Australia’s best winter weekend destinations

Winter means different things to each of us. For some, it’s a chance to break out the coats, scarves and beanies and revel in winter fashion. For others, it’s all about hitting the slopes in Australia’s ski resorts (or perhaps just enjoying some ‘après ski’), or bushwalking in crisp environments where mist hangs off your every outward breath. And for others still, it’s the perfect excuse to fly the coup and head north to beachy retreats that are largely humidity free.

Whatever it means to you, here are some of Australia’s best winter long weekends. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.


Winter Night Markets, Melbourne. Image courtesy of Visit Victoria.

Most fashionistas will tell you it’s all about layers and nowhere is that more the case than in uber-cool-and-seriously-nippy winter Melbourne. If you’re planning a mid-year break in the Victorian capital, pack skivvies, jumpers and coats, and that all important winter fashion accessory – the humble scarf. Don’t stress if you’re from warmer climes and not well equipped. This is Melbourne, so there are plenty of places to shop! Those who can swing a mid-week visit can head for the Queen Victoria Market’s popular Winter Night Market. Street food vendors will make it worth your while to take the time off work, with heart-warming fare, hot chocolate and even mulled wine. Would-be ski bunnies will love the snow fields that are within reach of Melbourne. Lake Mountain, Mount Donna Buang and Mount Buller can all be done as day trips. Talk to Around and About Tours who take guests to Buller and back in a day.

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

Need a place to stay?
Browse all Melbourne accommodation options.


Visit Paronella Park from Cairns. Image courtesy of Tourism & Events Queensland.

Cairns is seriously hot right now as a travel destination, but delightfully balmy in terms of the weather. Winter is the optimal time to visit Tropical North Queensland as humidity levels are low and hours of golden sunshine high. There are myriad ways to spend your winter break here, but one of the easiest ways to get into the tropical vibe is on a day trip to Fitzroy or Green Island. Just 45-or-so minutes by launch will see you clad in a sarong and walking on palm-fringed coral beaches cooled by the gentle ocean breeze. There’s more tropical magnificence to be found on a day trip to Wooroonooran National Park — home to the sublime Mamu Tropical Skywalk (which provides a bird’s-eye view of the Wet Tropics rainforest) and whimsical Paronella Park – one man’s castle with more than a touch of the Balis about it!

Need a place to stay?
Comfort Inn Cairns City offers affordable accommodation on the edge of the CBD, just a short walk from the Esplanade, Cairns Aquarium, and cafes and restaurants. Located right in the heart of the CBD, the boutique Benson Hotel features double and king rooms, along with a range of suites.


Sitting by the Manning River on the Barrington Coast of New South Wales, Taree is a tempting proposition in winter, especially for those who love rugged up walks on the beach or along meandering bush trails. Saltwater National Park south of Old Bar offers the best of both worlds. Stroll along the unspoilt beach, then if you’re up for it, do the Five Islands Walking Track along the Khappinghat Creek. There’s also nothing quite like seeing plunging Ellenborough Falls in winter. Drive to the Bulga Plateau from Taree (55 minutes), then walk to your choice of viewing platform and admire the misty veil that hangs over this forested wonderland. A true winter wonderland may await you on a day trip to Barrington Tops National Park. It’s the highest point of the Barrington Coast and regularly receives a winter dusting of the white stuff.

Need a place to stay?
Comfort Inn Country Plaza Taree offers 20 air-conditioned rooms, including twins, kings and family options. Guests enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi and parking, and use of the hotel pool.


Lismore Regional Gallery. Image courtesy of Destination NSW.

Situated in the Norther Rivers hinterland of New South Wales – roughly 30 minutes’ drive from Byron Bay, 20 minutes from Nimbin and 30 minutes from Ballina – Lismore makes the perfect base for exploring this captivating region. In the winter months, think seasonal foliage, dappled sunshine, markets bulging with mid-year produce, and hearty soups served in warm and inviting cafes. The season begins with the Lismore Lantern Parade, an annual community event that celebrates the Winter Solstice (the longest night of the year). If the temperature drops too far during your stay, take refuge in the excellent Lismore Regional Gallery, situated in the ‘Quad’ (which was once the site of the Lismore High School). Also check out what’s playing at the Star Court Theatre, the town’s bastion of avant-garde and arthouse culture. While most market goers must brave a morning chill, the Lismore Produce Market takes place on Thursday afternoons and features around 30 stalls.

