What to do in Australia in winter
Experience ski season
Image: Destination NSW
If you like your winters cold, snowy and packed full of adventure, the Snowy Mountains are the wonderland you've been looking for. Centred on Thredbo, near the New South Wales border with Victoria, the 'snowies' and the broader Australian Alps region are the best (and essentially only) choice for skiing, snowboarding and snowman-building in Australia. While the alpine action on offer here doesn't reach the lofty heights of Switzerland, Canada or Japan, there's still plenty to love for winter sports enthusiasts of all skill levels, as well as anyone who just wants to say they've touched snow in the land Down Under. Be warned, though, accommodation during ski season can be in high demand, so get your booking in early if you've got designs on making tracks to Thredbo this winter.
Where to stay: YHA Thredbo
Explore festivals of light
Image: Destination NSW
Arguably Australia’s premier winter event, Vivid Sydney is a must-do for anyone visiting Sydney during the colder months. From late may to mid June, nights in stunning Sydney Harbour become aglow with dazzling light projections and installations designed to be both breath-taking and thought-provoking. Artists from all over the world have been enlisted to add their creative input to this brilliant festival of light, including English rock band The Cure and American director Spike Lee. If you're keen to plan your trip around Vivid, be sure to book your stay well ahead of time – the city explodes with activity during the event.
For another take on the same concept, stop by South Australia's capital during July for Illuminate Adelaide. This Vivid-inspired festival sees Adelaide's evening streetscapes ignite with colour, sound and light and transforms the typically quieter winter period into one of the best times of year for exploring this vibrant, food-obsessed city.
Where to stay: YHA Sydney Harbour | YHA Sydney Central | YHA Adelaide Central
Indulge in festive feasts
Image: Adam Gibson
Nothing staves off the winter chills like a hearty helping of live music, art and scrumptious victuals. Combining themes of birth, death and renewal, fire and darkness, ancient mythology and contemporary folklore, Dark Mofo is a wonderfully eerie festival put on by Hobart's ever-unconventional Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Controversial, show-stopping and unlike anything you’ll ever experience, Dark Mofo should feature prominently on any Aussie travel bucket list, especially if a nude swim at dawn with thousands of other people sounds like your idea of a good time.
Not feeling quite that adventurous? There are plenty of cosier winter festivals to warm your heart. Hosted in the oenophilic Hunter Valley (just a couple of hours outside Sydney), the Hunter Valley Food and Wine Festival is packed full of cellar door-hosted tastings, winemaking masterclasses, gourmet dinners and delicious locally produced delights. Or on the other side of Australia, check in on equally epicurean Margaret River for the Cabin Fever Festival, where fireside fondues, toasty food fights, comedy nights, live music, whisky tasting are front of mind.
Where to stay: YHA Hobart Central | YHA Margaret River | YHA Newcastle Beach
Witness whale watching season
Image: Tourism Australia
Given it’s one giant island, it’s no surprise that Australia is awash with fantastic spots for whale watching, and winter is the time to do it. On the east side of the country, tens of thousands of humpback whales depart Antarctic waters each year and head north up the coast to the warm waters of Queensland, where they find shelter in the bays of Hervey Bay (near K'Gari/Fraser Island) to give birth and raise their calves. Further down the coast in New South Wales, Port Stephens is another excellent spot for spotting humpbacks, as is Sydney. Looking west, the seaside town of Albany enjoys one of the longest whale-watching seasons in the country with its aquatic visitors including, remarkably, several pods of majestic orca. Meanwhile, in Port Elliot, Bashman’s and Boomer Beaches are great bets for spying whales from the shore throughout July and August.
Where to stay: YHA Hervey Bay | YHA Port Stephens | YHA Albany | YHA Port Elliot
Dodge the cold in balmy Queensland
Image: Tourism Australia
If you’re not a fan of winter at all and need to feel the warm sun on your skin at all times, the Sunshine State is the place for you! Enjoying a pleasant climate all year round, it’s rare to experience a freezing cold day anywhere in Queensland, at any time of year. Enjoy a mild midwinter in Brisbane by spending your evenings exploring its burgeoning foodie scene, or experience some of the most stunning, crisp mornings you'll ever see in beautiful Noosa. It’s also the best time to visit Tropical North Queensland, where the winter months are the driest, least sweltering (though still pretty hot), and clears the nasty box jellyfish out of the waters. And it'll be plenty warm enough to enjoy a swim, too!
Where to stay: YHA Brisbane City | YHA Noosa Heads | YHA Cairns Central
Attend some of Australia's biggest sporting events
Image: Hiro Ishino
If you enjoy sporting spectacles and want to experience a uniquely Aussie flavour of competition, winter is the time for you. During the colder months, some of the country's biggest sporting events are in full swing, including AFL (Aussie Rules) and NRL (Rugby League). Even if you're not a huge fan of either sport, seeing a massive clash between local rivals live and in the flesh is an experience you won't soon forget. You'll find the atmosphere of thousands of diehard fans contagious, and you might just be clapping, cheering and heckling with the rest before the match is over. Plus, after the game comes the obligatory celebratory (or sorrow drowning) drinks, which is a great time to mingle with locals and debrief from all the madness.
Extra pro tip: Some of YHA's properties are just a kick of a ball away from some of Australia's biggest sports grounds, with others providing easy access to transport for getting to a game!
Where to stay: YHA Brisbane City | YHA Adelaide Central | YHA Melbourne Central | YHA Sydney Central
See the fan favourites without the crowds
Image: Tourism Australia
Every year, millions of visitors flock to Western Australia, and let's be honest – a good chunk of those have their sights fixed on one cuddly species of marsupial endemic to a specific island near Fremantle. We're talking, of course, about the quokka, and while they're undeniably adorable, the downside of their exploding popularity online is that Rottnest Island (where they make their home) has become a little oversubscribed as tourists flock here in the hopes of grabbing a photo with them. Winter, however, is very much considered the off-season for this region of WA, and for those that don't like having to queue for everything, or shrink away from the sight of a crowd, the chilly period (which really isn't even that chilly) becomes the perfect time to visit to encounter a quokka while enjoying the stunning walks, azure waters and white sand that make this place so special.
And you can apply this strategy to plenty of other destinations in Australia, too! Keen to see the Blue Mountains? They're at their lushest (and cosiest) in winter. Want to take a snap of Melbourne's graffiti-strewn laneways? You're most likely to find them unpopulated in winter. Planning to extend your WA escapades to check out Margaret River and the South West? W-I-N-T-E-R! It'll be quieter, more affordable and even just a bit different.
Where to stay: YHA Fremantle Prison | YHA Margaret River | YHA Dunsborough
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