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How to survive your first Canberra winter

By Lisa Martin 16 April 2015 31

woman running in cold weather

It’s that time of year again when the mornings start to get very cool, you start pulling out the winter gear and heaters and the Canberra air is filled with the smell of firewood burning as night falls.

While a lot of Canberrans I’ve met seem to prefer the colder months, winter is just not for me. I love the sun and the heat. I find it a lot easier to cool down than warm up – give me humidity any day over icy mornings. Coming up to my third winter after moving to Canberra from Brisbane, I’m already cursing those already fresh mornings which seem to come around way too soon.

For those new to Canberra, ‘winter’ or those unpleasant mornings below zero usually begin around Anzac Day and it sometimes doesn’t get to my standard of warm until around Melbourne Cup Day. For the past few years that I’ve been in Canberra, there’s been a phenomenon called ‘fake Spring’. You think spring is here in full force with lovely sunny and warmish days, then just when you think it’s safe to put away the winter clothes for the year, so begins a cold snap and it drops to below zero again for a week or two.

From my experience, if you’re not from Canberra, winter is hard to get used to and takes a lot of effort to not give in and move back to a warmer climate. My first winter was definitely the worst and I think I’ve acclimatised a bit since. I used to be cold at 15 degrees in Brisbane but now that temperature is pretty good – I just really hate anything below five degrees now.

If you’re new to a winter with below zero temperatures, it can take a bit of getting used to in figuring out how to dress appropriately.

Here are a few of my ‘lessons learnt’ on getting through winter.

Invest in a quality wool coat. I found out the hard way that those polyester/cotton jackets just don’t cut it in the dead of winter. You need a coat with at least 80 per cent wool in it I found. Buying a quality coat will last you many winters so it’s worth spending the money. And learn the art of layering – it makes it much easier when you enter a warm shop or restaurant to lose a few layers rather than sweating it out.

The same goes for quality gloves. I’ve found wool is best for me. The best I’ve found were actually alpaca wool which I picked up in Peru last year. Those gloves have amazing warmth. Another tip is to put the gloves on before you go outside to protect your hands from the chill. Also invest in a good hand moisturiser especially if you experience chilblains like I have – the hemp moisturiser from the Body Shop is the best I’ve found.

For the ladies, wool stockings also do the trick, particularly if you wear skirts or dresses to work or out.

Make sure your shoes have thick soles. I had an awful experience wearing thin-soled shoes at a Brumbies game one year. My feet were freezing on the cold concrete.

A great tip I learnt from a colleague is dose up on vitamins. My first winter I suffered my first ever sinus infection which swelled up my face to twice its size and made me feel like I’d been punched in the face. A colleague said she took echinacea, garlic and horseradish vitamins in the lead up to and over winter and never got sick. I tried the tip and have only had very minor colds over winter since.

If you don’t like cold winter nights, invest in an electric blanket, hot water bottles and/or heat packs (I have them all!) I’d never used an electric blanket before moving to Canberra but I can’t live without it in winter.

Travel to the northern hemisphere if you can to break up the winter. My strategy last year was to avoid the worst part of winter which was August and fled overseas to Europe and South America. While not everyone can do this I found it very effective to break up the winter – when I returned in late August I didn’t mind the cold so much as I knew it was nearly over with spring on the horizon. This year I’m going to Greece and Portugal to escape the winter for a few weeks.

Do you dislike the cold? What are your tips to surviving winter?


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31 Responses to
How to survive your first Canberra winter
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zllauh 4:23 pm 27 Apr 15

suit up yourself with wool . taking nuts and almonds !
i do not worry about winters apart from the fact getting out of the bed and taking a bath in such kind of a weather !!
Geeeez

emsilio 3:14 pm 19 Apr 15

Moved here from Switzerland – second winter now. The winter isn’t cold at all – just the housing (insulation) is horror and so are the heating systems. Nights are cold, yes, but days are warm and sunny! I remember cycling to work at -25° and not having temperatures above 0 degrees for week. Hating the cold as I do, Canberran winters are quite modest. I wouldn’t say winters are very cold in Canberra – it is just not autumn anymore and winters aren’t warm by definition! Seasons change… so all we need to do is change our clothing according to the weather.
I also agree with the idea escaping to the northern hemisphere. Should work permit it, it is perfect to do as the birds do :).

dungfungus 10:36 am 19 Apr 15

A scarf to keep one’s neck warm is good value in a place like Canberra in the winter.
People in Melbourne have scarves to identify which identify them with their AFL team. Some are so long even Isadora Duncan wouldn’t try them out.
The gloves that have no fingers (available in hardware shops) are great also as the back of the hands are usually exposed to cold weather.

watto23 11:29 pm 18 Apr 15

I’m acclimatised as a local, I usually only ever need 2 layers, occasionally a third if its that bitterly windy cold day. That said I hate the dry summers in Canberra and actually prefer humid tropical summers.

