Western Australia is so vast, and the climate so varied, that the best time to visit depends on where you are going. The warmer, summer months are from October to April and the cooler, winter months are from May to September.
Wherever you go, however, summer gets hot. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are real threats, and fresh water can be in short supply (this isn’t the driest continent in the world for nothing). Even in the ‘cool’ South West, daytime temperatures can reach 40°C. It isn’t a balmy yet bearable dry heat either – it’s oppressive, and bushfires can pop up suddenly and threaten entire towns (and suburbs of Perth) within an hour.
That being said, the hot, clear weather makes for ideal conditions to explore some of the world’s best beaches in the South West, Great Southern and Esperance areas, and Perth has plenty of trendy cafés and restaurants to cool off in after a morning at Cottesloe or City Beach. Temperatures can also dip markedly by nightfall – into the single digits. It isn’t uncommon in southern summers for it to be 35°C in the afternoon and as low as 8°C at night.
In the north, summer brings the ‘wet’ – tropical, monsoonal afternoon downpours – which can wash out roads. Many national parks and tourist sites in the north will close in the summer due to the weather. Further inland, like at Purnululu, tour operators actually close for the season as early as the end of September because it’s already 50°C in the gorges and chasms. To give you the mindset: the slang term ‘going troppo’ (meaning crazy) refers to people in the north losing their minds from not being able to cope with the weather. Summer in the north also brings cyclones, box jellyfish and Irukandji – tiny jellyfish that pack an unfortunate wallop – so you can’t even head to a place like Cable Beach to beat the heat.
Winter is the ideal time to go to the Pilbara and Kimberley, where temperatures are in the high 20s and low 30s, the ‘dry’ presents clear days, Cable Beach is perfect and national parks and tour operators are in full swing. Spring sees some of the summer oppressiveness start to kick in as well as a return to the rains – it will be hot, but still doable. The tail end of autumn sees a refreshing cooling start to kick in and an increasingly bright mood spread across the region.
In the rest of the state, winter brings cold and rain, even as far north as Geraldton. Some places in the Wheatbelt and the Goldfields can see the mercury drop below zero overnight and in the early morning hours – although snow is rare. The rain does not come in downpour form like the north, but instead hours of drizzle or a steady fall. The cold and rain, however, does rule out swimming and a lot of hiking. Autumn and spring, however, bring temperate weather – pleasant days, cool nights and more cooperative skies. The water can still be too cold for swimming but it is excellent weather for hiking, boating, wine-tasting and lots of other activities. Easter weekend traditionally sees holidaymakers jam the South West, taking advantage of the last bits of warm beach weather before the rains set in.
Public holidays and festivals
Throughout spring, many shires will host agricultural shows, which bring together a variety of events, games, food and displays. Some of the most famous are the Royal Perth Show, held at the end of September; Wagin’s (Wheatbelt) Wool-o-Rama, usually held in early March; and the Dowerin Field Days (Wheatbelt), towards the end of August.
The Blackwood Valley hosts three major music festivals each year. The Boyup Brook Country Music Festival is one of the state’s largest and is usually held the third weekend of February. The Blues at Bridgetown in November is hugely popular, and the Nannup Music Festival is over the Labour Day weekend. The Ord Valley Muster, usually in May, brings 10,000 people to Kununurra for dozens of acts. These festivals often feature local and national artists, and the occasional international artist.
Many towns in the regions, especially the Wheatbelt, Great Southern, Mid West and South West, host a wildflower show in August and/or September – these can be as small as a display of local wildflower specimens in the one-room town hall, or a grander affair held over a few weeks like Nannup’s Flower and Garden Festival in August, which showcases open gardens in town with tours, as well as workshops, informative how-to talks, and celebrity presenters.
The Perth Festival is a month-long multi-arts festival showcasing film and visual art, dating back to the 1950s. Taking place in late summer (February–March), it was founded by the University of Western Australia and events are held across the city. Encompassing theatre, dance, literature, film and art, among others, participants come from around the state, country and the world.