more of the Sydney psyche, and no trip to the city would be complete without at least one visit to the eastern-suburb beaches – for a true taste of Sydney, take an afternoon stroll along the coastal path that stretches from Bondi to Coogee.
There are magnificent national parks – Ku-ring-gai Chase and Royal being the best known – and native wildlife within an hour’s drive from the center of town; while further north stretch endless ocean beaches, great for surfers, and more enclosed waters for safer swimming and sailing. Inland, the gorgeous Blue Mountains – UNESCO World Heritage-listed – offer isolated bushwalking and scenic viewpoints. On the way are historic colonial towns that were among the earliest foundations in the country – Sydney itself, of course, was the very first. The commercial and industrial heart of the state of New South Wales, especially the central coastal region, is bordered by Wollongong in the south and much more enticing Newcastle in the north. Both were synonymous with coal and steel, but the smokestack industries that supported them for decades are now in severe decline. This is far from an industrial wasteland, though: the heart of the coal-mining country is the Hunter Valley, northwest of Newcastle, but to visit if you’d never guess, because this is also Australia’s oldest, and arguably its best-known, wine-growing region, where you can not only sample the fine wines but enjoy some of the best food in the state.
Visitors from the northern hemisphere should remember that as early colonials observed, in Australia “nature is horribly reversed”: when it’s winter or summer in the northern hemisphere, the opposite season prevails down under, a principle that becomes harder to apply to the transitional seasons of spring and autumn. To confuse things further, the four seasons only really exist in the southern half of the country outside of the tropics. Here, you’ll find reliably warm summers at the coast with regular, but brief heat waves in excess of 40°C. Head inland, and the temperatures rise further. Winters, on the other hand, can be miserable, particularly in Victoria, where the short days add to the gloom. Tasmania is cooler year-round: while weather in the highlands is unpredictable at all times, summer is a reliable time to explore the island’s outdoor attractions. As a result, the best time to visit Australia depends on where exactly you plan to go.
In the coastal tropics, weather basically falls into two seasons. The best time to visit is during the hot and cloudless Dry (from April to Nov), with moderate coastal humidity maintaining a pleasant temperature day and night and cooler nights inland. In contrast, the Wet – particularly the “Build Up” in November or December before the rains commence – can be very uncomfortable, with stifling, near-total humidity. As storm clouds gather, rising temperatures, humidity and tension can provoke irrational behavior in the psychologically unacclimatized – something known as “going troppo”. Nevertheless, the mid-Wet’s daily downpours and enervating mugginess can be quite intoxicating, compelling a hyper-relaxed inactivity for which these regions are known; furthermore, the countryside – if you can reach it – looks its best at this time.
Australia’s interior is an arid semi-desert with very little rain, high summer temperatures and occasionally freezing winter nights. Unless you’re properly equipped to cope with these extremes, you’d be better off coming here during the transitional seasons between April and June, or October and November.
In general, the best time to visit the south is during the Australian summer, from December to March, though long summer holidays from Christmas through January mean that prices are higher and beaches more crowded at this time. In the tropical north, the best months are from May to October, while in the Centre they are from October to November and from March to May. If you want to tour extensively, keep to the southern coasts in summer and head north for the winter.