The big chill: embrace or escape

From sun-filled sojourns to log fire retreats, Belinda Jackson reveals the hottest last-minute winter holidays.

How do you do winter? With hot chocolate and log fires surrounded by people called Sven? Or by migrating north in a quest for eternal sunshine?

Whether you like to escape or embrace the cold months, we have you covered with these 20 do-it-now bargains, subject to availability.


WHERE Petitenget, the hip strip of Seminyak, Bali.
Check out of the office and into a week of surfing for an endorphin rush, yoga to fight stress, and spa sessions to detox at Salt Retreats, with cleansing organic menus by Pete Evans, from $1795 (
The seven-day getaways run weekly until the end of November, but with 30 degrees in July: why wait?
Toxic wage slaves and the vitamin D deficient.
STRIP DOWN For a daily massage to detox your body.


WHERE The Yasawa Islands, eastern Fiji.

THE TRIP Visit remote islands and villages and some of the world's best beaches on a seven-night cruise through the spectacular Mamanuca, Yasawa, Waya and Sacred islands, from $1676 a person (

WHEN TO GO July and August.

GOOD FOR Explorers who enjoy five-star comfort.

STRIP DOWN Pack your diver's card and the sunscreen for the back of the knees (the classic snorkeller's plight).



WHERE Papeete, the capital of the country that invented the overwater bungalow, 10 hours via New Zealand.

THE TRIP Stay seven nights in an overwater bungalow at the Maitai Polynesia Bora Bora, taking four-wheel-drive safaris and exploring the depths on a glass-bottom boat costs from $4210 including flights with Air Tahiti Nui (

WHEN TO GO If you can hold out that long, September is Tahiti's driest month, with temps of 28 degrees and the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.

GOOD FOR Francophiles needing winter sun.

STRIP DOWN Sarongs and sun hats: there is no need for more.


WHERE Sheltered south-eastern Phuket.

THE TRIP Live it up with the A-listers in the new Absolute Suite, complete with yacht, butler and chauffeured Benz, from $1150 a night, or do just fine in the newly refurbished Cape Suites, from $220, at the Cape Panwa Hotel.

WHEN TO GO Phuket's rain comes later than other regions, so winter's just fine.

GOOD FOR All budgets: stay one day, get a second free. Stay two days, stay a month ...

STRIP DOWN Pack a brolly and sunscreen: expect brief downpours from June to August (and subsequent good hotel offers), compensated by balmy 30-degree days.


WHERE The island of Oahu, from Waikiki and beyond.

THE TRIP There's more to Hawaii than just Waikiki Beach: the self-drive Hawaii Drive-O tour gives you a car, GPS and six nights at the Waikiki Parc Hotel from $1172 a person, with plenty of drive ideas, such as the Diamond Head Crater hike or bodysurfing at Sandy Beach (

WHEN TO GO July sees festivals for ukulele music, hula and of course Independence Day on July 4.

GOOD FOR Hawaii old hands seeking new experiences.

STRIP DOWN Temperatures don't vary much in Hawaii - July to September sees 31 degrees tops.


WHERE From Mandalay to Bagan in central Myanmar, the must-visit country for 2013.

THE TRIP Go slow and savour the ancient skyline dominated by spires. This seven-day cycling trip journeys past farmers, pilgrims and child monks, through markets and alongside the Irrawaddy River, from $US2450 ($2595) a person (

WHEN TO GO Mandalay remains hot and dry, with temperatures in the mid-30s, while the beach resorts empty as the rainy season kicks in.

GOOD FOR Temple tragics and pedal pushers.

STRIP DOWN Go tight 'n' bright in gear that covers you up while keeping cool: expect to sweat.


WHERE Port Vila, Vanuatu, a three-hour flight from Sydney.

THE TRIP Seven days of lolling on white-sand beaches. Poppy's on the Lagoon is on the beachfront. Get three free nights and two massages in self-catering accommodation from $784 a person, July 15-September 20 (

WHEN TO GO The cold, dry season runs May to October, where temperatures in the capital, Port Vila, hover around a delightful 24 degrees.

GOOD FOR Families wanting the beach at their doorstep (couples, there's an adults-only pool, too).

STRIP DOWN Take a traditional outrigger canoe onto the lagoon.


WHERE Borneo and Kuala Lumpur.

THE TRIP Explore the wilds of the coral reefs and mangroves of Borneo, then fly to Kuala Lumpur for its big-city vibe and spectacular shopping. There's no hardship involved: Gaya Island Resort and the Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur (

WHEN TO GO Hit the sales, with the mega-sale carnival in July.

GOOD FOR Shoppers and floppers.

STRIP DOWN July in Malaysia is blissfully dry, with tops of 28 degrees in Borneo.


WHERE An hour's flight north from Sydney.

THE TRIP Catch AFL's Brisbane Lions at the Gabba or the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium. The new Punthill Brisbane serviced apartments start from $169 a night (

WHEN TO GO July has perfect weather for riverside walks or a boat trip on the CityCat.

GOOD FOR Admirers of indigenous art: QAGOMA's new contemporary indigenous art exhibition runs until October 7 (

RUG UP Or strip down? Go a bit of both, with pleasant 20 degrees tops.


WHERE Palm Cove, 25 minutes north of Cairns.

THE TRIP Stay at the boutique Reef House, which has just opened five new beach house apartments, from $409 a night, standard brigadier room from $259 a night (

WHEN TO GO There's year-round swimming. Added bonus: July and August are also jellyfish free.

GOOD FOR Sun lovers who don't want to pay for an international airfare.

STRIP DOWN Bikini, hat, sun cream: hey, it's 25 degrees in winter!

New Zealand

WHERE Queenstown and Lake Wanaka.

