Australia’s climate has become less predictable in recent times, with phenomena such as the cyclic El Niño effect probably part of a long-term pattern. In December 2010 and January 2011, the eastern seaboard suffered the worst flooding for a generation; in Queensland, an area the size of France and Germany combined vanished underwater, with 130,000 homes affected in Brisbane, while a lake 80km long pooled in Victoria. Before that, in 2008–09, there were severe floods in the NT, droughts in New South Wales, hurricane-like storms in Western Australia, a record-busting heat wave in South Australia and devastating bushfires in Victoria. Bushfires also swept large areas of New South Wales in 2013. With freak weather increasingly becoming a misnomer, some climate scientists suggest that storm clouds are gathering over the Lucky Country.
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 behaviour in the psychologically unacclimatised – 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.