Experience the exciting festivals and changing colours as the temperatures cool in Australia’s autumn.
By Allie Metz
Autumn in most parts of Australia is from March to May. The Tropical North’s wet season extends through April and many tourist attractions may be closed for the season, making May a better time to plan your visit to the Kimberley region or Darwin. Cairns and The Whitsundays can be hit with tropical storms during this period, but the Southern Great Barrier Reef is not usually affected. In the south of Australia, autumn brings cooler days with occasional rain. There are many exciting festivals and events on during this period, making it an ideal time to see our capital cities or head to our wine regions for a vintage celebration.
While autumn is generally a pleasant and uncrowded time to visit, be aware that the Easter holiday period (varying dates between March and April) will often mean local families are enjoying a vacation. Check the local school holidays calendar for more information on break periods.
Top things to do in Australia’s autumn
Get your foodie fix in Melbourne
Melbourne is well-known for its culinary scene, making it a food lover's paradise. Autumn is a great time to indulge with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival held in the city and the Grampians Grape Escape taking place just three hours west of Melbourne. For culture vultures, hit up the Melbourne Fashion Festival or the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. If sport is more your style, the F1 Grand Prix will get your engine running while the Rip Curl Pro is held at Bells Beach along the Great Ocean Road. Head out on the Great Southern Touring Route for a six-day road trip of epic landscapes, native wildlife and charming towns. You’ll take in the 12 Apostles, Grampians National Park and historic Ballarat. Combine culinary delights with nature when you head to the Yarra Valley and north through Marysville to see the changing autumn hues.
See Canberra change colour
In Canberra, autumn is marked by the changing of the leaves. Take a stroll along the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin to see the colours reflected in the water and enjoy a steamy glass of mulled wine at pop-up wine bar (locations vary). You can also head to the National Arboretum to snap photos of the birch forest as it transitions from green to vibrant reds and oranges. See it all from on high with a hot air balloon over the city, taking in the landmarks as the sun rises over Australia’s capital city. Enlighten Festival kicks off in March with illuminations projected onto iconic buildings and signature events such as the Canberra Balloon Spectacular.
Watch turtles hatch in the Southern Great Barrier Reef
While Cairns and the Whitsundays may be experiencing tropical storms, the Southern Great Barrier Reef is usually far enough south not to be affected. It’s also the end of turtle hatching season here, so visitors can enjoy watching tiny turtles scramble from their nests out to sea. Visit Lady Elliot Island, Heron Island or Mon Repos Beach to witness the exciting event. While you’re in Mon Repos, be sure to visit Bundaberg Rum for a distillery tour or a Blend Your Own Rum experience.
Join the festivities in Adelaide
Known as the festival city, Adelaide has exciting events happening throughout the year. Autumn is particularly exciting with the Adelaide Fringe Festival and WOMADelaide on in the city, while around the state you’ll find events like Tasting Australia and Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend giving foodies the chance to taste incredible produce, culinary creations and world-class wine from the region. The Adelaide Hills region, just 45 minutes east of the city, is the prime location for autumn foliage. Whether you are walking through vineyards or enjoying a drive through windy roads lined with deciduous trees, the Hills are full of colour. Spend a day in charming Hahndorf tasting wine and local delicacies or revel in the season in the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens.
Take a road trip through Tasmania
An autumn road trip through Tasmania is the perfect way to see the picturesque landscapes as the colours change practically before your eyes. One of the most unique experiences is known as the ‘turning of the Fagus’. A delight for nature lovers and photographers, there's just a short window when the Tasmanian Deciduous Beech tree transforms from green to vibrant reds, oranges and golds. Take the easy two-hour Loop Track walk in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, which circles Dove Lake and passes through some patches of Fagus. With fewer visitors than in summer, autumn is also a great time to visit Tassie icons such as Freycinet, Wineglass Bay and Bay of Fires.
Journey through the outback on a luxury train from Darwin
Heading to the Northern Territory towards the end of autumn will align with the start of the dry season, making for better weather. March is the start of the Ghan Expedition, an epic four-day, three-night luxury train journey from Darwin to Adelaide (or vice versa). It’s the perfect way to explore some of the most remote and captivating places in the Australian outback, all while travelling in total comfort. You can also spend a few days visiting the Tiwi Islands in March to experience the culturally significant Australian Football League (AFL) grand final game and art sale. It’s an incredible place where 90 per cent of residents are of Aboriginal descent. Learn about their history, see their beautiful art or experience an epic fishing adventure.
Celebrate in style in Sydney
As the weather begins to cool, Sydney starts to heat up with exciting events and festivals. Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras culminates in its flamboyant and fabulous street parade on the first Saturday in March, while families will enjoy the animals, food and exhibits at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. Vivid Sydney kicks off in May with an exciting line up of performances and talks to complement the incredible projections and light displays that transform the city. Head one hour west to explore the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah to see the maples turn russet, copper and gold.
Head to the beach in Western Australia
There are some exciting things happening on and offshore in Western Australia, making autumn a great time to enjoy the cooler weather. Start in Perth and explore the beachside suburbs of Fremantle and Cottesloe. March is a unique time at Cottesloe Beach as it is transformed into a temporary sculpture park for the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. Head north along the Coral Coast to Exmouth for the start of whale shark season to swim with the incredible gentle giants. Alternatively, head to Bremer Bay in the southwest corner of the state to see the largest congregation of Orca whales in the southern hemisphere. You can join a daily research boat tour to spot these incredibly fascinating creatures.
Get outdoors in Queensland’s Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast
The weather conditions from Byron Bay up to the Sunshine Coast are generally temperate in autumn, but the water temperatures remain warm, making it great for a swim or surf lesson. It’s also the place to be for exciting events like the Quiksilver Pro surfing competition and the Blues on Broadbeach music festival on the Gold Coast, Noosa Food and Wine Festival on the Sunshine Coast and Byron Bay’s Bluesfest. Enjoy uncrowded beaches, shop for handmade crafts or locally grown produce at the Eumundi Markets or visit Australia Zoo, home of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and his family. If you’re looking to get cosy, head to the hinterland for green rolling hills, challenging hikes and stunning mountain views.