The turn of a new year in Australia throughout much of the country also brings along with it a significant bump in the thermometer readings, as summer is in full swing and shows no signs of slowing down. Add in school holidays, and January makes for one of the busiest periods in the entire calendar year to travel in Australia, with much of the northern third of the country in particular nearing uncomfortable levels of warmth.
As a result, many travellers will instead want to flock south during January, for purposes of both cooling down as well as escaping the crowds that envelop many of Oz’s biggest-name tourist spots. This warmer climate brings with it the benefit of making a number of typically chilly southern destinations far more viable, however, with some truly unique experiences to be had in the “downunder” portion of DownUnder.
If you’re looking for a summer escape that also offers some truly enjoyable things to do, here are 5 of the best places in Australia to visit in January.
5. Port Macquarie, NSW
Average temperatures: 25.7°C – 18.3°C
Must see & do: visit the Koala Hospital; do the Port Macquarie Coastal Walk; visit Billabong Zoo; walk & dine at the Breakwall; explore Sea Acres National Park
Often first encountered by many as merely a scenic drive-through town on the trip between Brisbane or the Gold Coast and Sydney, Port Macquarie makes for a standout destination in its own right, for a multitude of reasons that make the coastal NSW town-slash-city a pleasure to both visit and live. Named as home to the best overall climate in Australia by the CSIRO, Port Macquarie makes for a balanced seaside location without any of the excess humidity and sweat encountered during January in many of its more northern brothers.
There’s a reason Port Macquarie has become one of Australia’s most popular go-to destinations for retirees and other transplants from around the country in recent years; a visit here offers all the conveniences and family attractions of a bigger city, while still serving as a relaxed getaway destination home to some truly excellent beaches. Add in a greater variety of dining and restaurant options – and some quality local attractions for those visiting as a family – and Port Macquarie checks all the boxes in terms of convenient and comfortable January getaways.
As with any coastal destination, there’s a strong orientation towards the aquatic at Port Macquarie, with those who enjoy the water likely to find plenty to entertain, and water temperatures comfortably warm during the peak of summer. Both the Hastings River and the open ocean provide avenues for refreshment and fun, with the waters off the coast of Port Macquarie rich in marine life – including dolphins and whales (not during January, however – while fishing enthusiasts can drop a line and catch any number of popular species while enjoying some lovely views.
There’s a reason Port Macquarie has become one of Australia’s most popular go-to destinations for retirees and other transplants from around the country in recent years.
Those looking for an excellent overview of Port Macquarie’s scenery can embark on the wonderful 9km-long Port Macquarie Coastal Walk, taking in a blend of beach, river and the landmark lighthouse of Tacking Point. The walk also documents the history of the region in fine form. Likewise, its signature Breakwall walk makes for another enjoyable stroll, offering plenty of chances for sightseeing, admiring local and meaningful artworks, or providing a stop for a barbecue or for the kids to have a play.
Head inland and you’ll encounter some lush hinterland greenery courtesy of the Sea Acres National Park that tends to be far less crowded than the waterfront. Kids and animal lovers can witness some Aussie icons at the excellent Billabong Koala & Wildlife Park for some up-close interaction, or instead witness a beacon of animal conservation done right at the volunteer-staffed Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.
Reaching Port Macquarie can be done via a roughly 5 hour drive from Sydney, however if travelling during the peak portion of January, expect to encounter a longer travel time. Port Macquarie’s comfortable temperature, convenience, and great coastal and inland environments make any aggravation well worth the effort, regardless.
4. Geelong, VIC
Average temperatures: 25.0°C – 13.2°C
Must see & do: stroll the Geelong Botanical Gardens; grab a beer at Little Creatures Brewery; surf or take a lesson at Ocean Grove; visit the National Wool Museum; swim with seals and dolphins at Queenscliff; kids can ride the waterfront Carousel
In many ways, Melbourne‘s “little brother” offers some things that it’s nearby capital cannot; throughout both Geelong city and its surrounding Bellarine Peninsula, travellers can encounter quality beaches, a handful of pleasantly laid-back seaside towns, and an industrially-tinged history that’s been incorporated into modern revitalisation efforts.
Geelong thus has quite a character all of its own that splices together elements of Melbourne with a more outdoorsy feel; with its working-class roots clashing with urban – perhaps even “hipster” – tastes, and a dining and bar scene that ranks amongst Australia’s up-and-coming best. Geelong’s series of repurposed industrial buildings that are dotted with trendy cafes, an outstanding brewery, and a number of signature restaurants covering the entire budgetary spectrum provide ample opportunity for a quality bite to eat – making it an easy to recommend hub for foodies.
The city also features a lovely waterfront area and a collection of outstanding beaches that are easy to enjoy during January, with some excellent surfing and swimming on offer at the likes of Barwon Heads or Ocean Grove, respectively. Temperatures during this season typically max out around the comfortable mid-20’s (Celsius), making for an environment that’s enjoyable both in and out of the water.
Geelong’s waterfront area is a pleasure to explore even if staying on dry land, and is dotted with a mixture of cafes – often with a maritime influence – as well as one of the city’s signature attractions: its historic, meticulously-restored waterfront carousel (merry-go-round) replete with brightly-painted horses and cheerful music that has been delighting kids of the region for decades now.
