Winter can be tough. Shorter days turn daylight into a precious commodity, making it difficult to while away an evening beside the BBQ. Along with its challenges, however, winter also presents us with some unique opportunities that are otherwise impossible to enjoy. Alpine snowfields dusted with fresh powder, mittened hands clutching steaming mugs in the light of a campfire or a tropical escape made all the more poignant by the contrasting cold that’s been left behind; these are the gifts of old man winter and it’s about time we showed our appreciation.
Vic High Country
A humble afternoon cuppa takes on a unique charm on a Vic High Country afternoon, shadows stretching ever-outward until the sun settles in the west. The crisp carpet of snow that blankets the region during the colder months means that a number of tracks close between June and November, but don’t let that hold you back; charge up your GPS and start plotting, here are a couple of spots to stop off along the way.
Blue Rag Trig Point
A 4WD favourite that offers spectacular views across the summits and slopes of the Alpine National Park. Make sure you unhitch before you hit the Blue Rag Range Track – it’s not suitable for towing caravans or campers – and be prepared with recovery gear and extra supplies. And whatever you do, don’t feed the yetis.
The High Country is peppered with a number of storied huts, but none have spent as much time in the spotlight as Craig’s Hut. This recognisable refuge was built high on the peak of Mount Stirling and featured in The Man From Snowy River, an iconic film that echoes the settler history of Australia. To get there you can drive a short 4WD track, walk in from the day visitor area or hitch a ride in a helicopter. But if you really want a taste of early High Country life, then the best option is to saddle up and take a horse ride.
Snowy Mountains, NSW
Another cold-weather treasure set along the Great Dividing Range rests just north of the border between New South Wales and Victoria. The Snowy Mountains are the home of some of the country’s finest snow-sports venues, including Thredbo, which has the longest ski run on mainland Aus, and Perisher, the largest alpine resort in the Southern Hemisphere. The Snowies, as they’re affectionately known, are the premier destination for an adrenaline-fuelled mid-year getaway.
Kosciuszko National Park
The gentle giant that is Mount Kosciuszko stands proud within Kosciuszko National Park. At 2,228 metres tall it’s not only Australia’s tallest mountain but the highest summit on the continent. Fortunately for would-be alpinists, Kosciuszko relatively small on a global scale, which means that anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can reach the top and earn the bragging rights. It’s possible to drive to within 9km of the summit via Charlotte Pass and Rawson Pass (the first 7.6km of which can be ridden on a bicycle) or from the top of the Thredbo Kosciuszko Express chairlift it’s a mere 6.4km to the peak. The chairlift operates all year round but be sure to check the forecast before setting off, as the alpine extremes can be demanding.
If battling the elements to conquer summits isn’t for you then why not escape the fury of nature by heading underground? Yarrangobilly Caves offer a stark contrast to the wide, open alpine landscape, as visitors are immersed in a subterranean gallery of stalactites, stalagmites and delicate cave coral. You can head down on a guided tour or take it at your own pace, then once you’ve had enough of the confined spaces take a short (but steep) walk from the car park to the naturally heated Yarrangobilly Caves thermal pool.
Tasmania is subject to much harsher winter temperatures than mainland Australia, which leaves Taswegians well-equipped for cold weather entertaining. Don’t let crazy coworkers frighten you away with stories of snowshoeing the Overland Track in July, Tassie has some far more comfortable alternatives on offer.
Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest
Down in the Huon Valley, they don’t merely survive the winter, they celebrate it. Each year the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest lights up the July night sky with a pagan-inspired party that’s all about throwing off the oppression of winter and having fun. There’s wassailing, a wicker-man burning, story-telling, art, music and a whole lot of feasting. But perhaps the most entertainment is to be had from the elaborate costumes donned by festival goers vying for the best-dressed prize – it really is a sight to behold.
Port Arthur Ghost Tours
Spooky stories are seldom set on sunny summer afternoons, which means a chilly winter’s night is the ideal time to hunt for ghosts in the Port Arthur Historic Site. Every evening as the sun sets, brave souls gather by lantern light to wander buildings and ruins once occupied by convicts, soldiers and settlers. Over 90 minutes you’ll learn some of the darker tales within the history books of the infamous penal colony and, if you’re lucky, maybe even come face to face with one of the settlement’s original residents.
Far North Queensland
No matter how many cold-weather comforts you indulge yourself in, every winter there comes a point when heading north to defrost is the necessary course of action. In the tropical climate of Far North Queensland, winter seems to melt into fiction, condensation rolling off your cocktail glass as the sun bids farewell to glistening waters by painting an orange sky.
You might as well take the idea of heading north for the winter to its logical conclusion and head all the way to the tip of Cape York. The journey to The Tip is as enjoyable as the destination itself, particularly if you’re willing to tackle the Old Telegraph Track (although it’s best attempted without a load on the hitch). Once you’re there you can settle in at the Punsand Bay campsite, take a trip out to the northernmost point in Australia and just generally soak it all in. The toughest part of this getaway comes when it’s time to head south again and bid farewell to the lazy blue skies as you start heading south again.
If The Tip is more of an expedition than you’re willing to take, there’s no need to go further than Weipa, one of the larger towns on the Cape. If you’ve got a tinny in tow then you’re in for a treat, this place is a fisho’s paradise thanks to its abundance of salmon, trevally, grunter, fingermark, jewfish and, according to the locals, more barra than you can shake an Ugly Stik at. The plentiful marine life supports thriving indigenous heritage, which is evidenced in historical sites all over the place. Weipa is particularly popular in June when the Weipa Fishing Classic draws in major crowds, so if you’re planning a mid-winter escape then be sure to book a campsite in advance.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Tim van Duyl
Coming from marine publishing Tim now oversees Caravan World and Trade-a-Boat for the Adventures Group as their Senior Editor. With experience garnered from travelling the breadth and width of his home country New Zealand in all manner of ways, his mission is to see all Australia has to offer. Having already sampled Cape York, Murray-Sunset National Park, Wilsons Promontory and the bulk of Victoria’s West, he has plans to add to the small parts of WA and NT already seen. When not on the road you can find Tim passing time at lakes around Australia or in the high country camping with his close friends and family with the Murrindindi a popular spot.