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Reasons to avoid January travel in Australia

If you're thinking of visiting Australia from the northern hemisphere, it might be tempting to visit in January - swapping the cold dark northern winter for the warmth and sunshine of summer down under. While not wanting to discourage anyone, it's only fair to mention some of the downsides of January travel in Australia.

It may seem odd to emphasise negatives on a website portraying good things about Australia. But while I aim to highlight places overlooked by tourist brochures, highlighting travel challenges overlooked or glossed over by tourist brochures is another way of providing some balance.

Here then are my top reasons why January may not be the best time to visit Australia, and why you're not likely to find me roaming around at that time:

  1. Crowds! School holidays run from before Christmas to the end of January (dates vary between states), making it the most crowded time of year. For many Australians it's the only time they can have a decent break. Peace and quiet can still be found, but you'll have to look harder for it than at other times of year.
  2. Accommodation can be booked out well in advance ... especially the most desirable or best value places.
  3. Bargains and discounts are scarce or non-existant. When accommodation can be found, it is nearly always at maximum price.
  4. Vehicle hire is also harder to book, and more expensive. An example is the campervan I hired in Tasmania for $50 per day in winter - it's $125 per day in summer, if you can get one.
  5. The bad side of human behaviour is more apparent - things like noise and drunken antisocial behaviour. Of course people who behave inconsiderately can turn up anywhere, at any time, and Australia is probably no worse than anywhere else ... but more of them hit the Australian roads in January than any other month.
  6. Flies and mosquitoes are out in full force. Although these pests vary a lot in their numbers and timing from place to place, they peak in the hotter months.
  7. Heat can be excessive away from the southern coasts and mountains. Warm weather might sound appealing if you live somewhere cold, but the novelty can quicky wear off when it stays too hot for too long.
  8. It is possibly the worst time of year for hiking and camping - a shame when so many of Australia's attractions are nature based. This is due to the discomfort and dehydrating effects of heat, plus the peak in the abundance of snakes and annoying insects, not to mention a scarcity of drinking water in many places, and the bushfire risk. Exceptions are the alpine areas and Tasmania, though some would argue even these areas are better in spring or autumn.
  9. Wet season in the tropics means excessive humidity combining with heat to create maximum discomfort. Also tropical cyclones (hurricanes) can cause damage, flooding and road closures.

Beach at Barker's Bay, near Albany, Western Australia
This beach may look nice ... but the flies could be unbearable,
and the sand too hot to walk on with bare feet

Some of these negatives - relating to accommodation, costs and crowds - can be substantially offset by delaying travel until February when school holidays have finished. The other environmental "challenges" still apply then, but can be largely avoided by travelling in spring (Sep-Nov) or autumn (Mar-May) when conditions are more friendly.

Having said all that, plenty of people manage to have enjoyable holidays in Australia in January. It just helps if you have some more realistic expectations than those presented by the travel industry.

More information

Bureau of Meteorology climate information - How hot is hot? With a bit of hunting from this page you can get detailed climate information for just about any weather station in Australia.
School holiday dates - This page has links for all the school holiday and public holiday dates for each Australian state


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