Australia has had a notoriously tough year, from the wildfires at the beginning of 2020 to the global COVID-19 pandemic that’s left Oz and New Zealand quarantining together in a travel bubble. And though resuming normal activities is still touch and go depending on the corner of Australia you call home, there’s something to be said for that feeling of renewal that accompanies spring no matter what travails took place during the long winter prior. As the southern hemisphere emerges out of winter and into spring, it’s the perfect time to reconnect with some of Australia’s best sites, events, and natural wonders.
Water and wine in Margaret River, Western Australia
Spring in southern WA brings balmy weather, perfect for wine tasting, swimming, and hiking! Head south from Perth towards Margaret River, a three- to four-hour drive away. Wineries will feature heavily at the final stop, but there’s plenty of aqua action along the way. Dive into the waters at Dunsborough for one of the most refreshing dips you’ll ever take. Hamelin Bay is great for diving, snorkeling, and general beach lounging.
After you work up a thirst, head to Margaret River’s wineries for a taste of the region’s unique terroir; after such a tough year in agriculture, the proprietors will be happy to see eager tasters once again and show off their vintages from impeccable cabernet sauvignons to the hip “lo-fi” wines that are part of a recent movement to mess around as little as possible with the fermentation process. Don’t forget to stop by Leeuwin Estate for a tour and pick up a bottle of the art series Chardonnay – arguably one of the world’s best.
Where to stay in Margaret River: The Pullman Bunker Bay Resort is comprised of chic private villas that make social distancing a snap.
Note: You can double-check the Margaret River wine region website to get the latest updates on any restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flowers and art in Canberra, ACT
Canberra kicks off spring with Floriade, an annual festival that runs a packed program from 11 September to 10 October. Over a million bulbs are planted to produce garden and flower displays in full bloom (don’t forget to bring your Zyrtec). Surrounding the floral centerpiece, there’s typically an array of events such as musical performances, food sales, exhibitions, and photography workshops.
This year, Floriade is making some adjustments to its usual program, namely by taking the blooms out of Commonwealth Park, where they’re usually planted, and instead creating a Tulip Trail across the city. Over 90 community groups banded together to make Canberra even more colorful; if you’re feeling really adventurous, take in the full Canberra skyline from a hot air balloon ride at sunrise before heading to the National Gallery of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery for a glimpse of Sidney Nolan’s notorious Ned Kelly series.
As for Nightfest – the after-dark celebration when the flowers are lit up with equally colorful displays and pop-up night markets buzz to the beat of live music and DJ sets – Floriade organizers have found a unique solution to a year in which social distancing is still very much a thing. In 2020, Nightfest is turning into Nightfeast. On Friday, 2 October 2020, participating local eateries will be offering reservations and take-out orders for a special NightFest experience, complete with a curated Spotify playlist and at-home craft projects to complement the typical Floriade vibes.
Where to stay in Canberra: Book a room at Ovolo Nishi, which is a five-minute drive from Commonwealth Park. Request an atrium room for even more floral fun – these relaxing, moody spaces have windows facing an internal rainforest full of ferns.
Walking off the chill in Tasmania
Brrr. October is far too soon for Tasmania to have shaken off the cold weather. The best solution: stay active. One of Tassie’s many outdoor and eco-friendly highlights is the spectacular Cradle Mountain. Ten different walking trails surround the glassy Lake St Clair, and a wood fire awaits you back at the lodge. Bliss! If you’re feeling more ambitious, head to Maria Island for a luxury four-day trek from Haunted Bay to the Fossil Cliffs. This “great walk” is in-season from October to the end of April each year, and you’ll stop at secluded bush camps for two nights, with the third at the historic former home of entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi in Darlington.
Where to stay in Tasmania: Change Overnight is a Launceston hotel that lets you donate a portion of your bill to a good cause, like Tasmanian Environmental Conservancy, or a donation to an Indian orphanage.
