Seasonal festivals and balmy weather await in these surefire getaway destinations.
As fun as summer in Sydney can be, there's a palpable sense of relief come autumn, when temperatures start to mellow and many of Sydney's best cultural festivals (from Fashion Week to Vivid) approach. Many Sydneysiders will tell you that this is their most productive time of the year, when the city feels energized after the start-of-year break and the mild weather makes it easy to pack plenty of activities into the day. It is also prime weekend-getaway season: several public holidays fall during this time and, with comparatively few international tourists on the ground, prices are competitive. These five spring trip ideas are smart choices for locals and overseas visitors alike.
It's only an hour away from Sydney by plane, but Armidale in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales has an "edge of the world" feel, perhaps because it's surrounded by dramatic national parks. There's something wonderfully old-fashioned about the city, which is home to the University of New England as well as several grand churches, and is populated by calm, friendly folk. The abundant parks and gardens are full of deciduous trees that put on an impressive show in this season, and the Armidale Autumn Festival weekend (March 18 through 20) provides a good introduction to the city's cultural scene. After a day spent exploring craggy gorges and impressive waterfalls nearby, dine at the inventive Neram Harvest, where the daily menu is tailored to your needs, then stay at a simple but sophisticated B&B like The Dale.
In the past five years, Australia's purpose-built national capital (it was founded just over a century ago) has asserted itself as a sophisticated getaway destination, offering a winning mix of culture, upscale dining, and outdoor attractions to those who make the three-hour drive from Sydney. This elevated inland city experiences 100-degree heat in the summer, and winter nights well below freezing—but visit in autumn and you'll enjoy gloriously warm days and crisp evenings. It's also the best time of year to see the foliage at Canberra's impressive arboretum, a 600-acre wonder that showcases rare and threatened species from around the world.
Some of Australia's best museums are in the city, including the National Gallery, where crowds are moderate during school term time in February and March. At day's end, retire to New Acton, a small urban precinct that houses several excellent restaurants with a focus on regional produce, including A. Baker and Močan & Green Grout. Also in New Acton: Hotel Hotel, one of Australia's most charming boutique properties. The gorgeously designed, energy efficient building features a charming open-plan kitchen and bar, Monster, an independent cinema, and a small library. In the hushed rooms, you'll find freshly ground coffee, toiletries from revered Australian brand Aesop, and bespoke furniture.
Great Barrier Reef
Opinions vary about when to visit the Great Barrier Reef, which is about three hours from Sydney by plane. Only the most committed divers and sightseers plan trips between November and March, when the combination of heat, humidity, and wild weather make ocean-based activities difficult to schedule. Most visitors arrive between June and November to take advantage of the milder, drier weather. But there's a strong argument to be made for visiting in April and May, the region's unofficial third season, when rainfall decreases dramatically and the ocean is a comfortable 78 degrees on average. This autumn shoulder period is considerably more affordable than the dry season, not just at hotels but also on dive boats and guided tours, which often start up before "the dry" begins in order to train new staff.
The road trip to this country town three hours west of Sydney is half the fun: the route crosses the majestic Blue Mountains before entering handsome farmland. The Orange region becomes a festival hot spot between March and May, when the harvest takes place, but even if your dates don't line up with one of the major events, there's still rural charm in abundance (think rolling hills, quaint vineyards, and open plains). Those with the ability to plan ahead should lock in a visit between April 8 and April 17, when Orange F.O.O.D. Week takes place, to experience night markets, live music, and farm tours. Also in April, the Canowindra Balloon Challenge provides opportunities to watch (and ride) hot air balloons; while in March, an 100-mile cycling event called the Newcrest Orange Challenge draws participants from across the region.
Savvy Sydneysiders know that the best New Zealand city for a short break is not Auckland but Wellington, an easy three-hour flight away. For first-time visitors, a weekend in the sleepy Kiwi capital can be surreal: the food is world-class, the natural beauty is immense, and the cultural attractions pack a punch—but the city retains a small-town vibe and plenty of charm. Base yourself at the recently overhauled InterContinental Wellington, a true five-star hotel with knockout harbor views and plush rooms from about $155.
From here, everything you need to see is easily accessible, including the national museum Te Papa; the waterfront; and top-notch restaurants like Charley Noble and Logan Brown. Visit the vast Zealandia sanctuary, in the hills behind the city, to experience native flora and fauna in a protected environment, or venture to one of the rugged beaches nearby to get up close with mighty seals. Film fans should tour the facilities at Weta Workshop, where effects for the Lord of The Rings movies were created, and those fond of independent retail should explore downtown's clothing boutiques and atmospheric record stores. Now is an ideal time to visit: the weather is mild (average daily highs are in the 60s) and the New Zealand Festival runs for much of March.