Usually at this time of year the heat is on to throw a sundress and shorts into a suitcase and jet off to the beckoning warmth of Bali or Greece to spend a few weeks sipping poolside Bintangs or soaking up a Santorini sunset.
But, Covid. Well, just because an international summer isn’t happening in 2021, it doesn’t mean you can’t toss off the doona, ditch the home delivery and bid a smug farewell to winter.
Luckily for grounded Aussies, during the middle of the year, a good portion of the country remains lit by 10 hours of sun and bathed in warmth. The Northern Territory, tropical Queensland and plenty of Western Australia enjoy daytime temperatures in the 20s and these wonderful and often wildly beautiful places are ready to welcome chilled southerners.
This list of 25 hot and heavenly destinations, from city jaunts to remote islands, is your ticket to escape winter. Whether you go this year, book ahead for next, or even go off-season, there’s plenty to feed your travel cravings for decades to come.
1. Let your hair down
Outback Queensland might seem like an odd place for one of the country’s best parties, but Birdsville has quite the reputation for hosting rollicking good times. When the Bash is on, the nominal population of 115 Birdsvillians swells as festivalgoers descend. This year, Paul Kelly headlines the three-night party from July 6-8. If you miss out on tickets, plan ahead for 2022 as this is one event that should crown your bucket list.
2. Connect to culture
Set in the township of Laura – home to Australia’s most significant collection of Indigenous rock art – this welcoming and uplifting festival is a showcase event of incredible Aboriginal talent. From July 2-4 July, around 25 dance troupes from local Cape York Peninsula communities will perform on the traditional Bora ground site in a flurry of colour and spectacular storytelling.
3. Soak in sunset vibes
Our northernmost city is a thrumming conglomeration of cultures. Experience the true essence of Darwin at the Mindil Beach Markets every Thursday and Sunday from 4-9pm during the dry season. Watch the sun set over the ocean to a bongo-and-didge soundtrack as you enjoy the incredible smorgasbord of Asian-influenced food and feel the tantalising embrace of tropical heat.
4. Go wild swimming
The Top End offers plenty of spots for slipping into natural pools edged by bush or dramatic rock formations. But perhaps one of the hottest (or coolest) is the thermal springs of Mataranka near Katherine. This sandy-bottomed, blue-hued pool is the stuff of wild swimming dreams.
5. Discover silky white sands
If you’re looking for one of the best beaches in the world from which to give winter the slip, Whitehaven Beach wins every time – with or without a lurking pandemic. Head to the northern tip to explore Hill Inlet, then go to the lookout at Tongue Bay to marvel the inlet’s iridescent swirls of sand and crystal water.
6. Hang about in Karijini National Park
The geological formations at Karijini National Park in Western Australia’s Pilbara region will take your breath with their beauty and, should you choose to abseil its cliffs and caverns, with physical exertion, too. But if the very idea of giddy adventure gives you palpitations, you may prefer to relax in the warmth of Karijini Eco Retreat.
7. Dine outdoors
In the southern Great Barrier Reef towns of Agnes Water and 1770, you can enjoy an evening meal en plein air without the need for an outdoor heater. Enjoy a delicious chicken parmie under fairy lights at the Agnes Water Tavern, sunset cocktails at the 1770 Beach Hotel or take a ‘LARC! and Lunch’ tour to Bustard Bay – LARC! being a hot-pink amphibious vehicle, obviously.
8. Ride a camel
Absorbing a blood-red sunset dropping into the ocean from the golden shores of Cable Beach can only be done one way, and that is sitting on top of a fantastic humped beast. Find out just why this is one of Australia’s most iconic experiences.
9. Stare at the sky
Sometimes the most memorable experiences require no more than a swag and the sky. At the tip of the Dampier Peninsula is Cape Leveque, a place well-suited to celestial ponderings thanks to its brilliantly clear night skies. Pop the camp chair and settle in for a staring competition with the Milky Way.
10. Collect art
Across the water from Darwin is the ‘Island of Smiles’, or, the Tiwi Islands. The Tiwi people are well-known for their two loves: art and football. Both are combined on a special day in March for the grand final and art sale, but you can take a tour to collect and admire the exquisite artworks and textiles anytime from April to December.
11. Deep dive with whale sharks
In the tranquil underwater world at the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef (where water temperatures hover between a warm 20-28C all year round), experience a heart-lifting communion with gentle and majestic, polka-dotted whale sharks.
