Summer’s best secret: Australia’s winter
Mark Twain famously said the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco. Well, with summer coming, maybe there’s reason to chase winter — down under in Australia?
For starters, it’s packed with things to do, from tropical top to snow-capped mountain south. Plus Qantas is offering a deal too good to resist through March 31: roundtrip tickets from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne for under US$800 (on departures from April 19-June 8 and July 24-September 21). That’s sick good.
Here are a few more reasons why its winter just might beat California’s summer.
MOTHER OF ALL ROAD TRIPS. Forget Route 66. Stuart Highway, through the Outback of Northern Territory, connects tropical Darwin to surreal Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) on dead-straight roads through Mars-like settings — and it’s best done in the dry winter months. From Darwin, one can rent campervans for about A$100 a day, or head south by train (24 hours to Alice Springs).
(If feeling less ambitious, take Down Under’s version of California’s coast-hugging Highway 1, Victoria’s 150-mile Great Ocean Road, which offers similar scenes — and without those occasional rockslides shutting things down.)
CHRISTMAS IN JULY. Two hours from Sydney, the hokey but fun town Katoomba is one of the places in the Blue Mountains that celebrates Christmas off-season during Yulefest. The town features art deco homes on steep streets and the historic Carrington Hotel that has served the city-break crowd since 1880.
CROCODILE HUNTER’S ZOO. The late Steve Irwin’s extravagant love of wildlife lives on at the incredible Australian Zoo, just north of the dazzling river city of Brisbane (aka ‘Brisvegas’) and accessible by CityTrain public transit.
NORTHERN TERRITORY’S WILD FESTIVALS. It’s peak season up there in winter, and that means all sorts of events that many Australians just shake their heads and (lovingly) call ‘very Territorial.’ On August 8, coastal Darwin hosts the utterly insane Beer Can Regatta – yes, races of boats made of emptied cans. More boat ballyhoo hits Alice Springs‘ bone-dry river beds during August 21’s Henley-on-Todd Regatta. (Participants ‘run’ boats by sticking their legs out holes in the boat.)
Meanwhile, September’s Alice Springs Desert Festival is an annual outback classic, and there are many traditional Aboriginal festivals around including Arnhem Land’s Garma Festival with bushcraft and yidaki (didgeridoo) lessons in August.
WINE! You can see kangaroos in Victoria’s Yarra Valley — an hour from Melbourne — but the draw are the 80 wineries found in the rolling hills. Wine growing here began in 1838. Either go by day tour or set up for a night or two in the gateway town of Healesville, with B&Bs, beer gardens and the wildlife-rich Healesville Sanctuary, with koala bears, Tasmanian devils and swooping ‘birds of prey’ saved from 2009 bushfires in the area.
FOOTY. Australian Rules Football — a violent sport where oblong balls are punched and dribbled by men in very short shorts and refs make unnecessarily dramatic gestures to indicate scores — takes over Australia (particularly Victoria) from April to September 25’s Grand Final. The best place to see a game is the fabled Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), where footy was first played in 1858 — 19 years before cricket appeared there, mind you. It’s instant fun, more so if a local vainly tries to explain the insanity.
ONE MORE SKI RUN. Australia’s ski slopes are just getting their snows as summer gets going here. The most glamorous resort, three hours’ drive from Melbourne, is Mt Buller, with 400 hectares of skiing, with vertical drops of 400m. For luxury ski in/out digs, reserve Andre’s at Buller, from A$430 a night in peak season (after June 26)."