The seasons in Australia are generally the reverse of the Northern Hemisphere. In the southern third of the country winters (June-September) are cold but rarely freezing, although Tasmania and the Snowy Mountains do get chilly. Summers (December-February) are pleasant and warm, sometimes hot. The far north of the country (Darwin and Cairns) is in the monsoon belt with two seasons: hot and wet (October-March) or hot and dry (April-September). The centre is hot and dry pretty much all year although at night, especially in the winter, it can get very cold.
The size of the continent ensures choice: when it's cold and damp in the south, it is usually the best time to visit the north, and vice versa. December to February is high tourist season with activities, events and festivities; if you can avoid the school and public holidays you'll encounter fewer crowds and more reasonable prices.
HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS
Australians need no excuse to party but here are some:
Boxing Day - Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race
New Year's Eve - Fireworks and revelry everywhere
January - Australian Open in Melbourne
January - Sydney Festival
January - Tamworth Country Music Festival
26 January - Australia Day
February - Perth International Arts Festival
February - Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
March - Adelaide Festival of the Arts
March-April - Melbourne International Comedy Festival
March-April - Royal Easter Show in Sydney
25 April - Anzac Day - all over but Canberra salutes heroes well
May - Outback Muster in Queensland
June - Sydney Film Festival
July - Yulefest in the Blue Mountains
August - Beer Can Regatta in Darwin
September - AFL Grand Final in Melbourne
September - Royal Perth Show
September - Henley-on-Todd Regatta, Alice Springs
October - Melbourne Festival
October - Rugby League Grand Final
November - Melbourne Cup
December-February - Test Match cricket
INTERNAL FLIGHTS: carriers include Qantas, Australian Airlines, Australian Airlines and Virgin Australia.
BY CAR: See our car rental recommendations.
BY BUS: A relatively cheap and reliable method of internal long distance transport. Try Greyhound.
IN CITIES: Taxis are plentiful in all city centres. Sydney has a pretty good network of suburban rail and bus connections; its ferries are the best way to travel around the harbour. Melbourne has a privatised system of its famous trams, rail and buses, and is great for cycling around. Perth has an efficient fully integrated public transport system of buses, trains and ferries, free in the city centre. Adelaide also has an integrated system of metropolitan buses and trains plus the Glenelg tram - a day-trip ticket allows unlimited travel. Hobart has buses and a ferry service, as well as many cycle paths. Brisbane has a Day Rover ticket for its buses, ferries and CityCats. Canberra has buses.
All visitors to Australia need a visa; only those from New Zealand do not. Application forms are available from Australian embassies, travel agents or the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. The Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) is often issued by travel agents or airlines; this replaces the short term tourist visa, and is available to passport-holders of 33 countries including the UK, US, Canada, most European countries, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan.