For everything there is a season

Niall McIlroy

If you'd heading off on that trip of a lifetime to Canada and the US determined to see the sights in January you'd surely have been disappointed by the frosty reception from Niagara Falls.

For the misty majesty was snap frozen on January 8 when the temperature with wind chill dropped to about minus 29C and parts of North America were gripped by a "polar vortex" as the cold icy claws of Arctic weather slipped south.

In an instant, Niagara turned from waterfall to something resembling a cave formation. It might be an extreme case but it happened - imagine if you'd missed out on seeing the iconic picture of the falls because of the bad weather.

And it's happened before, just as typhoons and floods have buffeted Vietnam and Cambodia during October and November. We are not able to change the weather but we can take its most obvious patterns into account.

Australian skiiers enjoying our national day in Vail, Colorado / Pictures: Niall McIlroy

When to go to . . . BALI

More than 420,000 of us went to Bali last year making it WA's favourite overseas holiday spot, so many of you probably already think you know the best time to go.

But the time of year you head to the Island of the Gods can affect your experience - especially if you're not partial to the daily drenching dished out during the wet season.

These monsoonal storms soak the island between October and April turning the streets mucky and making outdoor pursuits such as hiking or cycling uncomfortable.

On the other hand, if whitewater rafting on the Ayung River is on your agenda, the wet season might be best for you and you can take advantage of low and shoulder season hotel room and villa rates.

If you don't deal well with humidity, stick to May-September - the dry season or summer to the locals. It is noticeably cooler but busier. More hospitable weather and school holidays combine into a "perfect storm" in July each year when thousands head off, transforming Bali into a suburb of Perth.

Kuta, Legian and family attractions such as the beaches, Bali Safari & Marine Park and Waterbom Bali water park become extremely busy. This is right in the thick of the midyear high season, so expect to pay more for accommodation and particularly flights.

If you aren't keen on planes and resorts full of kids, in 2015 avoid the periods from April 3-19, July 4-19, September 26-October 11 and from December 18 as these are the interim school holiday dates.

Bear in mind that these can differ by up to a week from State to State. The period around Christmas and into the new year is the peak season in Bali when crowd numbers and prices hit the heights, shopkeepers won't barter as low, rooms cost more and some hotels add Christmas and/or New Year's Eve dinner to the bill whether you eat it or not.

Surfers heading to Bali will find good waves year round but, generally, breaks on the west side of the island such as Padang- Padang, Canggu, Kuta and Medewi are at their best when offshore winds blow during the dry season. When the weather turns wet from October-April, head to eastern breaks such as Sanur, Nusa Dua and Keramas.

There are a couple of local festivals to know about. The most restrictive is the Hindu festival of Nyepi or the Day of Silence which will fall on March 21, 2015.

It's the equivalent of our new year but is marked with a period of meditation and unless you're happy to stay at the resort all day it is best not to be in Bali during this time. There are beach and street ceremonies and processions leading up to the day and visitors should keep a discreet distance.

Then, on Nyepi Day, it is a criminal act to leave your hotel or resort for a period of 24 hours and during the hours of darkness all curtains must be drawn and all lights dimmed. Most of the bigger resorts will have on-site activities for guests but the airport is closed and it's forbidden to check-in or depart on Nyepi.

Even the following day many shops are shut because the Balinese stay quiet in the belief evil spirits will pass over the island.

The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival has become a world- class literary event during the past decade attracting authors and visitors from all over the planet. It generally takes place in October - this year's is from October 1-5 when accommodation in Ubud is at a premium.

A priest takes part in a ceremony on Kuta Beach.

When to go to . . . RAMADAN/EID

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is followed by the festival of Eid or Lebaran in Indonesia, a country with an Islamic majority, where there is a week-long holiday and Bali throngs with domestic tourists from Java. At this time Bali's notoriously traffic-bound streets become gridlocked.

In many Islamic countries, Eid is the longest holiday of the year, so expect airports to be packed at either end and holiday hotspots such as Bali, Penang, Sabah and Phuket to be overly busy with visitors from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Gulf States. In 2015, Eid will begin about July 17.

On the other side of the coin, Ramadan is a great time to visit many of the more popular Malaysian hotel islands such as Pangkor and Langkawi or Bintan in Indonesia.

Many streets and hotels are quieter while most amenities such as restaurants remain open - this (some places being closed) only becomes an issue if you visit more conservative areas in these countries, such as Terengganu and parts of Java.

When to go to . . . VIETNAM, CAMBODIA, LAOS

Tropical weather governs the best time to visit many parts of South-East Asia. Vietnam and Cambodia are becoming more popular every year, particularly for outdoor pursuits such as trekking and long-range organised cycle trips which can stretch for hundreds of kilometres.

