Visiting a destination in its low season means you can ditch the crowds, bag bargains and see Australia in unexpected ways.
Cradle Mountain, Tas
The high season: Summer, for the wildflowers
The new time to go: Autumn, for the changing leaf colours
While temperatures run high between December and February almost everywhere on the Australian mainland, temperate Tassie often sees days in the mild 20s, which makes the island a top destination for summer tourism. But if you can make time to get to its most famous peak, Cradle Mountain, in the quieter autumn months, you’re in for a treat you’ll find nowhere else on earth. The island is home to a unique species of meandering, low-growing deciduous beech known as fagus that turns rich shades of rust, copper and yellow as the weather cools, carpeting the landscape in an explosion of colour. There are less than 10,000 hectares of fagus in Tasmania (and none anywhere else around the globe) and one of the best spots to see it in all its glorious hues is on a hike to the northern end of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
Where to stay: The newly refurbished King Billy Suites at the mountain’s most popular wilderness retreat, Cradle Mountain Lodge, come with their own private hot tubs.
The high season: The dry (May-October), for cooler temps
The new time to go: The wet (November-April), for spectacular thunderstorms
“I’d avoid the rainy season” is a line you’ll hear a lot when researching a trip to the tropics. But in the wildlands of Kakadu, the rising waters of the tropical wet months bring a richness and beauty you won’t witness at any other time. April is known as bangkerrang, or the “knock ’em down” storm season, and it delivers aweinspiring thunderstorms and cracking lightning displays. It’s also a great time to see the region from the air on a helicopter tour with Coolibah Air, soaring over crashing waterfalls such as Jim Jim and Twin Falls, which are at their most powerful at this time. And for fish fanatics, the Northern Territory’s annual
Million Dollar Fish competition encourages anglers to land tagged barramundi for cash prizes from October to the end of March.
Where to stay: Luxury wilderness camp Bamurru Plains has recently extended its opening dates into March and April.
The Tweed Coast, NSW
The high season: Summer, for the beach
The new time to go: Winter, for the food and festival events
With the family playground of the Gold Coast to the north and famous, buzzy Byron Bay to the south, the relatively uncrowded Tweed region of northern NSW, which has towns like Tweed Heads, Kingscliff and Murwillumbah at its heart, is the new summer destination on everyone’s go-list. Beyond the sparkling coastline and lush hinterland, however, lies a region that’s becoming known as a gourmet hotspot – and chefs don’t stop just because there’s a nip in the air. If you want to feast, the 10-day Taste Tweed food festival features free and ticketed events at the region’s top restaurants, bars and venues every winter. If your trip doesn’t coincide with the festival you can still visit a host of dining hits; must-try spots include Paper Daisy, Taverna and The Inky Squid.
Where to stay: Mavis’s Kitchen & Cabins is a 10-hectare former dairy farm at the base of Wollumbin-Mount Warning with a restaurant that sources much of its produce from the property’s own garden.
The Coral Coast, WA
The high season: Autumn, for the whale sharks
The new time to go: Spring, for the humpback whales
Counting on wildlife to be where you want it to be on any given day is a roll of the dice anywhere in the world but Ningaloo Reef’s famous whale sharks can generally be relied upon to arrive to the waters off the northern end of WA’s Coral Coast around March and stay as late as August. This is the best time to swim with the gentle creatures on one of many tours in the region. But the oceans don’t empty when the weather changes. From July and well into spring, expect to see graceful humpback whales along the coast. Many of the region’s whale shark tour operators, such as Exmouth’s small-capacity Live Ningaloo, switch to humpback swim tours from August until as late as October, one of the few places in the world where you can get in the water alongside these beautiful animals. Whichever main mammals you’re chasing, you might also be lucky and spot turtles, dugongs or dolphins.
Where to stay: Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef is the epitome of off-grid luxury.
Far North Queensland
The high season:: Winter, for the reef
The new time to go: Summer, for the rainforest
The rocketing temperatures of the tropical northern summer can be hard on humans, although the monsoon season between December and March means days often end with a welcome downpour to take the edge off the heat. But for animals and plants, rain means renewal. And that means northern rainforests such as the ancient Daintree – which, with Port Douglas, has just been awarded EcoTourism Australia’s very first Eco Destination Certification in recognition of its world-class natural attractions – burst with colour and life. Offshore, the waters of the Great Barrier Reef are at their clearest, although it’s best to stick to glass-bottom boat tours because this is the time when dangerous stingers could be around. But on land, tour guides can show you safe places for freshwater swimming and for adventurers, full rivers make this a great time for rafting.
Where to stay: The luxury pavilions of Mist at Cape Tribulation are airy oases up in the canopy.
Image credits: Jason Charles, Laura Helle, James Burke, Richard l'Anson, Kara Rosenlund, Tash Press, Reuben Nutt