THE TRIP NZ's top snow city, Queenstown, lives for winter. The biannual Winter Games NZ take place from August 11 to 25. Check out accommodation packages with the Sofitel, MGallery, Novotel and Mercure from $119 a night (

WHEN TO GO Pundits say later in the season is better for a guarantee of top conditions, but Mother Nature is a hardened gambler.

GOOD FOR Ski bunnies, world-class snow athletes and those who like to watch.

RUG UP Time to flash your new-season snow gear, beautiful people.

Snowy Mountains

WHERE Lake Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains, five hours' drive south of Sydney.

THE TRIP You can hit snow even on Christmas Day here: Moonbah stone huts are on a private lake brimming with brown, rainbow and brook trout. Four people can stay two nights from $390 (

WHEN TO GO Now, for snowshoeing, bushwalking and big log fires.

GOOD FOR Fly fishers, snow babies and The Man from Snowy River fans (

RUG UP Forget thermals, warm up with a Wildbrumby schnapps at Thredbo Valley Distillery.

Southern Highlands

WHERE Sutton Forest, 90 minutes' drive from Sydney, past Bowral.

THE TRIP The southern highlands goes crazy for Christmas in winter: we're talking roast turkey, hams and plum pudding galore. Southern highlands retreats Peppers Manor House and Peppers Craigieburn are going Christmas-tastic from $335 a night (

WHEN TO GO The whole month of July sees the highlands go completely Christmas-crazy.

GOOD FOR Mistletoe freaks and cash-strapped Euro-aficionados.

RUG UP Break out the reindeer knits and Santa hats: temps plummet to an 11 degrees average in July.

South Australia

WHERE The Flinders Ranges National Park, five hours north of Adelaide.

THE TRIP A four-day bushwalk covering 45 kilometres takes you around Wilpena Pound, the Elder Range and through a private wilderness sanctuary. Add a touch of luxe with a night at the 1850s Rawnsley Park homestead, $2150 a person (

WHEN TO GO Winter is perfect walking weather.

GOOD FOR Painters and photographers and those keen to spot a rare yellow-footed rock wallaby.

RUG UP Pack your flannelette pyjamas for the frosty mornings when you're climbing out of the swag.


WHERE The Yarra Valley, an hour east of Melbourne.

THE TRIP Drink top Australian pinot noir, ride the Puffing Billy steam train, spot a platypus at the Healesville Sanctuary or go tobogganing at Lake Mountain, Australia's premier cross-country alpine resort. Stay at the Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort and Spa, in Yarra Glen, from $150 a night until August 31.

WHEN TO GO Winter is top ballooning weather.

GOOD FOR Walkers on a post-Devonshire tea wander through Sassafras' Sherbrooke Forest.

RUG UP Be sure to layer up for early morning ballooning: a worthy but chilly experience.

WHERE The high country ski resorts of Falls Creek and Hotham.

THE TRIP Good-value packages bundle lift passes and accommodation, such as the "Ultimate Savings" offer at the Ultima Apartments, priced from $414 a person for three nights ( while the new QT Falls Creek costs from $429 a night ( Check out the new two-resort Snow Pass (

WHEN TO GO Hotham's Frosty Fruits gay ski week starts on July 26, Women's Week runs from July 29. Beginners, catch a bargain in Learn to Ski weeks, June 15-21, 2013, and September 7-13, 2013.

GOOD FOR Snowman makers, tobogganists and dog sledders (as well as skiers and boarders).

RUG UP Beanie, long johns, muffler, fleece, thick socks ... we're talking single-digit temps.


WHERE St Kilda is Melbourne's beachside and home to Luna Park.

THE TRIP Shoot pool in the Prince of Wales' authentically grungy front bar, dine fine at the water's edge at The Stokehouse or late-night fromagerie and wine bar Milk the Cow, then walk it off with the pooch. Four-star boutique dog-friendly stays across inner-city Melbourne start from $240. (

WHEN TO GO Now's the time to experience the cosy side to Melbourne.

GOOD FOR Pet lovers who don't want to leave a family member at home.

RUG UP Pack the parka and power-walk the pier with the pups.

Lord Howe Island

WHERE Two hours off the NSW coast.

THE TRIP Scramble, slide and go cave snorkelling on a Wilderness Challenge through rarely visited World Heritage-listed forests and beaches; or take a gentler Wilderness Retreat, focusing on the island's unique ecosystems.

WHEN TO GO Two Wilderness Retreats run from July 15 to 19 and August 5-9 ($1415 a person), the Wilderness Challenge week runs October 14-18 ($1715 a person) (

GOOD FOR Environmental explorers and back-country adventurers.

STRIP DOWN Pack hiking boots and binoculars for a very nice 22 degrees top.


WHERE Heading down south to Hobart.

THE TRIP Why do human beings create art? The answer is at The Red Queen, the newest exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Stay five days at a four- or five-star hotel, cruise Bruny Island, drink Moorilla wine and visit the museum, from $660 a person (

WHEN TO GO The exhibition runs until April 2014.

GOOD FOR Lovers of dark arts.

RUG UP She's a bit nippy: pack windproof and rainproof jackets and break out the pom-pom beanies.

WHERE Swansea, 1½ hours from Hobart or Launceston airports.

THE TRIP Pull up the hot tub and ease right on in: Rocky Hills Retreat, on 101 hectares, overlooks Maria Island and costs from $500 a night.

WHEN TO GO July is festival season in Tassie, celebrating everything from truffles to chocolate, pinot noir to the Festival of Voices (

GOOD FOR Painters, bushwalkers and pinot lovers everywhere.

RUG UP You don't need a lot for the tub, but pack hiking boots and binoculars for everything else.