Wandering in Sydney, New South Wales
Sydney’s subtropical climate and buzzing entertainment scene make it a perennial getaway favorite. If the weather’s warm, have a leisurely seafood lunch with a view at Rockpool. Then take the bus to Bondi, from where you can enjoy a beautiful coastal afternoon walk down to Coogee. Along the way, check out the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition, the world’s largest free-to-the-public sculpture exhibition, which features over 100 artists and runs from 22 October to 8 November 2020.
Where to stay in Sydney: Ovolo 1888 is a funky, modernist space with 10-foot high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and restored vintage furniture that will carry over the arty vibe from Sculpture by the Sea.
Dance in the purple rain in Adelaide, South Australia.
No, this doesn’t actually have anything to do with Prince. But Adelaide does get strewn with purple blossoms every spring right around the beginning of November, thanks to the jacaranda and wisteria trees exploding across its Botanical Gardens. (For what it’s worth, Sydney’s Jacarandas put on an excellent show, too.) To really live like a local Adelaide-style, though, head to the ‘burbs. Spots like L’Estrange Street in Glenside, Clarence Garden, Black Forest, Le Fevre Terrace, and Frewville are absolutely lined with purple flowers this time of year. The CBD (Central Business District) is a good bet, too, with the bonus option of picking up a hop-on-hop-off tour there to check out the Barossa Valley Wine Region.
Where to stay in Adelaide: Hotel Richmond on Rundle Mall is in Adelaide’s fashionable CBD and within walking distance of the University of Adelaide, where you can see even more jacaranda blossoms.
Beach basking in Noosa, Queensland
Did Queensland ever get cold? Probably not, but it’ll surely start getting wetter starting around November. That means it’s your last chance to start hitting the soft white-sand beaches in Noosa, just 160km north of Brisbane. The tourist brochures might tout the shopping, food, and markets – but really, it’s about parking your bum on the beach and not leaving until you’re happy with your tan. Don’t forget the reef-safe sunscreen!
Where to stay in Noosa: Peppers Noosa Resort and Villages is 500 yards from Laguna Bay beach and right next door to Noosa National Park, making it a lovely, luxurious home base for any activities you might want to try while soaking up that Vitamin D.
Desert art in Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Suppose you want to guarantee a getaway that will sear away every last wintry memory; fly up to Alice Springs. Once you’ve warmed up, head to the Alice Springs Desert Park, which showcases several desert habitats. And if you’re there from 11 September to 25 October, stick around as the sun sets for Desert Mob, a powerful exhibit of contemporary Aboriginal artworks at the Araluen Arts Centre.
Where to stay in Alice Springs: The Crowne Plaza Alice Springs will give you ample opportunity to soak up the sun, with private balconies and patios off the rooms and free use of mountain bikes to explore the nearby MacDonnell Ranges.
Racing in Melbourne, Victoria
Even the novel coronavirus can’t keep the Spring Racing Carnival down. As has been a tradition for generations, Victoria plays host to six weeks of racing festivities culminating in the show-stopping Melbourne Cup. Races are typically held in quintessential country towns such as Ararat, Benalla, Bendigo, Geelong, Kyneton, Sale, and Seymour. Marquee events at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne include Derby Day and the women-focused Oaks Day. The grand finale has taken place on the first Tuesday of November since 1861, except for a brief deviation during World War II.
But this year will look a little different, with crowds cheering from home rather than from the stands. Adjustments have been made to Australia’s beloved horse races throughout the pandemic to account for lockdowns across the country. However, you can still expect Aussies to celebrate the Spring Carnival with plenty of alcohol, betting-fuelled frenzy, and fancy fashions that run the gamut from vintage kits to big-dollar labels – though the strutting will be largely relegated to private living rooms and public social media profiles.
Still, organizations like the Melbourne Racing Club are finding creative ways to keep the Carnival spirit alive – The Australian reports that members have been offered special “super boxes” to be delivered to their homes that include tidbits like gourmet sandwiches and Moet & Chandon bubbly like you might expect on-site in better years.
Where to stay in Melbourne: Quest Flemington Central is adjacent to Flemington Racecourse, and the Bedroom Execute Apartment includes guaranteed views of the ponies.