Need a place to stay?
Enjoy Comfort Inn Centrepoint’s location in the heart of Lismore, directly opposite the Regional Museum and just a short walk from the Regional Gallery. Popular Linh’s Vietnamese Restaurant is located onsite and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Cape Hillsborough National Park, Mackay. Image courtesy of Tourism & Events Queensland.

Like Cairns, Mackay is a mid-year mecca for travellers looking to beat the heat and humidity generally associated with Queensland’s Tropical North. It’s the perfect time of year for outdoorsy types to tackle some of the region’s amazing bushwalks. Cape Hillsborough National Park is the most obvious option, and once you’ve checked out the roos on Cape Hillsborough Beach at dawn, stick around to do some of the walks that crisscross this verdant coastal wonderland. There’s a great option that leads off from the southern end of the beach and will take you up to the headland for terrific views of the beach and park. Next, head for the highlands and Eungella National Park where there are endless walks to choose from. Try the Granite Bend Circuit, which departs from the Broken River Picnic Area. It’s suitable for a general level of fitness. If you still have some energy left, head back down the range towards Mackay and take the turn off to Finch Hatton Gorge. Again, there is a variety of walks on offer (some of which require a good level of fitness).

Need a place to stay?
Comfort Resort Blue Pacific is located in Mackay’s Northern Beaches, which is handy for those planning to head out to Hillsborough. Econo Lodge Beachside is comfortable, contemporary and within easy reach of the CBD and airport.


Spot whales off the coast of Warrnambool. Image courtesy of Visit Victoria.

Warrnambool at the far end of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road can be a wild and woolly place in the dead of winter, but visitors still flock here – including some rather large aquatic tourists from Antarctica. Southern right whales, humpbacks, blues and even the occasional orca visit this stretch of coast year after year to calve. Whale watching is big winter business. Head out onto the water if you can, but even the onshore viewing platform at Logans Beach Whale Nursery offers clear views of new mummas and bubbas bonding – often just two or three hundred metres offshore. Combine your Warrnambool whale watching with attendance at one of Port Fairy’s famous Winter Weekends. Just 30 minutes’ drive west of Warrnambool, Port Fairy stages four themed weekend festivals throughout June and July. Each weekend showcases the work of local artists and artisans, and includes food events, live music and much more. The community spirit on display will keep you toasty warm!

Need a place to stay?
Try the comfortable Comfort Inn Warrnambool International, the Comfort Inn Western in the heart of town, and Comfort Inn On Raglan. It offers a number of family-friendly accommodation options, including a three-bedroom apartment. 


Torndirrup National Park, Albany. Image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia.

Like Warrnambool, although situated on the opposite side of the continent, Albany is another dramatic winter weekend destination and top spot for whale watching. Albany Whale Tours will get you out on the water and the good news is if that in the unlikely event you don’t spot any whales, you’ll get free return tours until you do! To experience the sheer power of the winter winds coming up from Antarctica, do the short drive from the city out to the Gap and Natural Bridge in Torndirrup National Park. The viewing platform perches on a rocky outcrop forty metres above the pounding Southern Ocean and as the howling wind whips past your ears, your awe of nature will increase ten-fold. On the way back to town, call into the Great Southern Distilling Company and warm the cockles with a nip of their premium single malt whisky. A tour of the boutique distillery takes around 30 minutes and includes three tastings.

Need a place to stay?
Conveniently located on the approach into Albany, the Quality Apartments Banksia Gardens offers one, two and three-bedroom apartments. Hike to the lookout at the nearby Mount Melville Parklands for more stunning views of the coastline.

Plan your winter weekend with Choice Hotels
Choice Hotels has you well and truly covered in Australia with a superb range of accommodation options to suit every budget. Search online and book direct for a Lowest Price Guarantee.

About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.

Cover image courtesy of Mount Buller and Jordan Mountain.

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