Top image credit: Tourism New Zealand – Chris McLennan
Work out when to go where and what’s on with Katie McGonagle’s guide to a year Down Under
When winter is summer, spring is really autumn, and the rainy season runs somewhere in between, the Southern Hemisphere’s climate can be rather confusing.
Fear not, we have put together a year’s worth of ideas for perfectly-timed trips, helping you to keep those pesky seasons straight and attract even more bookings.
While we start the year with a shiver, January is the height of summer in Australia and New Zealand. Expect lots of outdoor activities, especially on Australia Day, January 26, when the national public holiday sees barbecues, music festivals and fireworks across the country.
It’s also a great time to visit New Zealand’s North Island: Rotorua is busy but beautiful, and sipping crisp whites or fruity reds on a tour of Hawke’s Bay wineries is even more refreshing in warm evening sunshine.
On the subject of wine, South Island wine region Marlborough holds a one-day festival in early February to sample world-class vintages and cuisine (£28).
Australia’s longest-running cultural festival, the Perth International Arts Festival, also sets the city abuzz with dance, music, theatre, opera and art.
Those keen to escape the summer heat of Sydney might prefer a hearty hike through the Blue Mountains, whose higher elevations mean more moderate temperatures. Anzcro brochures Boutique Mountain day tours ex-Sydney from £128 for adults and £97 for under-16s.
This is the month to munch through Melbourne: the annual food and wine festival brings together Victoria’s best food producers with international chefs in a two-week celebration of gourmet grub.
Over in Auckland, visitors who lack time to see the Pacific Islands can get a taster at the Pasifika Festival, on March 8-9. The colourful two-day celebration features food and performances from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga and more.
As autumn rolls in temperatures are better suited to getting active. Hiking the 14 trails of the Flinders Ranges, Australia, is more comfortable at 25C, and for those who want to see it all, Austravel has a four-day Flinders Ranges Explorer self-drive, from £581.
It’s also a pleasant time to visit Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand, then enjoy the beautiful autumn colours in Otago, en route to Queenstown or Dunedin.
This month heralds the start of the dry season for the South Pacific Islands and Australia’s tropical reaches. Northern Queensland is at its greenest, with Port Douglas offering easy access to Daintree National Park, and Cape Tribulation providing boutique getaways for luxury clients.
Fiji’s (pictured below) rainfall levels also drop off dramatically too, offering reliable sunbathing spots and the perfect setting for island-hopping cruises.
The cascading waterfalls and flowing rivers of Samoa are still spectacular in the early dry season, while those seeking a quiet break in Broome should enjoy sunset strolls along Cable Beach; the city fills up when Australian school holidays begin in early July.
Meanwhile Matariki, Maori new year, is forecast for June 28 this year. Celebrations last year included kite-flying in Auckland and a haka in Wellington.
The Cook Islands are beautiful year-round, but Kuoni product manager Sheena Paton recommends visiting from July to October for the migration of humpback whales, which pass so close to shore they can be seen by sunbathers on the beach.
Cox & Kings also recommends Te Maeva Nui cultural festival, which bridges July and August, and brings the islands together to celebrate their independence.
Those humpback whales can also be seen passing Kaikoura, New Zealand.
It’s prime ski season in New Zealand, with world-class mountain resorts such as Mount Hutt in Canterbury, or Coronet Peak and beginner-friendly The Remarkables near Queenstown.
Cooler weather in Australia’s Red Centre makes Uluru more enjoyable; beware temperatures can go below freezing overnight, but daytime averages of 20C-25C mean pleasant walking conditions. There’s no chance of getting chilly in Tahiti, where black-sand beaches and lively French-influenced capital Papeete are at their most enchanting; Premier Holidays recommends eating street food with the locals at Les Roulottes.
Canberra erupts into a blaze of colour with its annual Floriade festival from mid-September to mid-October. The oft-overlooked capital doesn’t make it onto many itineraries, but its museums and monuments are fascinating.
1st Class Holidays recommends swimming with dolphins in the Bay of Islands at this time of year, plus there’s still enough time in the dry season to spot diverse birdlife in Papua New Guinea; Wildlife Worldwide has dedicated bird-spotting itineraries.
Over on Australia’s Gold Coast, it’s getting warm enough to go surfing, and it’s best done now before school-leavers flock to the region for their annual ‘schoolies’ party.
The green shoots of spring also bring New Zealand’s Milford Sound to life, and even if there is the odd rain shower, it only enhances the waterfalls cascading down this peaceful fjord’s cliffs.
It’s better to wait until spring turns into summer to strip off and dip in at Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Coast, New Zealand.
You don’t have to dig too deep to hit the warm springs bubbling below this sandy beach – jump in and soak while staring out to sea.
In Margaret River, it’s all about cutting-edge cuisine as the annual Gourmet Escape food and wine festival (November 21-23) gets world-class chefs rustling up tasty treats with produce from around the region.
Back in peak season, it’s best to book ahead as accommodation gets busy, and Christmas attracts visiting friends or relatives.
Tasmania is in full bloom at this time of year, with the annual Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race setting off on Boxing Day and arriving to great applause in Hobart’s charming harbour.
But the most famous annual event is New Year’s Eve at Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but be prepared to camp out to secure a decent spot.
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