Long, thin Vietnam stretches across a number of distinct weather zones so, unless you are based in one place, you are in for a mixed bag whenever you travel.

A few days on a luxury wooden boat among the limestone formations in Halong Bay is an unforgettable experience best experienced when it's drier - from September-November and March, April and May.

From the end of May-September, it's hotter and wetter and it's possible to get a cabin for about 40 per cent less than in high season. The area is often hit by bad weather in July and August causing the cancellation of cruises - booking for that period would be foolish.

Further north, snow is not uncommon in the mountains around Sapa so September- November and March-May are the best times for adventuring and trekking when temperatures can reach 28C. From May-September, it's a little hot for outdoor activity.

Traffic-wise, the Vietnamese capital is the busiest city I've ever seen, where just crossing the street is almost heroic. I doubt I'd survive Ho Chi Minh City in the wet, so I'll make my next visit between November and January.

The country is at its most colourful and exciting during the Tet Festival or Lunar New Year in late January/early February and you'll even find blocked-off streets decorated with lights and flowers and free from the usually all- pervasive traffic.

A lot of the city's residents head back to their home villages, making it much easier to get around. Accommodation needs to be booked well in advance and just about everything from street food to transport becomes more expensive during the festival which lasts between 10 days and a fortnight.

Avoid central coastal destinations such as Nha Trang and Da Nang during monsoon season from October-February when the area can be hit by typhoons and affected by flooding.

Picking the weather is far simpler in Cambodia where it's dry from October-early April when the temperature skyrockets. Then it is hot and wet for the rest of the year. Unsurprisingly, May and June are quiet months for tourists and a poor time to explore the countryside when roads are often impassable.

Angkor Wat teems with visitors in the early morning and late afternoon in March and April and this is also when the growing number of seaside resorts at Sihanoukville are at their busiest.

Laos is Cambodia's Siamese twin weather-wise and between November and February is when you should aim to visit.

It is drier and cooler and the atmosphere is celebratory with Independence Day and the Hongsa Elephant Festival, Hmong New Year in northern parts and at the ruins of Wat Phou, a festival of music, dance and elephant races.

When to go to . . . MALAYSIA, THAILAND

Most areas around the edge of the South China Sea - think Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo, East Terengganu on the peninsula and even Hong Kong - are prone to typhoons or heavy storms and flooding between October and February.

Although it may be cheaper to stay, there's not necessarily much choice because many resorts close during this period. If you risk it, there's a good chance your holiday will be at best uncomfortable and at worst downright dangerous.

Instead try May/June, particularly for trekking when it's warm and dry - though in these parts it can rain any time.

The tropics aren't out of bounds at the end of the year. The islands to the west of Peninsular Malaysia including Penang, Pangkor and Langkawi are ideal for beach holidays and water visibility is good for divers.

The same goes for the Thai seaside resort of Hua Hin and Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand - the weather is great from December-February and strong breezes create good conditions for watersports. From March it gets hotter before the monsoon starts and by June it rains too much to be comfortable.

Across the peninsula, the fine weather window of November- March is a little wider for the Andaman islands of Phuket and Krabi, where the monsoon arrives by May.

If you don't mind the sudden downpours, this might be the time to visit. There's still plenty of sunshine, you'll find a spot on the beach and a room at a better price and because the islands aren't battered by the typhoons that whirl around more northern climes, tours and activities are still available.

Wherever you go in Thailand, it's always liveliest (and wettest) during Songkran held in mid-April to celebrate the Buddhist New Year, a time when Thais throw water or talc mixed with water with impunity. Foreigners or farang are marked targets - they love it or hate it but never emerge unscathed.

When to go . . . SKIING

If one had the money and inclination one could travel the world skiing year round. There are those who do it and I clearly remember overhearing a conversation on the Whistler Skylynx bus from Vancouver to Whistler.

The neon-clad trio of 50-something women talked chemical face peels, stockmarkets and how much money is in medicine in-between recounting recent travels to ski fields from Chile to Colorado, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.

Skiing can be a costly hobby with travelling and accommodation and lift passes not coming cheap and it's in the thick of the season that it's priciest.

With our own snow season running from about early June- early October, resorts such as Perisher, Thredbo and Mt Hotham sell reduced-price accommodation and lift passes for either end of this period.

Sometimes they include extras such as use of leisure centres and these are good value for families on first-time trips to the snowfields, beginners and some intermediates.

If you're anything more than a beginner and you need decent snow it's hard to recommend anything other than travelling during the high season (Down Under that's July and August).

The deeper and more dependable the snow, the more runs that are open and the better the time that you'll have.

Take a risk and go early or late and it'll be cheaper with smaller crowds but it might also just be a cold damp squib with little in the way of action on the slopes.