The city also features a lovely waterfront area and a collection of outstanding beaches that are easy to enjoy during January.
Attraction-wise, Geelong has plenty to keep those paying a visit for several days well entertained. Its Botanical Gardens blends together all the expected greenery with plentiful elements of water to create a colourful palette for a walk or a picnic; its National Wool Museum is a highly engaging exhibit despite its relatively humdrum name featuring great displays and historic curation on the region; and its Little Creatures Brewery is the Victorian answer to one of Western Australia’s greatest exports, and a viable hub for well-priced dining in its own right.
Lastly, no trip to the Geelong region is complete without enjoying its two essential wildlife experiences: the safari-style savannah of the excellent Werribee Open Range Zoo (around 45 minutes away), and the chance to swim with wild dolphins and seals in the waters of the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park.
3. Snowy Mountains, NSW
Average temperatures: 21.4°C – 7.3°C
Must see & do: go horse riding; hike Mt. Kosciusko; try river sledding at Lake Crackenback; visit the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre; the Kosciuszko Brewery; take a Snowy Vineyard Estate Winery Tour
Australia’s most famous high-country area may be renowned for its wintersports, yet New South Wales’ Snowy Mountains region makes for a veritable playground for outdoor enthusiasts during the warmer periods as well. Sometimes inhospitably cold for many travellers during winter, in the summer season much of the Snowies have thawed out, opening up countless opportunities for the likes of walking, riding, kayaking, and a range of other activities all amongst some untouched Aussie bushland.
Many of the previously frigid and dully-hued landscapes of the Snowy Mountains transform to become draped in a layer of colour during the warmer months, with its glowing glacial lakes contrasting with brightly-coloured wildflowers of vivid hues making for a bright and radiant landscape during January.
The eponymous mountain range consists of part of the greater Kosciuszko National Park, with its namesake peak an obvious highlight and offering a surprisingly accessible walk for those interested in making the hike to its summit. Walking up Kosciuszko is far less daunting than the prospect may initially seem, with a reasonable gradient and solid footing meaning walks of even moderate fitness levels can expect to complete the trek in around three to four hours. In return for your efforts, you’ll encounter a mixture of ancient glacial landscapes, and vibrant alpine flowers that combine with the views to make for some stunning scenery.
Many of the previously frigid and dully-hued landscapes of the Snowy Mountains transform to become draped in a layer of colour during the warmer months.
The range also serves as an excellent mountain biking destination, with a number of trails that both novices and seasoned riders can enjoy. The 19km-long Thredbo Valley Track ranks as its most popular offering, with the majority of it navigable to riders of all types, offering a leisurely route through a blend of tall gums, dense woodland, and sweeping grasslands.
Those more interested in the aquatic can instead base themselves around the focal point of two of the region’s popular lakes – Lake Crackenback or Lake Jindabyne – and participate in the likes of kayaking, sailing, canoeing and windsurfing, or even try their hand at one of the region’s signature activities: river sledding. Fishing enthusiasts will likewise find few better spots in Australia in which to cast a line, as the Snowy Mountains rank as perhaps the finest spot in Australia for trout fishing.
In addition, the typically winter-oriented resorts of the Snowies such as Thredbo and Jindabyne go out of their way to cater to summertime visitors, offering activities such as bobsledding, golf, abseiling and other outdoor pursuits – all with the added benefit of being able to enjoy them (and your accommodation) at greatly reduced rates compared to the peak of wintertime.
Visitors looking to emulate that figure of folklore, the Man from Snowy River, meanwhile can explore the region by the most iconic and traditional of means: the humble horse. Taking part in a horse riding tour in the Snowy Mountains will see you making your way along an off-the-beaten-path route away from other tourists and into the heart of the high-country bush.
Whether it’s experienced within the luxurious trappings of the Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa or by taking things back to basics at any of the dozens of official camp spots spread throughout, there are few better Aussie spots for getting back in touch with the natural world than the Snowy Mountains in January.
2. Hobart, TAS
Average temperatures: 21°C – 11°C
Must see & do: visit the Museum of Old and New Art; drive or tour the top of Mt. Wellington; sample local seafood; the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens; history at Battery Point; tour the Cascade Brewery; catch a showing at the State Cinema; take a cruise to Bruny Island
Climate may be the main reason most mainland Aussies cite against not wanting to call Tasmania their home, however January and the summer months take this supposed negative almost completely out of the equation, as Hobart and its surrounds offer far milder early-20’s daily maximums along with lower amounts of rainfall. Even the locals come out to play during this season, taking advantage of the comfortable outdoor conditions to hold a number of events and festivals, highlighted by the Taste of Tasmania at the start of the month.
Despite being cold throughout most of the year, it’s somewhat ironic that many of Hobart and surrounds’ best highlights are outdoors; taking a walk through the city’s meticulously-groomed Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens or perusing the wares at the long-running Salamanca Markets becomes much more of a leisurely prospect when Tassie’s blustery weather holds up.