When it comes down to it though, we do get a lot of clear sunny days in winter, a lot more than Sydney and Melbourne get, those wet drizzly days in Melbourne are not something I’d like! We get a great spring and autumn as well. But even as a local I struggle to get up when its below zero outside.

JC 10:56 pm 17 Apr 15

Madam Cholet said :

I recently gave away a lovely winter coat that I had dragged around with me for 20 years since I moved here from a properly cold climate where winter days mainly don’t make double figures. I see no need for a winter coat in Canberra and cope with just a jacket, scarf and gloves.

I’m seeing people out and about some mornings at the moment wearing wintry looking coats and I wonder what they will do when it does get cold.

The only things you do need in Canberra is reliable indoor heating, jumpers and socks.

And as for going North to escape the ‘cold’ winter…three maybe four months and it’s all over. A tad extreme I think. Why not make the most of it and go to the snow instead.

Indeed. In Canberra the really cold temperatures, read the minuses only happen when there is no clouds in the sky to keep the warmth in, meaning of course the air is still. Still air you don’t feel the cold, so lighter winter clothes are more than fine. I too laugh at the way some people rug up, and ask myself what they would do if they were in Moscow in winter (done that once for a few days, not nice).

To me the days that feel the coldest are when it is maybe 5-10 and the wind is blowing. Fortunately these days are in the minority in Canberra.

In actual fact thinking about it, I lived in Sydney for 2 years many years ago now, my house and work were both in the southern and eastern suburbs near the coast and that was the coldest I’ve felt in Australia. Simply because the air was never still, always blowing.

vintage123 9:07 pm 17 Apr 15

vintage123 said :

I recall a long weekend about five years ago when the temperature in canberra was a low of minus 4 to a high of 4. We ran out of gas heating and being a long weekend we could not have a refill. Ever since I have made sure the house has an electric heater in each room just in case. We use the Noroit electronic heaters as they cost 5 cents an hour to run. Absolutely fantastic.

http://www.noirot.com.au

vintage123 9:03 pm 17 Apr 15

I recall a long weekend about five years ago when the temperature in canberra was a low of minus 4 to a high of 4. We ran out of gas heating and being a long weekend we could not have a refill. Ever since I have made sure the house has an electric heater in each room just in case. We use the Noroit electronic heaters as they cost 5 cents an hour to run. Absolutely fantastic.

Pork Hunt 6:32 pm 17 Apr 15

switch said :

fabforty said :

Seriously people. It’s Canberra – not the Antarctic.

Calm down and put a coat on.

So why do TAMS close roads if 1mm of snow falls?

What really gets on my goat is that I can drive to any ski resort in NSW in my Land Rover without chains but I can’t go to Corin Forest after that 1 mm of snow has fallen.

gildrsleeve 6:23 pm 17 Apr 15

Speaking as one who has lived in the snow-belt of the northern hemisphere, I can say that nearly all of the above advice is helpful.

Three things I can add, though: first, if you drive (especially in the coldest hours of the day and night), get a good pair of fairly tight-fitting gloves that have *non-slip* palms and fingers. My own favourite pair is suede lined with trimmed-down lambskin.

Second: whatever your preferred form of daily exercise may be, do it first thing in the morning. Building up a sort of metabolic ‘reserve’ of body heat really will help you get through the coldest part of the morning. If you don’t have a preferred daily exercise, winter is a great time to pick one. 😀

Finally, if you discover that *you* are one of those drivers who doesn’t know how to drive on frost, snow, or black ice, learn how NOW! Consult someone who does know, even if it means paying for a professional driving lesson or two. One hint now, though: on frost or snow, drive at moderate speed, changing speed and direction as little as you possibly can — it’s pretty much the same as driving on a very slick and muddy dirt road.

People who aren’t used to Canberra winters might also do the ‘stop and smell the roses’ thing, seasonally adjusted, of course 😀 Look for the beauty that comes with the discomfort. These mornings with the sun just barely lighting up the mist, seen through the trees Canberra has so many of, can be awesome, even if your schedule only allows you a few minutes a day to see it.

And if you can catch a magic moment *before* you start shivering, so much the better. . .

rubaiyat 3:42 pm 17 Apr 15

VYBerlinaV8_is_back said :

switch said :

fabforty said :

Seriously people. It’s Canberra – not the Antarctic.

Calm down and put a coat on.

So why do TAMS close roads if 1mm of snow falls?

Because too many people don’t know how to drive properly.

Which is why we keep building roads. We live in hope that with enough practice they might finally learn! 😀

dungfungus 12:47 pm 17 Apr 15

switch said :

fabforty said :

Seriously people. It’s Canberra – not the Antarctic.

