For Australian travellers looking for a summer Christmas holiday with a difference, the Top End and far north Queensland in the wet season are not to be missed.
Looking for a different Christmas holiday destination? Head to the tropics – where there’s a very good chance of rain.
By David Whitley
As far as mixed messages go, that one’s up there. Everyone knows the Top End and Far North Queensland are far more challenging in the Wet season (between November and April) and you might get your new T-shirt a little damp, but the fact is that’s when the regions are most alive. Without the torrential rains, they wouldn’t be there – the clue is in the first syllable of the word “rainforest” – and during the summer, they’re at their most jaw-dropping.
Everything that’s slightly green in the Dry becomes incredibly so in the Wet, trickling rivers become foaming torrents and crackling overhead electrical storms are a photographer’s dream. And given there are considerably fewer tourists (whose places are stoically taken by mosquitoes), the suggestion of a summer holiday to the tropics doesn’t sound quite so absurd.
There are many things simply not worth doing in the Dry, either because they’re physically impossible or because there’s not a lot to see. Take Jim Jim and Twin Falls in Kakadu National Park: unless you get there right at the start of the Dry (when accessibility becomes something of a lottery), the thundering cascades become comparatively limp dribbles once the heavy rains cease. The catch is that the roads to both falls are blocked off during the Wet, so the only option is a scenic flight. This is well worth doing, as it offers a unique perspective on the World Heritage Area – and the approach to the waterfalls is pretty astonishing.
The waterfalls in Litchfield National Park – Wangi, Tolmer and Florence Falls – are also far more impressive when there’s actually water going down them, although swimming under them is no longer an option, since anyone who does so risks ending up a tasty snack for invading saltwater crocs (water levels are too high at this time of year for rangers to keep the toothy predators out). In the far north of Queensland, the Atherton Tablelands provide (although not always) a nice respite from the humid conditions. Being at an elevation of at least 600m above sea level, the temperature rarely creeps above 30°C, and it’s south of where the worst of the deluges hit. The most famous attraction of the area is the Scenic Railway, which winds from Cairns through the rainforest to the jungle village of Kuranda. However, there are other less publicised attractions. The Mareeba Wetland Reserve is nature-packed at this time of year, and bird watchers in particular should be enthralled, while Lake Tinaroo is renowned for having huge fish in it – the biggest barramundi on record was caught here. It’s also exempt from the close season for taking Barra, which affects the rest of the state from November to February, so you can attempt to smash that record if your luck and back are up to it.
DETAILS: Things to do in the Wet
Scenic flight to Jim Jim and Twin Falls
Who: Kakadu Scenic Flights
Cost: $420 pp
Phone: 1800 898 977
Ride the train through the rainforest
Who: Kuranda Scenic Railway
Cost: $71 adults, $35.50 children
Phone: (07) 4036 9333
Tour the Mareeba Wetlands at twilight
Who: Mareeba Wetlands Visitor Centre
Cost: $48 adults, $24 children, two-hour boat and truck tour
Phone: (07) 4093 2514
Website: www.mareebawetlands.com Go fishing on Lake Tinaroo
Who: Tinaroo Jack’s Guided Barramundi Fishing Tours
Cost: $440 full-day boat charter (max four people)
Phone: (07) 4095 8425