It’s relatively easy to understand the weather patterns around Australia and plan your lap according to the best forecast. The Tropic of Capricorn passes horizontally through Australia near Exmouth on the west coast of WA to Gladstone in Queensland on the east coast. This determines the southernmost areas for tropical conditions across the globe and can be used as a guide for predicting the weather in Australia. However, our climate is very diverse and carries with it some extreme conditions.
In some parts of this big land, you can get sub-zero temperatures during the winter months, while in other areas the mercury can tip 50 degrees Celsius in the middle of the day. Then there are the arid and dry regions and some that are humid and muggy.
If you are touring and on the move, doing the big lap or even a half lap, with a little planning, you can have a good chance of avoiding the rain and cold temperatures for as long as you like. It’s all about being in the right part of Australia at the right time.
When touring with a tent, you are much more exposed to the weather.
Why does the weather matter?
Life on the road exposes you to the elements much more compared to when you are at home. More time is spent outdoors, and you often have less gear for managing inclement weather. Your travel setup will determine how vulnerable you are to changes in the weather and to what degree this influences when and where you go.
With a tent for shelter, you can’t simply shut the door, turn on the heater and kick back to see out the storm as you can at home. Even a caravan or motorhome is far more comfortable and accommodating in bad weather than a tent or swag, especially if your caravan is equipped with air conditioning and an onboard kitchen, toilet and shower.
Ultimately, the weather affects what you can do and how comfortable you are when doing it. Adverse weather needs to be managed differently so it’s important to plan the direction and timing of your trip.
The southwest of WA has plenty of rain in winter.
What do you have to think about?
There are 4 main weather conditions to be aware of when touring Australia:
- Temperature – there’s a big difference between 25 degrees and sub-zero, and if you aren’t prepared with appropriate gear, at best you’ll be uncomfortable but at worst, you can put yourself in significant danger.
- Wind – this is not entirely unpredictable as the wind tends to follow patterns related to the different seasons. However, if you are coastal camping or somewhere equally exposed and the wind blows its head off for several days straight, your trip is going to be really unpleasant.
- Rain and Snow – I like rain and snow, but only when I’m prepared for it. Some parts of Australia experience torrential downpours and no matter how well you’ve planned things, rainfall is hard to predict. On the other hand, snowy conditions are usually only during the winter months and designated to the alpine regions. If visiting during this time, it’s essential to stay informed on the current conditions and be properly equipped.
- Humidity – some folks love it while others struggle and if you’re exploring the northern parts of Australia all year round, some humidity is unavoidable. These conditions are at their peak during the wet season from November to April and can make a big difference to your comfort levels, especially if you are not used to it.
Swimming in Moore River, WA.
What does the weather affect?
Not only are your comfort and safety a concern, but the weather can affect everything from seasonal closures on roads and station camping to boating, fishing and other activities. We have had some nasty weather events in Australia over the last year which have only highlighted the importance of staying informed and being as prepared and safe as possible.
When it’s warm, everyone loves a swim to cool off but there are some areas where the beaches, creeks and rivers are unsafe. If you’re exploring the northern regions, that swim could go horribly wrong if crocodiles inhabit the water. In parts of the Murray River, the water on the surface looks inviting and calm but beneath lurks a frightening current that can potentially sweep you under. Planning your trip so that you can make the most of the weather and your environment will hopefully mean you can avoid being caught out in the middle of summer with nowhere safe to cool off!
A caravan makes for a much more comfortable trip.
What travel setup do you have?
We briefly mentioned above that different travel setups will suit different scenarios. If you have a caravan or motorhome and your plan is to hop between caravan parks through the wet season up north, it’s entirely possible to be comfortable at night with an air conditioner and use the onsite swimming pool to keep cool during the day.
Try it in a tent and you’ll probably have a hard time sleeping at night. Then when the build-up breaks into torrential rain, trying to cook a meal or stop your tent from floating away with the runoff will be a serious struggle.
Likewise, tent camping during cold weather is certainly doable with the right setup. An insulated mat and decent sleeping bag can make all the difference and if you are touring with a caravan or motorhome, chances are you’ll have heating.
The Duke of Orleans Bay in Esperance on the southwest coast of WA.