Calm down and put a coat on.

So why do TAMS close roads if 1mm of snow falls?

Will they stop the trams also?

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 12:22 pm 17 Apr 15

switch said :

fabforty said :

Seriously people. It’s Canberra – not the Antarctic.

Calm down and put a coat on.

So why do TAMS close roads if 1mm of snow falls?

Because too many people don’t know how to drive properly.

MERC600 12:09 pm 17 Apr 15

fabforty said :

Seriously people. It’s Canberra – not the Antarctic.

Calm down and put a coat on.

Fabforty has it right. Try Burnie in August with the wind off Bass Strait.

switch 11:44 am 17 Apr 15

fabforty said :

Seriously people. It’s Canberra – not the Antarctic.

Calm down and put a coat on.

So why do TAMS close roads if 1mm of snow falls?

fabforty 9:15 am 17 Apr 15

Seriously people. It’s Canberra – not the Antarctic.

Calm down and put a coat on.

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 8:54 am 17 Apr 15

Canberra winters aren’t so bad. We have a few really cold days, a few windy days, and lots and lots of crisp, sunny days.

Choose some warm clothes, seal your home up and figure out the best way to heat it, and enjoy.

breda 1:59 am 17 Apr 15

It comes down to metabolism. Some people’s bodies are attuned to hot weather, others’ prefer the cold. But, there’s a big range in between.

A couple of weeks ago, when we had a cold snap, I watched a bunch of primary schoolkids passing my place on their way to the bus. It was 10C outside. They were wearing shorts and T shirts or equivalent, skipping around and doing just fine. They breed ’em tough here.

For incomers, the first winter will always be a shock. The main thing is not to skimp on home heating, whatever it costs, and to get proper socks and thick soled shoes.

I had a heavy overcoat for the first couple of years here, but found that I rarely used it. OTOH, in warmer Melbourne, where you get wet and blustery weather (as opposed to our clear, still nights) a proper overcoat is essential.

And I do get tired of people who complain about the climate as a reason not to live here. Paris has a much worse climate – wet, sleety and snowy winters, baking summers – and no-one ever mentions it.

Jamekins 12:52 am 17 Apr 15

Pro tip: Spend a winter or two on the Arctic Circle and marvel at your new found ability to find any temperature over 0 degrees as an excuse to go outside in a t-shirt. In Finland where I live, the average winter temperature is around -25 and the word in Finnish that means cold is only used for temperatures under -10. After that I find I don’t need anything more than a jumper in a Canberra winter and have never used gloves, scarves or heavy jackets. Being able to see the sun for most of the day is a nice luxury you get to enjoy too!

backinthecan 10:43 pm 16 Apr 15

I guess if you came from Brisbane, Canberra winters will take some getting used to. And after all, Brisbane in winter is lovely! Their summer is as hard as our winter though. And our spring and autumn are second to none!

Things I’ve done that now make me enjoy my Canberra winters include:
A number of good base layer garments. Keep your warmth on your body.
A wool quilt and under blanket – no electricity required!
A reading chair by a sunny window. (Canberra has more sunny days than any other capital in Australia, so make use of it!)
A bicycle to ride forever on those cool, sunny days. It’s amazing how much further you can go; some years, I lose weight in winter!
Cook those wonderful winter dishes and really enjoy a nice rich red wine in the climate it’s made for.

Yes, there will be that handful of miserably memorable mornings, but there’s so much to love about a Canberra winter! Today was probably the last day in shorts for me unti afterl the magpie babies start beeping away again, so I say “here comes the cold again. Go for it people!” We live in a great place. Make the most of it! Bouef bourginon with herb dumplings is coming soon. You just can’t enjoy that the same way in summer!

Cheers,
Jason

AdelaideLouise 10:04 pm 16 Apr 15

As someone who also moved down from Brisbane, I still find Canberra winters uncomfortable 6 years in, but the first two were probably the worst.

As others have said, layering clothes helps and a jacket/ coat is important – it doesn’t have to be the best (wool is nice but can be expensive), just something that insulates you.

Also, this is the time of year to reacquaint yourself with your oven! Slow-cooking stews in the oven is a great option for cold weekend afternoons – it’ll help keep the place warm and fill the house with delicious aromas. Warm meals in general help me stay warm through winter – trading cold cereal/ milk for porridge is a nice breakfast option, as is swapping salad lunches for warmed leftovers w/ veges.

Probably the saddest thing is that nowhere will be as comfortably warm as your own house. The long term/ lifetime Canberrans tend to thrive on the cold and consequently don’t feel it much. Their houses will be cold, as are most (all?) office buildings – I know of at least one employer that knocked heating down a degree last year as a savings measure. So be prepared to be sitting at your desk contemplating a call to building management about seemingly non-existent heating while everyone else is merrily plodding along with their day.

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