With endless stretches of gorgeous beach, fresh seafood and marine life encounters happening in summer, it won’t take long to understand why Australians have such an affinity for the water.
By Allie Metz
Summer in Australia falls between December and February and is famous for sunny days with high temperatures. It’s the wet season in the tropical north (November to April), which is characterised by monsoonal rains and high humidity. Many tourism operations are closed for the season, as are some national parks (such as Kakadu) due to flood risks. The same period is also the official cyclone season for areas around Cairns and the Whitsundays, although storms can also occur outside of this period. It’s stinger season on the Great Barrier Reef, meaning snorkellers and divers are required to wear full-body wetsuits.
For the ideal Australian summer, head to the southern parts of the country where you’ll find hot, sunny days to enjoy the incredible experiences on offer. The great weather encourages a steady flock of visitors to the country’s beautiful beaches to swim, surf or just relax. Celebrate Christmas like a true Australian - with a beach barbecue - or visit Sydney for their internationally renowned New Year’s Eve fireworks display over the harbour. It’s a popular time for travel in Australia, both for local families and international visitors. Check the school holiday calendar for more information on break periods, and remember to book your excursions and accommodation well in advance to avoid disappointment.
Top things to do in Australia’s summer
Hike the best trails in Tasmania
Tasmania has a mild summer that is perfect for enjoying the stunning outdoor activities on offer. From hiking the Three Capes Track to walking the white sand beaches of the Bay of Fires with an Aboriginal guide, there are gorgeous trails dotted around the state. You can also take a walk among the lavender fields in bloom during summer and cool off with lavender ice cream at Bridestowe Estate. Be sure to take part in the fun summer festivals that are on in Tassie - including the Taste of Tasmania food festival and the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, both of which happen over the New Year period. January is also when Launceston comes alive with the Mona Foma arts and music festival.
Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef spans over 2,300 kilometres (1,430 miles) along the east coast of Australia. With such a large expanse, weather conditions can be quite different between the northern and southern-most parts of the reef. While summer brings high humidity, tropical storms and stingers to Cairns and the Whitsundays, it’s not guaranteed you’ll get bad weather. Late spring/early summer is also when many corals spawn, a truly incredible experience for the lucky divers and snorkellers that get to see it. If you don’t want to risk it, the Southern Great Barrier Reef doesn’t get stingers, rarely gets severe weather and is home to manta rays, whales and turtles. Summer is turtle nesting season, which you can witness from Great Keppel, Lady Elliot or Heron Island.
Experience the Red Centre in luxury
Heading into Australia’s outback is magical at any time of year. However, during the height of summer, visitors should just be wary of soaring daytime temperatures (highs can reach up to 45 degrees Celsius/113 degrees Fahrenheit). Pack sun protection (hat, suncream and sunglasses), lots of water and bug spray if you plan to visit in summer. Also, be aware that some accommodation providers and tourism operators may close during summer, so the ideal time to visit is late spring or early autumn. The Red Centre can be experienced year-round in comfort with a stay at luxury lodge Longitude 131, a helicopter tour over Uluru and Kata Tjuta and a sunset dinner in view of Uluru.
Stay cool in South Australia
In South Australia, summer is all about the sea.The clear blue waters will tempt you to dive in, and offer up an abundance of seafood to satisfy after a refreshing dip. Swim with sea lions, dolphins or even great white sharks in the Eyre Peninsula, or head to Coffin Bay to eat freshly shucked oysters. Kangaroo Island is a wildlife and food lover’s paradise, so spend a few days discovering the wine, gin, cheese and honey before having close-up encounters with sea lions, kangaroos, koalas and echidnas. Closer to Adelaide you can spend a day tasting fine wines in the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills or McLaren Vale before cooling off with a walk along the beach in the city suburb of Glenelg.
Take in the stunning destinations around Melbourne
In Melbourne, summer is full of excitement and nothing beats the sporting event of the year - the Australian Open. Held at the end of January, it brings in the world’s best tennis players for an exciting two-week festival of sport, music and events. It’s also a great time to escape the city for a few days to explore the Great Ocean Road, sip wine and swim in the Mornington Peninsula or hike the stunning trails of Wilsons Promontory (book your campsites well in advance to avoid disappointment). Pay a visit to the adorable koalas and penguins on Phillip Island and be sure to stay around until dusk to watch the penguin parade (the procession of penguins returning to their burrows after a day out hunting at sea).
Splash into summer in Sydney
Summer in Sydney is a great time to explore the beautiful coast dotted with family-friendly swimming beaches, great surf and surrounding national parks. Learn to surf at Bondi Beach, take a guided hike to the Instagram-famous Figure 8 Pools in the Royal National Park, or skip it all and relax on a rooftop bar with a glass of Frosé (frozen rosé). Book early to experience Sydney Harbour’s famous New Year’s Eve fireworks show and watch the start of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. It’s also a great time of year to get out of the city and head for charming coastal towns, picturesque wine country or the cooler altitudes of the Blue Mountains.
Find waves, wine and wildlife in Western Australia
Perth is famous for its beautiful beaches, so be sure to spend some time exploring the coastline. You can head further south to Rockingham to swim with dolphins or a few hours north to Jurien Bay where you can snorkel with sea lions. The idyllic Rottnest Island is just a short ferry ride away, but you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another world. There are 63 white sand beaches to discover, many of which you might only be sharing with the adorable resident quokkas. In Margaret River you’ll get gorgeous beaches alongside award-winning wineries, giving you plenty to keep busy from morning to evening. Continue along to Esperance in Cape Le Grand National Park for more white sand beaches frequented by local kangaroos.
Go coastal in Queensland
Hot summer days are what Queensland is famous for, bringing lots of visitors to the area to take advantage of the extensive coastline, warm waters and abundant outdoor activities on offer. It can also be quite humid in the region during summer, so beach hop in the Gold Coast, chill out in the seaside town of Noosa or plan an island escape to beat the heat. There are incredible, easy-to-reach islands dotted along the coast, including Fraser Island - the world’s largest sand island. Spot wild dingoes, float in the crystal waters of Lake McKenzie, have a 4WD adventure on Rainbow Beach or relax at the island’s resort.
Have a wildlife adventure on Christmas Island
One of the most unique experiences of the summer season just so happens to take place in one of the most remote territories of Australia. Christmas Island is home to an annual crab migration in which 60 million red land crabs migrate from the forests to the coast to spawn, creating a carpet-like effect of red crustaceans. It usually happens in early summer, but times may vary, so check for spawning dates. Christmas Island is also an incredible destination for snorkellers and divers, with over 60 sites in some of the cleanest waters in the world. Summer is whale shark season, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself swimming alongside these gentle giants. You can get to Christmas Island by a connecting flight from Perth.