When you’re visiting the Outback, you need to be prepared. Not only are many parts of the region vast and remote, but the weather is extreme. Daytime temperatures are warm to very hot throughout the year, while the temperature on winter nights often drops below 0°C. We’ve put together a guide detailing what to expect in each season so you can plan accordingly and get the most out of your Outback tour.
It would be an understatement to say the Outback is big. Massive? That’s more like it. The Outback occupies a whopping 70% of mainland Australia, so it comes as no surprise that the climate varies quite considerably throughout the region, ranging from tropical and semi-dry tropical to arid and desert. The tropical zone includes Kakadu and the Top End and Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, the arid zone includes Alice Springs and the Simpson Desert lies in the Desert zone. These climates generally mean there are only two distinct seasons recognisable to non-Aboriginal Australians: summer (wet, hot and humid) and winter (dry and cooler).
When is the best time of year to visit the Outback?
Although summer is usually the best time to visit places like Sydney and Melbourne to get the most out of the beaches and thriving city culture, the best time to visit the Outback is during the winter (dry) season between May and October. The weather is comfortable and you won't spend your entire trip trying to wring the sweat out of your t-shirt and battling to get the flies away from your face. Summer can be unbearably hot and muggy, particularly if you're not used to the intensity of the heat in this part of Australia, and when it rains, it pours. Creeks and rivers can overflow and lead to road closures and flash flooding can occur in gorges, so the conditions aren't ideal for hiking.
Visiting the outback in summer (wet season)
- Pros: flora and fauna are thriving, fewer tourists, waterfalls
- Cons: frequent thunderstorms, it's very hot and muggy
The amount of rain in the wet season varies from year to year, but regardless, it's very hot and sticky with high humidity that can make it difficult to hike and be outdoors for long periods of time. The most unbearable month is November when the tropical monsoon rains haven’t yet arrived and the humidity feels like it’s at boiling point. When it’s like this, you want nothing more than for the heavens to open. Thunderstorms are common, and on particularly wet years, you may get the odd cyclone or flash flood. It doesn't rain all day, but it’s important to monitor the weather forecasts to stay safe.
Another drawback of visiting in the summer is the huge number of flies. The warm and moist conditions in the Outback attract heaps of bugs and it can be pretty annoying having them constantly buzz around your head.
But it's not all bad. One of the great things about the monsoon rains is that it does wonders for the vegetation. Creeks and rivers that were previously dry turn into lush habitats where native animals and plant life can thrive, and waterfalls and waterholes also flow again. You might also get to see the amazing phenomenon of waterfalls spontaneously emerging down Uluru's walls. Unfortunately, some popular attractions such as Jim Jim Falls and Gunlom in Kakadu National Park close during the wet season due to the risk of flooding, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.
Visiting the outback in winter (dry season)
- Pros: pleasant weather, good hiking conditions
- Cons: more tourists
Winter is a glorious time in many parts of the Outback. Daytime temperatures are comfortable, humidity is low and rain is minimal. Average daytime temperatures linger from 19.5-23°C in Alice Springs, 18-26°C in Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park and 30-34°C in Katherine. Unlike places in the south and southeastern parts of Australia, the Outback boasts mild winter weather that looks and feels more like summer, and this draws in larger crowds looking for a winter holiday. It's particularly busy around the Easter period.
But despite the bigger crowds, winter offers fantastic hiking conditions in the Northern Territory's national parks and you won’t have to worry about turning into a sweaty mess five minutes after you set off for a hike. The bush trails in Kakadu and the Garden of Eden in Kings Canyon are particularly lush in April and early May following the summer rain. Natural watering holes like Jim Jim Falls also reopen when the dry season begins. Wildlife spotting is sometimes easier in the dry season, particularly around the billabongs, as the dry conditions cause animals to gather at permanent watering holes.
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