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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?

What’s Your opinion?


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31 Responses to
How to survive your first Canberra winter
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.

wottaway 7:26 pm 16 Apr 15

When I arrived in Canberra,Feb.’66,I bought the best overcoat I could find.Never used it in seven years.
Turning the oil heater on was like clockwork,Anzac Day every year.Christmas Day ’68…freezing,sitting in front of the oil heater.One October long w/end,84`F one day, light snow the next.

Often used to reverse car into driveway pointing directly at the sun to get as much ‘heat’ onto the glass as possible,hoping the sun would actually turn up.

Spring in Canberra…when was that? I didn’t care how hot or cold it got so long as the change from winter was noticeable.Having said that,I still think it is a great place in many ways.

Rollersk8r 6:52 pm 16 Apr 15

Southmouth said :

A common mistake is to worry about your heating bill. It costs money to be warm, accept it. Find a winter sport to either play or watch live and find somewhere with a wood fire and a ready supply of your favourite beverage. If you take up skiing, go only on the blue sky days.

Agree. Ducted heating is a must and I honestly don’t care what it costs.

And a whole separate discussion – why would anyone go to the Brumbies or Raiders at night when you can watch on Fox at home. Seems a bit strange to watch a live match that I can sometimes hear from my house – but at home I’m warm and the food and drink are far more reasonably priced!

JJC81 6:40 pm 16 Apr 15

Another good tip is to buy polar fleece sheets. I don’t like electric blankets, but the polar fleece is warm to crawl into and doesn’t seem to get too hot during the night. Costco has had some sets in the past and they are a good price

Evilomlap 5:14 pm 16 Apr 15

Home: ‘shut in’ in the evenings preferably just as the sun is going down – close curtains etc, cover all the exposed glass, it conducts temperature really well and gets freezing to the touch very quickly. If you can burn lots of them safely, tea light candles are an amazing source of heat. Don’t laugh at me just yet – I used to set up 20-30 tea lights some nights – not only does it create cool mood lighting those little suckers get amazingly hot and that heat radiates for metres. And packs of 100 tea lights are really cheap. Obviously its not an every night thing, but it makes a nice change from blasting a heater all night.

Body: Layer up. The best advice I ever heard about surviving a Canberra winter was from a friend who has experienced sleeping rough here in June-July. Layers of cotton and wool get heated up by your body heat, and an outside layer of something polyester seals in that heat. Thankfully I have a home to heat and heating bills to think about, but I still layer up every winter, it’s just habit now.

Mind: A little transcendental meditation. I’m completely hopeless and easily distracted. That combination of personality traits meant I was always missing the bus to school and having to walk. As I’d trek through fog and crunch over frozen grass I used to imagine I was curled up on an armchair beside a roaring fire drinking something really hot. Believe it or not it actually worked sometimes!

Southmouth 3:51 pm 16 Apr 15

A common mistake is to worry about your heating bill. It costs money to be warm, accept it. Find a winter sport to either play or watch live and find somewhere with a wood fire and a ready supply of your favourite beverage. If you take up skiing, go only on the blue sky days.

Madam Cholet 3:18 pm 16 Apr 15

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.

Vix 2:17 pm 16 Apr 15

One thing which I learned the hard way – don’t leave your steel capped boots on the back door step over night!

I don’t actually find the cold is the issue so much as going into and out of heated buildings – laying is great if you want to lug around half your wardrobe but I would strongly recommend a really thick/warm jacket that can be put on and taken off easily and quickly…

Kim F 12:27 pm 16 Apr 15

Rather than a wool jacket, I would vote for a quality “down” jacket, lighter weight but much warmer.

Postalgeek 12:19 pm 16 Apr 15

Agree with the suggestion to travel to the northern hemisphere, but do it during their winter so you can get a true idea of what winter is.

Then come back here and marvel how you can run around outside without slipping on ice, and feel the sun on your face.

Learning to ski also helps with the appreciation of winter.

sepi 11:54 am 16 Apr 15

I wouldn’t worry about getting wool. go for new technologies and get a proper ski jacket from aldi. Or get a really good kathmandu lined fleece on sale.

Wear a singlet, explorer socks and decent boots. On weekends you can wear leggings under jeans – your main problem will be feeling too hot, but you can go down to a thin shirt on top, and a jacket, scarf and beanie for outdoors.

Most people from interstate try to do their first winter in skirts and pantyhose and court shoes and an extra jumper and wonder why they feel cold all the time.

Rollersk8r 10:39 am 16 Apr 15

Canberra winters are nothing compared to Europe etc. And I reckon it’s a source of pride when the Sydney news describe their winter minimums of 10 to be chilly, freezing, need to rug up etc.

Having said that, the end of daylight savings is a bit depressing – always feels like a short summer and loooooooong winter.

My only advice is to take up running. Get out there and get amongst it! I run all through winter with no need for a beanie or gloves – and I only took it up a few years ago. Only takes a couple of minutes to warm up – and the rest of the day doesn’t seem so bad once you’ve done a few ks in -5.

PS. Even in the middle of summer Bruce Stadium is cold!

PPS. Yes, the fake spring is definitely a thing! Always seem to get one last dose of winter, as late as November.

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