For many visitors it is likely to be in the school holidays.
Roughly speaking, in Queensland that’s:
School Holiday 1 - First 3 weeks in April
Warm day and night | average 21.5 - 29ºC | heavy wet season rain usually over
School Holiday 2 - Last week in June & first 2 weeks in July
Cooler and drier | average 17.5 - 26⁰C | generally low rainfall
School Holiday 3 - Last 2 weeks in September & first week in October
Warming up but still dry | average 20.5 - 29⁰C | generally low rainfall
School Holiday 4 - Last 2 weeks in December & first 3 weeks in January
Hot with rain storms | average 23.6 - 31.4⁰C | monsoonal rain not usually until February/March
The Easter holidays are a beautiful time to visit North Queensland. The heat dial has been turned down a little and the heaviest periods of rain (the monsoon) are usually over. It is not, perhaps, as colourful as early summer when so many trees are in flower but the trees, the gardens, the hill slopes are lush and plump with growth. The risk of heavy rain is still quite high but it is very unusual not to have plenty of warm to hot sunny days in April and May.
The busiest time in North Queensland for visitors has always been the “winter” months from June-August. The main reason for this is that it coincides with the June/July school holidays and because it is much warmer in tropical North Queensland than in the southern states.
The tropical “winter” is a relief after summer. Locals pull their blankets and doonahs back onto their beds again and talk about how cold it is! Well, the nights do drop below 20⁰C but being able to snuggle under a blanket again is a forgotten pleasure.
Winter days can be warm, clear and bright but the weather is also quite variable. It can be showery, overcast and the South East trade wind can be quite strong. It is never cold, though, and the sea is always warm.
On the plus side, It is the best time of year for Whale watching. As many as 5000 Humpbacks migrate north from Antarctica every year between May-September, along with a few hundred of the marvellous and inquisitive Dwarf Minke Whale.
September and October are more reliable for sunny days and blue skies and the humidity is low. The lush emerald green of the earlier part of the year fades a little as the rain becomes scarce.
Even the forest starts to look a little parched and the leaves are hanging limp by early November. The days are really warming up now but the nights are still relatively cool. With the heat, the evaporation rate is intense and the clouds start to build up - leading to spectacular, short-lived thunderstorms.
November and December are the start of the summer season and my favourite time of year. Late afternoon or evening storms can develop suddenly. The rain can be very intense for an hour or two but it creates the most magical time of year. North Queensland bursts into life again with the rain. Tree frogs come into the house, geckos are chick-chacking again and the calling of birds like the Green Oriole is constant. For gardeners and outdoor people it is the most spectacular time of year. Cairns is a riot of colour with the many trees that flower in an unashamedly ostentatious way. Raintrees, Poincianas and Cassias are the most obvious but the leaves of the trees and shrubs like crotons and acalyphas just seem to burst out of their skins with vibrant colour. Mangoes are raining down all through November and in December the Lychees are ripening up.
Christmas is always very busy but it is the most truly North Queensland time of year with nature throwing a wild party. Warmth and waterfalls of rain fuel a riot of colourful growth. It is why North Queensland has rainforests and sugar cane plantations. It is hot and humid and the air is full of insects. Night time is a symphony of buzzing and singing insects. But what astonishing insects. The metallic green of the Christmas beetle, the 300mm long stick insect, the flashing brilliant blue of the Ulysses butterfly or the soaring graceful flight of the Cairns Birdwing butterfly are a small example of the bounty of the summer months. The summer or the "Wet Season" is what defines North Queensland.
By mid January it is hot and the evenings on the very warm side of balmy. Every storm is a blessing because it cools things down for a few hours. The noise on a tin roof can be quite deafening along with the continuous calling of tree frogs and cane toads.
Sometimes the monsoon comes as early as January or a cyclone dumps on us but the main rainfall of the year usually takes place in February or March. It can rain for 2-3 weeks with barely a break. The annual rainfall for Cairns is around 2000mm and the majority of it falls during these 2 months.
If you are travelling without school age children, it is probably best to avoid the school holidays when everything gets very booked up - the reef boats especially. The price of accommodation and many day-trips and tours often drops outside of school holidays too. Late November and early December is perhaps the best time of year, especially if there have been a few storms to wash off the dry season dust and freshen things up. This is the major tree flowering time of year but the heat has not really got a grip as it does in January and February.