By G. S. McClure
November 02, 2019

Whether you’re seeking sun or avoiding sharks, follow this guide to plan a dream trip to the land down under.

Australia is one of the world’s biggest countries, so when to go depends entirely on where you’re going. From the world-famous Great Barrier Reef, to the vineyards scattered across the country, to Sydney’s sprawling beaches, Australia has something to offer every type of traveler.

Bush walking in Australia's Flinders Ranges outback
Credit: Jesse Chehak

Here's the best time of year to see all of Australia's greatest sights and attractions.

The Best Months to Visit Australia

Seasons in Australia are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere, with summer from December through February, and winter from June through August. The exact type of weather you'll experience depends largely on the region.

Darwin, in the Northern Territory, sees temperatures in the high 70s during the winter and can have no rainfall at all, but summers are extremely hot, with serious downpours.

In southern Australia, including Adelaide and Melbourne, summer temperatures often hover in the low 70s, and winters are cool. Pack a few sweaters as well as pieces for warmer weather, no matter the time of year. Kangaroo Island, just southeast of Adelaide, shares a similar climate. Visit in January or February for warm beach weather — and to catch baby ‘roos hopping around.

The Best Times to Visit the East Coast

Australia’s East Coast is usually considered the stretch from Cairns, in the north, to Melbourne, in the south, and is the most convenient area to get to from the United States. It’s also incredibly vast — travelers could easily spend more than 40 hours driving top to bottom, with no traffic and no stops, so the weather and scenery vary.

The Best Times to Visit the Great Barrier Reef

Up north, the Great Barrier Reef tends to be warm year-round, and in the summer temperatures can rise to nearly 90 degrees, with plenty of tropical rain. Here, wet season comes in the summer and spring, which slows the stream of tourists. While this may not be the ideal time to visit Australia's famous reefs for weather, it's preferable for travelers interested in avoiding crowds.

The Best Times to Visit the Gold Coast

About an hour’s drive from Brisbane is the Gold Coast, and it's known for having beautiful weather most of the year. (A particularly popular Gold Coast beach destination is Surfers Paradise.) More than 500 miles south of the Gold Coast is Sydney, a cultural center famous for beautiful beaches including Coogee, Manly, and Bondi. Temperatures in the winter are slightly chilly, with some rain. If a beach holiday is on your agenda, summer is perfect, as temperatures are warm. But if you prefer a more active vacation, spring and autumn are ideal.

The Best Times to Visit South Australia

Don’t confuse South Australia with southern Australia: the former is one of Australia’s six states. Adelaide, the capital, definitely earns less attention than bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne, but it’s a perfect jumping off point for the multitude of vineyards nearby. Most of this state is actually considered “outback” — i.e. remote. Highlights include the underground opal mining town, Coober Pedy, and a road trip along the stretch of highway through Nullarbor National Park.

If you’re headed into the outback, consider that temperatures can rise in the summer, becoming uncomfortable and potentially unsafe. In Nullarbor, the winter can be the best time — July and August are peak whale season. As for Adelaide and the surrounding area, you’re safe year-round when it comes to weather. Winter temperatures don’t drop tend to drop below about 45 degrees, and in the autumn and spring, they can be as warm as the low 70s. In summer, they don’t usually rise past the low 80s, although heat waves aren’t unheard of.

The Best Times to Visit Australia’s Beaches

From Sydney’s Bondi Beach, with its iconic pool set just above the sea, to the bright, white sand and turquoise waters of the Whitsundays Islands, Australian beaches are hard to beat. The best way to decide which to visit? Follow the weather.

It’s important to note that just because there’s a beach doesn’t mean you can go swimming. Some places have saltwater crocodiles, box jellyfish, or other creepy ocean critters. Pay attention to signage and ask locals if you have any doubts.

Still, don’t let a fear of sharks factor into your plans. Rodd Stapley, Shark Expert for Taronga Zoo, told Travel + Leisure the safest season to avoid sharks can vary each year due to changes in the environment. To minimize risks, Stapley recommends swimming in ocean pools or netted beaches, and between lifeguard flags.

A bigger risk to swimmers and even waders at Australian beaches are riptides, which are common here. Learn the signs, including dark water and fewer waves breaking. Only swim between the flags on lifeguarded beaches, and if you do get caught in a rip, swim parallel to the shoreline to get out of it.

The Best Months to Visit Australia's Wine Country

From Hunter Valley, in New South Wales, to Swan Valley, slightly north of Perth, there are more than 60 wine regions scattered across the country. It’s easy to find good wine no matter the time of year, but if you’re trying to make Pinots and Sauvignons the main event, many regions hold wine festivals. Late autumn is a popular time for harvest festivals, so plan to visit in April, May, or early June.

If you’re hoping to pack as many vineyards as possible into your stay, head to South Australia. Almost one third of the country’s wine regions are here, and there are more than 200 cellar doors where you can try them. Within two hours drive of Adelaide, try vineyards in Barossa, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley or Adelaide Hills. Because South Australia’s weather is fairly mild, there isn’t a bad time to visit.

If you’re looking for sunny strolls through the vineyard and don’t mind high temperatures, go in summer. For people who prefer pleasant warmth to hot heat, spring and autumn have beautiful weather, and if the idea of getting cozy near an open fire with a glass of shiraz appeals, don’t be put off visiting in winter. One caveat: June is the wettest month (though Adelaide is the least rainy and least humid of the Australian capitals).

The Worst Times to Visit Australia

Generally, it’s best to avoid the south’s chilly winters and the far north’s hot, wet summers.

But crowds are also a consideration. Students get a break from mid-December until late January (or even early February), which means packed beaches and more expensive domestic airfare. Australia is a popular backpacker destination, so tourist favorites tend to be busy anyway, but book your trip in late spring or early autumn to strike a balance between great weather and manageable crowds.

The Cheapest Times to Visit Australia

It has to be said: there’s no truly cheap time to visit the Antipodes. December and January tend to be most expensive, likely due to holiday travel and the prime summer weather. According to data collected by Skyscanner, the cheapest months to travel to Sydney and Melbourne from New York City are September and October, respectively, and the cheapest month to travel to Melbourne and Sydney from LAX is November.

If you have flexibility on timing, plan well in advance to find the best deals. If you have less flexibility on schedule but more on destination, try searching a few cities internally and looking at local budget airlines, like Jetstar, to get around once you’re in Australia.