Winter in OZ


Winter's but a state of mind, especially when out and about in a camper trailer.

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Winter in Australia is technically defined as that period from June 1 to August 31. It’s a time of surprisingly cold nights and balmy days in the far north of our continent, and unpleasantly cold days and nights in the south, though, despite the rumours to the contrary, with less rain on average than during the warmer months of spring.

Seasonal variations vary greatly because of the size of the Australian land mass. In the tropics winter is a time of little to no rainfall and gradually declining creeks and rivers.
Australia can be grateful for the geographic disconnect between our landmass and the Antarctic landmass. In the Northern Hemisphere major areas of continental land extend almost to the Northern Polar regions, bringing massive air movements uninterrupted to the major population areas in Europe, North America and northern Asia. In Australia the Southern Ocean, with its significant West to East currents buffers and diverts air flow from the southern polar ice cap leading to moderate winter temperatures and relatively minimal differences between winter and summer climates.

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation, caused when sea surface temperatures in the tropical Central and Eastern Pacific become much warmer than average, does have an impact on winter climates in Australia, just as it does in droughts and rainfall, governing the extent of frosts and snowfalls in mountainous areas.

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Snowtime Fun

In the south-east of the nation winter is a time for fun in the snow. Where the mountain peaks reach cooler temperatures in NSW’s Snowy Mountains, Victoria’s Alpine Region and the mountainous parts of Tasmania snow resorts pepper the hillsides and enthusiasts from across the nation gather to make the most of both natural and artificially created snow.Winter temperatures are usually below freezing at night in alpine regions, with the lowest recorded temperature being minus 23.0 degrees C at Charlotte Pass, NSW in June 1994.

In NSW snow is experienced mainly in the mountainous regions south of Canberra but at least two or three times every year snow falls can occur along the Blue Mountains all the way up to the Queensland border. Snow has fallen in Sydney on several occasions since European settlement, but only four times has it accumulated on the ground, and all of these were in the extremely cold winter of 1836.

Snow occasionally falls across much of Victoria, sometimes blanketing even Melbourne suburbs, as it did in 1951 and 2005. The principle snow resorts are, however, in the Victorian Alpine regions to the north and east of Melbourne.

In South Australia severe cold snaps are occasionally matched with light snowfalls, most commonly on the Mount Lofty Ranges, but they have also been known to occur in Adelaide suburbs, on the Eyre Peninsula and up into the centre of the state on the tops of higher peaks.

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In Western Australia Perth has never had snow, but rare light falls have occurred south around Albany and along the summits of the Stirling Range.

Tasmania is, however, much more prone to snowfalls, thanks to its more southerly latitudes. The state’s central highlands and the more mountainous areas commonly get good snowfalls in winter, though it rarely, if ever, extends to the coast. Mt Wellington, behind the state capital of Hobart, can get snowfalls at almost any time of the year and has even been known to have some snow covering in mid-summer.

Surprisingly, snow is not unknown in Queensland and falls there close to once a year. Snow has fallen as far north as the Clark Ranges near Mackay, as far west as Texas and does occur not uncommonly – and sometimes quite heavily - on the Granite Belt around Stanthorpe. Snow even reportedly fell in suburban Brisbane in 1957 and 1982.

During the last Ice Age, finishing about 11,700 years ago, there was a small area around Mt Kosciusko where glaciers were responsible for some of the current landforms, while in Tasmania there was a much more extensive glacier field on the central highlands. Today, the only glaciation on Australian Territory is on Heard Island in the Southern Ocean, and this is rapidly melting under the influence of global warming.

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Tropical Variations

In northern Australia the coastal areas in winter are moderated by the presence of the ocean nearby and daily temperatures rarely fall below about 12 degrees C while towards the centre of the continent night time temperatures can commonly fall as low as 5 degrees C with frosts occasionally surprising visitors in the morning. In extreme cases nightime temperatures can dip to as low as minus 2 or 3 degrees C. Go prepared with warm clothing if travelling at this time of year.

Wildflower Heaven

For those who love wildflowers Western Australia is the go, starting in the north of the state in June. There are over 12,000 species of wildflower – the largest in one region on Earth, spread over 2.5 million square kilometres.

There are a number of Wildflower Trails organised by the state’s Tourist Bureau, and these can lead you through the best areas. Consult local tourist information centres. Much of the carpets of stunning colour can be seen along the roadside but often the best areas are down small side tracks and local knowledge in best in tracking these down.

This sort of tourism is ideal for those with a camper trailer in tow.

The differing versions here represent differing geographical regions. The H’harawal inhabited the coastal areas between Sydney and the Shoalhaven River to the south, while the Nyoongar lived in south-west Western Australia. This just underlines the diversity of climates in Australia and the difficulty of applying a simplistic imported seasonal recognition to this land.