Ever wondered, in between sniffles, what the word sad means? Well, in some avenues of psychology, it stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder – a fancy term for severe cases of those pesky winter blues. Why is this relevant? Australia’s picturesque autumn days are slowly being replaced with seemingly perpetual rain, bone-aching chills and grey expanses of sky.

It’s official, Winter is here.

So how do you keep a cosy smile on your face this winter? A holiday, it seems! Studies have officially shown that holidays improve various spheres of life, and they definitely raise our happiness levels. With that in mind, it’s still freezing outside, so where do we go without getting grumpy (or frostbite)? If you’re not part of the 10 percent of Aussies who take to the ski slopes for the winter months, here are our top 7 fireside destinations down under (hot chocolate compulsory). Book your stay with us at ChoiceHotels.com.

1. Port Fairy, VIC

Whales, pastries, puppies and discos – could there be anything happier? The quaint town of Port Fairy lights up in winter as tourists flock to the history-rich maritime town for Winter Weekends – a crafty, cosy seasonal festival of food, family, arts and Dachshunds. Every second weekend in June and July is home to a host of community-driven exhibitions, tours, performances and markets nestled in between the white-washed seaside cottages. Watch out for the migrating southern right whales as you survey the postcard-worthy scenes.

2. Hobart, TAS

Fancy a dip in the winter sea? Probably not, but head down to Hobart this winter to watch some slightly crazy people take on the Winter Solstice Nude Swim. If that adrenaline rush doesn’t tickle your fancy, discover Mona, the city’s world-renowned art museum. Winter at Mona welcomes the annual Dark Mofo festival – a celebration of food, art and culture: weird and wonderful. Devour delicious cuisine at the Winter Feast and keep warm as you dance along to eclectic performances from some of the world’s most prolific experimental musicians.

More: 4 Tips to get through the Aussie cold this winter

3. Whitsundays, QLD

Crystal skies, pristine beaches and clear blue water – might as well be summer! The Whitsunday Islands of Queensland don’t seem to inherit the annual Aussie winter chill. Snorkel, swim, sail and skydive along the Great Barrier Reef in one of the country’s remaining protected wilderness areas and forget that S.A.D. even exists. The spectacular landscape is dotted with culinary hotspots and luxurious spas to top off your winter explorations.

4. Darwin, NT

The Northern Territory is well known for its scorching summers. Those who can’t bear to brave the heat will relish the colder months in Darwin (which admittedly also feel a bit like summer). The Kakadu National Park is an unmissable early winter destination, lined with freshly-filled waterfalls, lakes and untapped beauty. It would be remiss not to entrench yourself in the cultural significance of the landscape too, with rock art tours and a visit to some cultural centres.

5. Margaret River, WA

One benefit of winter travel that’s often overlooked is the noticeable lack of crowds. The hills and sands of Margaret River are best when you’ve got them all to yourself. Marvel at the stalactites, stalagmites and fossils of wheelchair-accessible Mammoth Cave before you take to the winter swells, surfboard in hand. Cycle in peace up craggy forest trails or abseil down cliffs with breathtaking views of the coast to warm up your muscles. Alternatively, canoe your way down the Margaret River itself before taking on an unmissable tasting tour with the region’s wine and beer masters.

You May Be Interested In: The chamber of… wonders – deep, dark caves in Margaret River (Ngilgi Adventure Tour)

6. The Grampians, VIC

Fancy thawing out with an Emu? Get your thermal underwear on and head to the Grampians for a hearty dose of nature in the chilly winter months. The area is renowned for its wildlife, breath-taking landscapes and majestic wilderness walks. Once you’ve expended all your energy you can tuck into a strange (but warm) meal at the High Street pub. See the early sunset in with a glass of local wine at a cosy hotel log fire. Insider tip: the local visitor’s information centres often have a few sneaky discounts and specials to warm up those frozen bank accounts!

7. Warrumbungle, NSW

You can’t get much warmer than lava. Head to the volcanic remnants of Warrumbungle National Park, where the winter night skies are some of Australia’s clearest – ideal for stargazing and taking in the wonders of our Universe. The dramatic, ancient landscapes will certainly leave birdwatchers, campers and walkers grinning through the cold. Get your blankets out, Australia – we’re not letting the winter get the better of us.

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