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Australia has some of the hottest places on earth, and some very cold places too.

The best time to visit depends on where you wish to go and what you wish to do.

 
 
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When is the Best Time to Visit Australia 1

The weather varies across this huge country

The vastness of this 'island continent' gives it a huge variety of different weather zones.

Part of a new series on travel to and in Australia - click the links on the right hand side for more articles.  (More articles coming soon)

 

 

Torrential downpours and tropical cyclones in the north, snow in the south, but no rain for years in the middle.  What country has more weather contrasts than Australia?

The conventional wisdom of 'the weather is best in the summer' doesn't hold uniformly true for Australia, and even if it did, you should also remember that the seasons are reversed in the southern (compared to northern) hemisphere.

So when is the best time to visit Australia?  Actually, there's a lot to like in Australia year-round, but, for sure, some times are better than others.

Australian Climate and Weather Overview

It is not too much of an over-simplification to think of Australia as a huge empty desert with only a thin patch of greenery and civilization running primary around the southeast corner of the country, with the key 'corridor' being between Melbourne and Sydney, and the fringes of this corridor extending north up to the Brisbane area and west over to Adelaide.

The overwhelming majority of the country's population can be found in this small band.  Not uncoincidentally, the weather in this region is good to great year round.

But for you as a tourist, Australia's tourist attractions are spread further afield, literally to all four corners of the country (well, that's not very literal, is it; because Australia doesn't have corners per se) as well as into its dry desert center.

So let's consider Australia's weather on a regional basis.

The Tropical North of Australia

The term 'tropics' refers to a band north and south of the equator, marked by the Tropic of Cancer at the northern end and the Tropic of Capricorn at the southern end.  These parallel horizontal lines on the globe represent the northernmost and southernmost positions of the sun (at the summer and winter solstices).

The Tropic of Capricorn passes through Australia (click the image on the left to see a full map of Australia), being the dashed line just north of the 24 latitude.  You can see it in this small map segment running through Rockhampton.

So, in theory, everywhere north of that point experiences a tropical climate, which typically is considered to have two seasons - wet or monsoon, and dry - rather than the four season experience we're probably more familiar with.  The further north you travel, the more pronounced this will be, and by the time you're in Cairns and Far North Queensland (places that should be prominent on your 'must visit' list), it is very apparent.

The other main tourist region that experiences the tropical type of weather is around Darwin and the Kakadu National Park.

The dry season is centered around the southern winter months (June - October), and the wet season is centered around the southern summer months (November - May), with of course the two seasons blending into each other in the fall and spring months.

In these areas you can expect warm to hot weather in their dry season, and hot to very hot weather, in their wet season.  Humidity is moderately high much of the year.  The wet season may also be occasionally enlivened by tropical storms, featuring enormous downpours of rain (many inches in a single day) and very powerful winds such as we'd associate with northern hemisphere hurricanes.

In the Cairns area, in the rainy season, average monthly rainfalls can go as high as 17.7" (Feb) with rain an average of 2 days out of every 3 (Feb and Mar).  In the dry season, there is still measurable precipitation one day in four (Aug - Oct) and more than an inch of rain a month, even in the driest month (Sep).

There's a good weather chart for Cairns on this page.

Jellyfish Season

The estuaries and inlets of rivers in northern Queensland are home to some particularly virulent kinds of jellyfish that can cause painful and even lethal stings if encountered while swimming.

In the rainy season, the rains tend to wash these jellyfish out to sea a way, and they then get brought back on the tides to the coastal beaches, waiting in the water to surprise any unsuspecting swimmers.

The peak period of danger from jellyfish is similar to the rainy season - ie, November to May, but they can be present at any time of year.

Some beaches have jellyfish nets that in theory block out jellyfish from protected parts of the beaches.  Personally, I don't trust the nets, because there are occasional stories of jellyfish being thrown over the net by a wave and appearing inside them.

Note that these jellyfish are rarely (but occasionally) found on the outer parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

More information on jellyfish and current reports on their prevalence can be found on this website.

Diving and Snorkeling

Considerations for the best time to go diving or snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and off the coast of Queensland may involve whether the sea will be calm or rough, whether the water will be cold or warm, and what the under-water visibility may be like.