A compact and highly navigable capital city that’s highly walkable is only further enhanced by warmer weather, with its hub Docks area and a number of nearby must-visit attractions all accessible on foot, too. Taking a stroll along the waterfront in enjoyable sunshine – and perhaps stopping at one of its handful of waterside seafood stores to sample the incredibly fresh bounty of the ocean – is one of the simple joys of any trip to Hobart, and can be followed up with a short walk to the likes of cultural attractions the Maritime Museum of Tasmania or Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery just across the road.
Climate may be the main reason most mainland Aussies cite against not wanting to call Tasmania their home, however January and the summer months take this supposed negative almost completely out of the equation.
In addition, Hobart also happens to be the capital of what is widely regarded as one of Australia’s best states for fresh produce, so if you’re the kind who appreciates great wines, cheeses, fresh fruits and more, perusing the various markets and other outlets makes for a great way to pass the time. The city is a gourmet-lover’s delight, and the excellent raw foodstuffs here can both be enjoyed in expertly-prepared fashion within any of the array of Hobart’s quality restaurants (with some great dining available right on the water in your choice of both rustic or ultra-modern surrounds).
Many of Hobart’s most popular day trip destinations and tours also shine during January; taking the renowned Pennicott Wilderness Cruise to Bruny Island, for example, greatly reduces the cutting chill of the ocean winds that can otherwise penetrate despite donning its’ signature red poncho, and even taking the ferry to the must-visit Museum of Old and New Art becomes more enjoyable when one can take in the views of Hobart from out on the open deck.
As long as one takes the basic precaution of any trip to Tasmania – that is, preparing for unpredictable weather and dressing in layers regardless of season, being able to peel off accordingly – a trip to Hobart makes for one of the more flexible January itineraries available. There’s enough interesting indoor cultural highlights to fill multiple rainy days, while when the sun’s out both the city and its nearby, easily-drivable essentials shine to the fullest. Don’t hesitate to give Tassie a try for a summer getaway.
1. Port Lincoln, SA
Average temperatures: 25.4°C – 15.1°C
This relatively small town on the lower portion of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula certainly punches above its weight in terms of both quality of produce and uniqueness of experiences, as Port Lincoln is something of an unexpected hub for both aquatic adventures and delectable seafood. The town lies around 7 hours’ drive from Adelaide and yet is well worth the trek to reach, as it offers a combination of laid-back seaside atmosphere along with a handful of encounters that cannot be done anywhere else in the state.
Those sticking to shore will soon find that Port Lincoln’s major drawcard is the quality of its seafood, with the likes of prawns, tuna and lobster here prominent, juicy, and fresh; culinary enthusiasts will thus be able to sample this ocean bounty “straight from the sea”, or in the number of great restaurants to which the town is home. Oysters in particular are a specialty of the region, with those of Coffin Bay nearby widely considered among the best in all of Australia.
January even sees a dedicated festival named after a specific ocean creature of local significance – the humble tuna – at the annual Tunarama festival which has been running for over 50 years. Despite its namesake, the event is oriented around more than just the fish (although it features an event in which participants compete to throw a frozen tuna as far as possible; the eponymous “Tuna Toss”), serving as a showcase of overall art, culture and entertainment as well. Held over the Australia Day period each year, the festival sees the town at its most lively and makes for one of the more unique regional festivals the country has to offer.
As might be expected by its location however, Port Lincoln’s main draw for most travellers lies largely off-shore, with warmer January water temperatures a boon for those looking to take part.
Exploration-wise, the rugged peninsula of the Lincoln National Park also offers plenty of exploratory opportunities as well, as excellent views of the ocean, relaxing sandy beaches and the chance to set up camp for the night are all on the cards here. If you’re up for the challenge there are various walking trails that provide stunning views over the area.
As might be expected by its location however, Port Lincoln’s main draw for most travellers lies largely off-shore, with warmer January water temperatures a boon for those looking to take part in one the trips that have become iconic of the region: swimming with sea lions and tuna, or cage diving with Great White Sharks. Visitors can embark on a tour to either swim alongside sea lions in the wild at Hopkins, Langton and Pearson Islands for an up-close encounter with these playful and inquisitive mammals, or instead head out to Boston Island and be immersed alongside scores of Southern Blue Tuna.
The ultimate aquatic adrenaline rush is reserved for those daring enough to hop inside a reinforced cage and come face to face with one of the world’s greatest apex predators in the Great White Shark. While it’s obviously an uncontrolled natural encounter and thus subject to the whims of the sharks themselves, local operators Adventure Bay Charters and Calypso Star Charters are both experienced in taking thrillseekers to the sections of the waterways where the Great Whites most commonly frequent. It’s not a cheap experience, but what price can one possibly put on one of life’s most memorable rushes?
Add in the potential for a number of scenic drives around the greater Eyre Peninsula in which travellers can take in a mixture of secluded white sand beaches, dense woodlands and ruggedly beautiful coastlines, and Port Lincoln serves as an idyllic base for some South Australian summer adventures.
In addition, if you’re looking for all the top things to see and do in and around Australia including activities, attractions and more, be sure to check out our main Experiences section to browse and book online!