12. Take the top off
Darwin to Broome road trip, NT and WA
If the pandemic has gifted us anything, it’s the opportunity to explore our own country. Invest the time and money you’d readily spend making your way from London to Lisbon and take a leisurely roadie along the top of Oz. From Darwin to Broome, it’s an 18-odd-hour drive, which you can roll out over a week or more, taking in stunning national parks and the Kimberley along the way.
13. Or, take the cruisy option
If spending a week rattling along desert-fringed roads isn’t for you, opt for a highlight reel of attractions across the top as you cruise by boat from Darwin to Broome over 10 nights. Coral Expeditions is one of the operators with spaces available for this year, or plan ahead for 2022.
14. Escape to wild luxury
If you fantasise about being shipwrecked on a wildly remote tropical island, but by shipwrecked, you mean ‘pampered’ with well-appointed rustic-luxe accommodation, fresh seafood and ocean experiences, book a stay at this secluded island in the Great Barrier Reef.
15. Scoot the plains in an airboat
When you book a stay at the indelible Bamurru Plains on the edge of the Mary River flood plains, it’s imperative you also book onto an airboat safari. This thrilling tour on a thoroughly James Bond-esque vessel will have you feeling as though you’re in hot pursuit of more than just the sun. And you really are – you’re on the hunt for magnificent wetland birdlife and skulking crocs.
16. Fish for barra
Cast adrift from remote Arnhem Land in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Groote Eylandt is a pristine wilderness with its immaculate marine environment providing an angler’s Arcadia brimming with marlin and barramundi. All recreational fishing is conducted sustainably in agreeance with the local Anindilyakwa people, who’ve been custodians of the land for a staggering 8000 years.
17. Dip a toe in
Gazing upon stunning Hinchinbrook Island and with a postcard-pretty jetty stretching 6km into the Coral Sea, the hamlet of Lucinda is an idyllic launch pad for exploring the reef and local landscape, and is a prime spot for casting a line under the sun’s rays, too.
18. Hike the Devils Thumb
This skyward protuberance in Mossman Gorge can be hiked by accessing the trail at Little Falls Creek. The Devils Thumb is known by the local Aboriginal people as Manjal Jimalji, a cultural site significant in their fire creation story. It also provides fairly fit and willing walkers dramatic views out to the coast.
19. Go all out in the Ord Valley
Immediately begin planning your trip to the Argyle Diamonds Ord Valley Muster for next May. This nine-day festival of culture, music and art is the hot ticket of the Kimberley region each season. If you’re making the trip, you may as well add a stay at the incomparable El Questro Station, be it in the luxe homestead or just pitching a tent.
20. Cycle around the Rock
Take in the magnificence of the famed desert monolith Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park on two wheels. The 15km journey is suitable for all ages with plenty of stops along the way to see rock art, billabongs and native flora and fauna. While mornings are cool in Uluru, the days are hot and filled with magnificent sunshine lighting up the red ochre land.
21. Dive with turtles
This island on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef is a barely touched haven for reef-dwellers and a nesting ground for green turtles, making it a spectacular snorkelling and dive spot. At a very doable four-hour drive from Brisbane, it’s also one of the more accessible.
22. Walk with crocs
Have your torch fully charged and your nerves in-check to walk this dark, water-carved limestone tunnel in the Napier Range, which just happens to be inhabited by freshwater crocs (they’re small, but snappy if caught off-guard). The tunnel is also the eventual Waterloo of legendary Aboriginal outlaw, Jandamarra.
23. Eat out and stay out
Warm winter days may turn into cooler evenings in Brissie, but the city’s hot and heavily serviced restaurant scene will swiftly dispatch any shivers. From Bianca and Agnes in Fortitude Valley to Southside in South Brisbane and the plentiful options at Howard Smith Wharves, cold cockles will be thoroughly warmed before slipping into bed at one of the city’s glamorous hotels such as the glitzy Emporium Hotel in South Bank or the fashionable Calile in Fortitude Valley.
24. Head to Shinju Matsuri
Celebrating the incredible diversity and talent of historic Broome, this cultural festival backdropped by the Kimberley landscape runs from August 22 to September 5.
25. Learn about country
How better to meaningfully connect with the breathtaking wilderness of Arnhem Land than on a tour run and owned by true custodians of the land where you will spend time with the Yolngu people on their traditional homelands.