I’ve not experienced a hot Christmas before. Being so far from home I had already convinced myself that it simply wouldn’t be the same without the obligatory windswept walk, steaming cup of mulled wine and faint potential for snow.
Nevertheless, I adopt an Aussie can-do attitude, grab a towel and head off to St Kilda beach in Melbourne, a four-mile stretch of sand fringed by palm trees and famous for its resident colony of Little Penguins.
Christmas Day celebrations are in full swing as I join hundreds of families and friends revelling in the festivities – passing around cold ‘tinnies’ and fresh seafood still hot off the barbecue.
The family next to us proposes a volleyball match with a bottle of the Yarra Valley’s finest as the grand prize. I look at my warm beer and don’t hesitate. We take our positions and the game begins.
The golden hour sends wispy crimson clouds across the sky and my thoughts turn to Brits back home, waking to a frosty morning.
Somewhere in the distance Bill Crosby is singing ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ as I sip my crisp Chardonnay, smugly. On this occasion I couldn’t disagree more!
There’s an electric atmosphere on Boxing Day as the city hosts its traditional cricket test match – this year it’s against India.
And the celebrations come to a climax with a New Year’s Eve extravaganza as we watch fireworks erupting from rooftops across the city, sending a kaleidoscope of colour into the Yarra River.
The City of Melbourne has promised the largest New Year’s Eve ‘midnight moment’ it’s ever delivered this year, with free fireworks and laser displays across 30 CBD rooftops, all spiralling to an eight -minute soundtrack.
Back with a bang
The impressive calendar of events is set to continue into 2023 with highlights including WorldPride 2023 in Sydney between February 17 – March 5 and the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup from July, with stadiums across the country hosting games and the final in Sydney in August.
“Sydney is set to welcome its biggest ever line up of music, art, culture and sporting events in 2023, attracting visitors from all over the world,” said Ben Franklin, New South Wales’ Minister for Tourism.
“Our calendar currently includes 84 major events and is forecast to deliver over $500 million in visitor expenditure for NSW.”
Meanwhile, Western Australia will be one of the best places in the world to view next year’s rare solar eclipse on April 20.
“The solar eclipse has had a huge impact on forward bookings to Western Australia,” said a representative from Tourism Western Australia. “The Kimberleys are very popular and we’re seeing packages coinciding with the eclipse selling out.”
This autumn Tourism Australia launched a global campaign, ‘Come and Say G’Day’, it’s first new major initiative since 2016. A short film features Ruby the explorer kangaroo, in the role as Tourism Australia’s long-term Brand Ambassador, reminding the world why “there’s nothing quite like Australia”.
Speaking at the launch of the campaign, Sally Cope, Regional General Manager UK/Northern Europe for Tourism Australia said: “We’ve had a real surge in demand since the borders reopened. At first people were going to visit friends and relatives, now we’re seeing the leisure holiday kick in with visitors spending more money and staying for longer. They’re seeking out bucket list destinations and uniquely Australian experiences.”
Cope is particularly excited about the FIFA Women’s World Cup, saying: “An event like this will put Australia on the global stage. We can’t wait to host international visitors and celebrate with the fans.”
When asked about Australia’s post-Covid recovery strategy, she says: “We want to give the industry and the airlines the confidence that we can drive the demand and bring UK tourists back. We’re at about 63% of our aviation capacity pre-Covid and we’re hoping for more airlift in the near future.”
According to data from Booking.com, Brits were the top international nationality booking stays in Australia for trips taking place between October 1 and November 30 2022, with Sydney the top destination booked and Melbourne in second place.
Sport is set to be a big draw with half of those surveyed admitting they would travel to Australia to watch their favourite sport, and when it comes to beaches Booking.com ranks the Gold Coast in Queensland, as Australia’s best destination.
Reasons to be in Oz in 2023
Sydney WorldPride (February 17 – March 5): With official events including an opening concert headlined by Kylie Minogue, Seven Rainbow Republic festival and Bondi Beach Party, Sydney WorldPride is set to be quite the event.
Premier Holidays has a dedicated WorldPride 2023 package which is on sale until November 30, 2022. The starter option can be tailored accordingly for clients who want to extend their trip in Sydney and New South Wales and includes the first two events. UK travellers need to book an official ticket package being sold through Flight Centre, Out of Office or Premier Holidays. premierholidays.co.uk
Adelaide Fringe Festival (February 17 – March 19): Adelaide Fringe is Australia’s biggest arts festival with events including cabaret, theatre, comedy, circus, music, visual arts, workshops and more.
Watch a dramatic costume drama or belly laugh to the newest comedy genius, at this month-long festival. adelaidefringe.com.au
Solar Eclipse, Exmouth (April 20): Air Charter Services is offering a solar eclipse experience that will give passengers the chance to witness this spectacular natural phenomenon from above the clouds. Identified as the optimal point to observe the eclipse, the flight will take place over Australia’s Coral Coast.
This once-in-a-lifetime experience will see Exmouth be one of only a handful of places in the world where you will be able to view the total solar eclipse on April 20 2023. ningalooeclipse.com
FIFA Women’s World Cup (July – August): The England Lionesses will begin their bid to add a world crown to their Euros title by playing their opening match on July 22 at the Brisbane Stadium. In total, fans will see 32 nations playing 64 matches across nine host cities in Australia and New Zealand. The final will be played in Sydney on August 20. fifa.com
South by Southwest Sydney (October 15): Heading out of North America for the first time ever is SXSW, an event that celebrates creativity and innovation across music, screen, gaming and technology. It has previously included speakers and artists such as Barack Obama, Dave Grohl, Steven Spielberg, Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish and Snoop Dogg. sxswsydney.com
Scenic has introduced ocean cruises and land tours to/in Australia for 2023 and 2024 including the 20-day Grand Australia tour from Perth to Sydney, departing October 11, 2023 and the 14-day Australia’s Top End: Cape York and Arnhem Land cruise, departing April 2024.
Contiki’s first Western Australia tours include an eight-day Perth and Margaret River trip as well as a five-day holiday focussing on the beaches of Perth and the craft breweries of Fremantle and Rottnest Island.
Intrepid Travel has a nine-day Premium Kimberley and Bungle Bungles tour which supports local communities and celebrates Australian heritage.
Where to book it
Premier Holidays has a four-night trip to Sydney for WorldPride 2023, from £1,799pp, travelling March 1. The package includes flights to Sydney via Singapore with Qantas, four nights at Vibe Hotel Darling Harbour, transfers and tickets to Bondi Beach Party and Rainbow Republic. Prices are based on two adults sharing.