WINTER IN AUSTRALIA

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The Independent Travel
Most people still fly to Australia from the UK during the Christmas period, in the depths of our winter and the height of their summer. This is partly, no doubt, because most people still equate Australia with its two most substantial cities, Sydney and Melbourne, which can get relatively chilly between June and September.

Northern and western Australia however are far less pleasant in (their) summer than in winter. From December to February the whole area is insufferably hot, and swimming off the northern coast becomes impossible due to the frightening numbers of box jellyfish in the waters. Cyclones, crocodiles, sharks and swarming bushflies add to the hell.

Only with the onset of the southern winter in April does this part of Australia begin to be habitable once again. The weather cools and dries, the flies and jellyfish disappear. What's more, the prices of tickets fall from their Christmas peaks, and this year especially there are bargains galore. With sunshine, wilderness, beaches, beer and bungie jumping, it is well worth escaping the English summer for this place's "winter".

Alice Springs

This is one of those end of the world, shutter-banging-in-the-wind places, the reaching of which in itself accrues great cachet amongst fellow travellers. Fortunately, the scenery around the town also happens to be stunning (see the article above). With horse-riding and hot-air ballooning, there is no shortage of ways to appreciate the enormity of this ultimate wilderness.

Brisbane

Sunny Brisbane may be the third biggest city in Australia but it is hardly a smoggy megalopolis. Among its cultural highlights is the Castlemaine XXXX brewery tour, for which 40 minutes of solid beer drinking time is included in the price of the ticket. The great surfing beaches of south- eastern Queensland are easily accessible from here, with the Gold Coast just to the south and the Sunshine Coast to the north.

Cairns

The latest addition to Australia's short list of international air gateways, Cairns in northern Queensland is a place that a lot of holiday-makers never want to leave. It is a kind of back-packers' heaven, where everyone lives in the lap of luxury, seemingly without having to work. Diving, swimming, snorkling on the Great Barrier Reef and partying with young back-packers can become addictive.

Darwin

Three thousand kilometres from Sydney, this place is anomalous even by Australian standards. It is the only part of the country ever to have been attacked by a foreign power (bombed by the Japanese in World War Two), and it was actually wiped off the map in 1974 by Cyclone Tracey. Activities revolve around swimming, diving and drinking.

Perth

If anything, Perth, stuck on the edge of a vast desert, is even more remote than Darwin. Nevertheless, over a million people live here and there is a cosmopolitan feel to the place. Going water-skiing or sailing is about as common as a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Finally, if you are thinking of making a trip to Australia, have a look at the Australia and New Zealand Travel Planner, a free six-times-yearly booklet produced by TNT magazines, which is particularly useful. The TNT crew are Aussie travellers themselves and nobody knows the ropes better. TNT is at 14-15 Child's Place, London SW5 9RX. Tel 0171 3416656.

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