With our season less than 3 1/2 months away, now is the time to check resort websites for room and lift pass bundles.

Beginners will find the skiing best when the snow is deepest.

When to go skiing in . . . New Zealand

New Zealand's snow season runs roughly concurrent with ours and the best skiing is to be had in the Southern Alps around the adventure capital of Queenstown and nearby Wanaka.

These towns have become bases for skiers in a country where ski-in, ski-out resorts are not the tradition. Ski fields such as Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Cardrona offer beautiful views and a great variety of terrains, especially for intermediate and expert skiers.

It's not just on snow that Queenstown and Wanaka have built reputations as adventure hubs.

Pleasantly warm from December-February, the towns and their lakes are also beautifully scenic hubs for boating, kayaking and fishing.

There are skydiving and paragliding tours, scenic flights, jet boating and hiking, shopping and fine dining all with the glacial lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka as stunning backdrops.

When to go skiing in . . . North America

There are beautiful backdrops galore high in the Rockies, both in Colorado and Canada.

By mid-November, the North American ski season is up and running and it continues apace through to mid-April.

Vail, Colorado, opened to skiers in the mid-60s with two ski lifts and a gondola. Now a Bavarian Alpine village with restaurants, bars and hotels snakes along the narrow valley - part of the biggest ski resort in North America with more than 30 lifts serving nearly 200 runs.

Parent company Vail Resorts owns three other resorts in Colorado - Breckenridge, Beaver Creek and Keystone - as well as Heavenly, Northstar-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood Mountain on the border of California and Nevada. With an Epic Pass entitling travellers to unlimited skiing at all of these resorts, you may need the whole five-month season.

Colorado's other big name is Aspen Snowmass and north of the border there are fine resorts in British Columbia and Alberta, including Whistler - home of the 2010 Winter Olympics - and, near Banff and the southern end of the Icefields Parkway, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise.

These resorts have a long season and receive up to 7m of snow but from late April the snow is slushier and not as good for beginners.

The parkway is a delight best tasted in winter. From Lake Louise it snakes north to Jasper, and is edged by the flat white expanses of Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield and striated peaks are jagged against the sky.

Jasper is a lovely little town where one can visit other ski resorts such as Marmot Basin and take an ice walk through Maligne Canyon.

Cap it all off with a rail trip west to Vancouver on The Canadian. The route is scenic - through the Rockies that form the border between Alberta and B.C., crossing a time zone and then Yellowhead Pass, the great continental divide where water flows either east or west, past Mt Robson, angular, banded blue and white, through isolated Kamloops, a city cloaked in white and along the frozen Fraser River to Vancouver and the Pacific. I reckon it's got to be done in the thick of winter.

Vail, Colorado is beautiful in winter.

When to go skiing in . . .Japan

Japan is another option in a handy location for Australian skiers, particularly the northern island of Hokkaido which gets about 14m of snow each year.

Home to some of the best ski-in, ski-out resorts in the world including Club Med Sahoro and its all-inclusive packages, Hokkaido has a long season from late November to early May and is a day's travel from Perth. Bear in mind that Japanese school holidays are from mid-December-early January. Book for February when the snow should be at its best.

When to go . . . Cruising in EUROPE

If your holiday involves soaking up the sun around the pool on a cruise ship you'll want to choose a time when it's easier to get a deckchair and not have the peace and quiet ruined by kids.

A Mediterranean cruise can change markedly depending on the time of year and time on a ship could be close to unbearable if it's during the European school holidays.

The period from June-August is by far the busiest, with cabins fully booked and ships and ports crawling with tourists and children.

Bear in mind if you're travelling with your own kids, this could be the best time to cruise - on-board children's programs are in full swing and there'll be plenty of similarly aged friends to make.

If you want a more relaxing cruise, try the shoulder season months of March, April, September and October. The weather can still be warm, the crowds will have thinned and October/November fares can be heavily discounted.

This also brings us to the question of whether it's cheaper to book a cruise early or wait and try to snap up a last-minute bargain.

Well, the good oil is that if you act early you can get exactly what you want at an attractive price. If you aren't picky about where you go, then wait and go bargain hunting on remaining cabins but remember you're unlikely to find your "perfect cruise" at a last- minute price.

Just as with cruising, holiday hotspots such as Disneyland Paris, Venice and Paris will all be far busier in the summer months when school's out and the weather is (theoretically) better. Britain's notoriously fickle weather is a figure of fun and frustration.

In theory there are four seasons but sometimes these are all in one day. And when it's blowing a gale in Barrow it could be positively balmy an hour and a half down the road on Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

There's a reason the airfares to Britain are more expensive for travel from May to August.

