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
Note: flight, boat, train and bus timetables change constantly, and airlines come and go, so please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning. Check with relevant companies, or a flight search engine like Skyscanner, first.
Australia is a long way from everywhere (even New Zealand is a four hour flight) and so air travel is the way to go.
Luckily a large number of airlines fly to Australia. At popular times of year (such as Christmas) you may find prices are high and availability is tight. Security and customs procedures can be lengthy. There are a choice of routes, mostly through Asia. Sydney and Melbourne are the busiest airports but many of the far eastern airlines also fly directly to Perth from their Asian hub. From continental Europe some flights are routed through London via Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.
These are some of the more popular airlines:
Air Canada flies from Vancouver to Sydney.
Air New Zealand flies from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch to most Australian gateway cities.
British Airways flies from Heathrow and many other destinations direct to the major gateway cities.
Cathay Pacific originates from Hong Kong, and flies throughout Asia and Europe.
Emirates flies from all over the world to major Australian destinations and Auckland, via Dubai.
Garuda Indonesia's hub is Jakarta and the carried flies to Darwin as well as east coast Australian cities.
Malaysia Airlines flies from Kuala Lumpur and Europe.
Virgin Blue is the low cost network in Australia and also flies to New Zealand.
Qantas is pretty much the Australian national carrier and flies direct from all over Asia and Europe to all Australian cities.
Royal Brunei Airlines is another Asian carrier.
Singapore Airlines operates out of Changi airport and has many routes between Europe and Australia with a brief stop in Singapore.
South African Airways flies from Johannesburg.
Thai Airways International flies from Europe via Bangkok to most destinations in Australia.
United Airlines flies from LA and San Francisco via the Pacific or east Asia.
As you may have noticed, Australia is rather large, so internal flights are a useful way of seeing as much of the country as possible, and the views from 37,000 feet can be good. Qantas is the main domestic airline but it has competition from newcomer Virgin Blue. There are also smaller operators, mostly owned by Qantas, flying regional routes, such as Australian Airlines who operate along the Gold Coast and Cairns to Sydney, and Jetstar who fly east coast routes. Skywest fly from Perth to many regional centres in WA; Northwest Regional Airlines fly around the North West as its name suggests.
As is to be expected with a vast and under-populated country, public transport is unlikely to carry you conveniently to your destination, except within cities. Inevitably hiring a car will be the solution. See our car rental recommendations. Be warned if you cross various quarantine checkpoints between states you cannot carry honey, plants, fruit and vegetables.
A relatively cheap and reliable method of internal long distance transport although the network really only extends to major routes; and long bus journeys can be tedious. Greyhound is the leading operator.
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.