The sea is the least calm in the June-August period.  The water is 80F (27C) or higher from November through April.  The visibility is best Sept - March along the Great Barrier Reef and June - September in the Coral Sea.

So it seems the generally best time to visit is outside of the June-August period, but the chances are you'll have a wonderful experience at any time of year.  This page has an interesting summary of monthly weather conditions for diving.

Rainforest Viewing

There is a school of thought that suggests the best time to view the rainforest (ie the gorgeous world heritage rainforest areas north of Cairns in the Daintree area in particular) is in the rain.  That may be true, but you may also find yourself risking washed out roads, and of course having massively reduced visibility when driving in torrential rain.

On the other hand, if you're visiting in the later parts of the dry season, the rain forest can be dusty and drab.  Extended periods of hot dry weather can coat everything in dust, changing the verdant greens of the forest into a drab brown.

Perhaps the best time to see the rainforest would therefore be either at the very end of the rainy season or at the very beginning - ie, avoiding the driest months of the dry season (August, September and October).

The Outback Red Center Desert Areas

It could be said that in Australia's vast outback desert areas, there is only one season - the dry season, with a slight modification being that some times of the year it is impossibly hot and some times of the year it is bearably hot.

In Alice Springs, located right in the heart of the 'Red Center' of Australia and with weather conditions that are reasonably typical for much of the outback, average daily high temperatures range from a high of 97F (36.3C) in December down to a high of 67F (19.6C) in July, with the average daily lows (at night) varying from 70.5F (21.4C) in December to 39F (4.0C) in July.  The highest recorded daily temperature was 113F (45.2C), again in December.

In November through March there is an average of more than 1" of rain a month.  There is on average about one rainy day a week during Nov - Jan, and the driest months, August and September, struggle to have two days a month with measurable rain.  In some years, even the theoretically rainiest of the months may have no rainfall at all.

Avoiding December and January (due to extreme heat) might be advisable, and maybe you might prefer to avoid June and July (due to the relatively cooler months) too.

The Temperature Southern Regions

Brisbane

Brisbane more or less marks the north-eastern limit of the most densely populated band of the country, and its climate is a blend of two season tropical and four season temperate.  Its summer is hot but also wet - January is the hottest and wettest month, with July being the coolest and September the driest month.  Expect average daily highs of 84F (29C) in January, and a far from cold 69F (21C) in July.  May - September has less than 4" a month of rain.

Sydney is further south, and Melbourne even more so, with Adelaide marking the south-westerly limit of this quadrant.

Melbourne

Melbourne is the southern-most of these cities, but it is not very far south.  Its latitude (38 S) is comparable to that of San Francisco, Washington DC, Lisbon and Athens (which are as far north of the equator as Melbourne is south).  It still has hot and sometimes very hot summers, and cool rather than frigid winters.  Although the average high temperature for January is 78F (26C), I've been there for several days in a row of 100F+ (38C+) days.

While the temperatures follow the typical summer peak (February is the hottest month, and Nov through March all have daily averages over 70F (21C)), the rain has no discernable pattern.  The wettest month is October, followed by April, the driest month is March, followed by July.  The driest month comes immediately after the wettest month.  With monthly rainfalls varying from 1.3" to 2.4", rain is never a major problem.

Sydney

Sydney also struggles to remove the mantle of a tropical two-season approach to rain, with its three rainiest months being January, February and May.  Its driest two months are December and September.  Average daily high temperatures are over 70F (21C) from October through April, and even Sydney's coldest month (July) has an average high of 62F (17C) and an average low of 49F (9.5C) - not really too seriously cold at all.

So for the temperate region, any time of year is probably a good time to go.  If you can avoid June - August you'll be avoiding their coldest time of year, and if you avoid Jan & Feb you'll be avoiding their hottest time of year.

Continued in part two

In the second part of When is the Best Time to Visit Australia we discuss other seasonal issues, airfares, daylight, times to avoid because the Australians are on holiday themselves, and the best way to sequence an itinerary around Australia.

 

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Originally published 30 Apr 2010, last update 02 Jul 2017

 
 
 
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