How to check the weather
The Bureau of Meteorology is the best place to visit when you’re planning your lap. The website might be a bit clunky and contains more data than you would ever need. But, you can literally look at years and years of weather history, including average monthly rainfall, temperature, humidity and wind.
For example, if we are planning a long beach camping trip we will always look at the winds for the previous year, and the averages for the time we want to go. Western Australia is well known for horrendous winds along the western coastline, especially during the ‘r‘ months – September, November, December, January, February, March and April.
Of course, history isn’t a guarantee that things are going to be perfect, but it gives you a much greater probability for what to expect and when so that you can plan for the weather you want.
The BOM website is great for pre-planning but once you are on the road, the app might be more user-friendly. We use this to keep an eye on the weather and adjust our plans accordingly. If a big storm front is coming in, it’s best to head away from the coast and seek some protection elsewhere. Consider that much of the northern part of Australia experiences cyclones and those conditions are not suitable for being on the road. You will need to seek appropriate shelter. Likewise, if you are travelling through a bushfire risk area during the warmer months, download the necessary state or territory apps and stay informed.
Other apps that are handy to have on your phone can be found here.
Crossing Manning Gorge northwest of Broome.
What is the ‘best’ weather?
This is where things get interesting! If you listen to the Snowys Podcast, you would have heard the two hosts discussing how people like travelling and camping in different weather. For some, kicking back around a campfire on a freezing winter’s night is as good as it gets. Yet others have had enough if the temperature drops below 15 degrees.
At the end of the day, it’s about matching your gear, activities and climatic preferences to the location that’s going to give you the best chance for an ideal experience. If you head along the south coast of Australia during June, July and August, you are not likely to get warm, sunny days and idyllic beach weather. If you’re wanting warmth, clear skies and sunshine, at that time of year you’re better off heading the other way and going north as far as you can!
There are 5 main climatic zones – tropical, sub-tropical, arid, Mediterranean and temperate. Although still regarded as temperate, the Australian Alps are more as the name suggests, alpine.
With the right gear, winter camping and kicking back around the campfire is a great experience.
During the southern winter, the areas north of the Tropic of Capricorn boast sunny and warm conditions. But when the south is experiencing its hot and dry summer, the north goes into its wet season with extreme humidity and torrential rain. It’s during this time that many places become inaccessible due to flooding and road closures, so to avoid disappointment and stay safe from cyclonic patterns, it’s best to tour the north from May through to October and head south from November to April.
There’s a reason why in summer, people head south for the cooler weather and in winter, everyone flocks north for their tropical getaways! The mass grey nomad migration in the wintertime is evidence of hundreds of thousands of people who don’t want to endure another cold and wet winter.
But each to their own. To get your perfect weather, just head in the direction that has the temperature and conditions you desire. If warm, sunny days for 365 days of the year is want you dream of, then you can plan you lap of Australia and for the most part, live your dream.
Your initial point of departure and the time of year in which you depart will determine the direction in which you first head off. So, here’s a 12-month guide to help kick-start your lap based on warm temperatures and minimal wind, rain/snow and humidity:
- November/December/January/February/March – follow the coastline south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
- April/May/September/October – start heading north and inland.
- June/July/August – anywhere north of the Tropic of Capricorn (coastal and inland).
Bear in mind there is some leeway and crossover between the ‘shoulder’ months what you want to avoid is the Red Centre during the peak of summer and the far tropical regions during the height of the Wet. If you love snow sports, it’s likely you’ll want to hit the Australian Alps during ski season so of course, there is some flexibility here, but you get the gist.
Perfect nights in the Kimberley.
In 2018, we left Perth in May and spent 3-months in a camper trailer. The only bad weather we had was the first, and last part of the trip when we were close to Perth. Once you hit the Shark Bay region on Australia’s Coral Coast, there is a distinct increase in temperature and a decrease in the chance of rain.
That is our perfect weather, and we often try and escape the Perth winter. However, we also love camping down south during the colder months but we do so with the right gear and are ready if the weather turns.
What’s your perfect weather for touring?
About the writer...
If it involves four-wheel driving, Aaron loves it. When he isn’t writing for his blog, 4WDing Australia or the Snowys Blog, you’ll find him camping and driving around Western Australia.