The days are longer and there's more chance of sunshine. But I've known very pleasant weather in September - the days are still much longer than those in Perth, evenings can be lovely and clear and airfares can be cheaper. August is often nice but it's busy with school out and the last Bank Holiday of the summer at the end of that month.

Some European cities such as Venice are busy all year round.

When to go . . . CRUISING Europe's rivers

School kids tend to be less of an issue on river cruises and it really is more desirable to travel during the summer months, again cheaper fares are often available March-May and September/ October.

If you're exploring Russia by river, you'll be limited to May- October - the waterways can freeze outside these months. It can be quite warm during the summer months in the crowded museums and galleries of St Petersburg, none of which are air-conditioned, so aim for August.

Although May and September are cooler, it's also a good deal quieter and fares and flights are often cheaper.

A rive cruise ship in the Rhine Gorge.

When to go . . . CRUISING in North America

If you're going to head around the world for an Inside Passage cruise, it would be mad not to do it when the weather is warmest and the wildlife most active - from June to August is the only option, though tiny ports such as Sitka and Ketchikan can get crowded.

The weather could be colder during the May and September shoulder season but there is the attraction of snow-capped mountains.

There's also the chance of seeing the Northern Lights, though snow can cause the cancellation of some tours.

On the opposite side of North America, right on the US/Canada border, Niagara Falls in full flow is one of the great sights in a continent blessed with them.

The current vessel is the 11th Maid of the Mist since 1846 to carry visitors on to the Niagara River and past American and Bridal Veil falls, below rainbows and into the dense spray of Horseshoe Falls.

But when an Arctic weather system had North America in its icy grip earlier this year, the "falls" were frozen solid - a spectacular sight but not one we might associate with the landmark.

If you want to enjoy the falls in all their glory, visit after the ice on Lake Erie has melted, usually about mid-April, and the Maid of the Mist is out on the water.

Peak season is when the weather is warmer, May-September, and it can be hard to find a local hotel room on either side of the border. The Maid of the Mist ties up for the season in October but the area is still popular with foliage freaks who come to admire the many hues of the autumn leaves.

Niagara is open all year and in winter hosts ice skating, Christmas concerts, and the Winter Festival of Lights when the area is adorned with three million twinkling bulbs.

Avoid the area when US high- school students are on their break. During these periods, hotel rooms and tours are more expensive and queuing and crowds a nuisance.

When to see . . . AFRICAN WILDLIFE

More than two million animals migrate from Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, to the greener Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, from July to October.

Kruger National Park, South Africa, is good all year but game viewing is best during the dry winter months from May to September. With feed sparse, wildlife migrate towards water. The summer, from October to April, is wet and that means full waterholes, green bushveld and newborn wildlife.

When you are further south in Africa, for example in Chobe River National Park, Botswana, the best months for wildlife are May, June and July.

Although it is cooler, it is the dry season, compressing wildlife around the Chobe River and waterholes. As soon as it rains, everything seems to vanish.

Pick the right time to go to Africa and be rewarded with wildlife sightings / Picture: Stephen Scourfield

When to go to . . . WA

There's a range of attractions the length of our State. Some even come to us in the form of the humpback and southern right whales that head north annually to give birth and nurse before returning home.

They are joined by sea life including whale sharks and manta rays which feed in the rich waters off North West Cape.

The world's biggest fish arrives at Ningaloo Reef to feed on plankton after the coral spawns in late March, staying until June or July, when whale shark tours give visitors the chance to swim with the giants, off Exmouth and Coral Bay.

Big schools of manta rays can be seen year round in Coral Bay and from May- November, they are another highlight of a whale shark tour.

In winter humpbacks head to warm northern breeding grounds before journeying south in spring with newborn calves while turtles nest in Cape Range National Park in summer.

Geographe Bay is a prime whale watching location from September- December when all of those southern right, humpback and minke whales feed and rest before beginning their journey back to the Southern Ocean and there are plenty of spotting tours available - all within a couple of hours from Perth.

Heading south to Walpole, Denmark, Busselton or Margaret River is always fun but particularly in summer when the temperature can be cooler than often sweltering Perth. Esperance is windy in summer but perfect at Easter with mild, clear weather.

At the opposite end of the State, the wet season is in full swing during what most of us call summer.

Roads are often impassable, travel is curtailed and in some cases dangerous. May can still be a bit hot but Broome, Kununurra and other Kimberley locations are great from June- August in the dry season. It's also the high season and room rates are at a premium.

If you can handle the humidity and afternoon storms you can get relative bargains during the shoulder season, from mid-October after the school holidays to just before Christmas and then again after the new year to the end of January.

2014/15 WA State school holidays

April 12 - April 27

July 5 - July 20

September 27 - October 12

December 19, 2014 - February 1, 2015

April 3 - April 19

July 4 - July 19

September 26 - October 11