A warm reprieve from winter is waiting up north

On the beach at Townsville… strolling comfortably in shorts.
On the beach at Townsville… strolling comfortably in shorts.

The difference could hardly have been more pronounced.

There I was very early in the morning, a couple of hours before sun-up, driving through Orange in the Central West of NSW, bound for the ‘Bullet’, the train which departs Bathurst week days just before 6am for Sydney.

It was snowing, yes snowing, and heavily enough to settle on the road. Flurries of fluffy white stuff might be romantic in the right setting, but that setting certainly wasn’t at that time of day on the Mitchell Highway.

Instead, it made driving conditions quite uninviting … indeed dangerous.

Sitting on the ‘Bullet’ was different enough, though certainly not different enough to make it inviting to disembark in the Blue Mountains, where snow was settling by the tracks and on what seemed like some quite low hills.

Fast forward a few hours to Queensland’s Hamilton Island, where I was staying for a couple of nights at the very plush Beach Club, just across the road from the popular, and often populous, high-rise Reef View, and right on its private stretch of beach.

They were in the middle of their own cold spell, suffering their own chilly Antarctic blast.

But 18ºC and a bright sunny day are quite different to –3ºC and virtually zero visibility.

The differences include swimming without joining the Bondi Icebergs, strolling comfortably along the beach in shorts, and just lying in the sun without having to seek out that particular sheltered spot.

The excellent crowd at Destination NSW — and, I’m sure, the people at Visit Victoria and Discover Tasmania —do a fine job singing the praises of snuggling up in front of an open fire, and yes, I do love the cold.

Turning winter into summer … Airlie Beach.

Turning winter into summer … Airlie Beach.

But I can also see the attraction of heading to warmer climes, such as northern Queensland’s, at winter holiday time.

Online travel company Expedia, for instance sees at least a 20 per cent increase in bookings June-versus-May to areas such as the Gold Coast, Whitsundays, Brisbane, Port Douglas, Townsville and the Sunshine Coast.

I’m sure that’s a trend that continues right through winter and into early spring.

“What’s great about this country is that you don’t have to leave Australia’s borders to escape the winter blues,” said Lisa Perkovic, one of Expedia’s destination experts.

“Just a quick flight from Sydney or Melbourne to Queensland and you’re stepping off the plane to warm weather without the hefty price tag — or the hassle — of heading international.”

She pointed to the Whitsunday Islands as an area that southern Aussies particularly loved heading to in colder months.

The Whitsundays … especially popular in down south’s colder months.

The Whitsundays … especially popular in down south’s colder months.

“The weather is drier than in the summer months and as a bonus, it is outside stinger season,” said Lisa.

“Australians heading to the Whitsundays for a winter escape can expect to pay an average of $360 per night.

“We’re so lucky in Australia to have such a wonder as the Great Barrier Reef.

“People come from all over the world to see if, so we should encourage as many locals as possible to experience the wonder of the turquoise waters and stunning reef.

“There are a wide range of ways to experience the reef — by plane and by boat, including up-close scuba diving or snorkelling for the adventurous.

“There really is something for everyone.”