February (along with January) sees the hottest temperatures. The upper North Island (Northland, Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula), as well as parts of the South Island (Nelson, parts of Canterbury, parts of Central Otago) get average highs of around 77° F (25° C).
But, it's also not unusual for these places to get temperatures above 86° F (30° C) in the summer, sometimes for several days at a time. New Zealand is an island nation so doesn't get the same extreme heat that is common in neighboring Australia, but hot temperatures are not unusual. Plus, the north (Northland, Auckland in particular) is quite humid.
At the same time, parts of the country can be quite cool in the summer. Snow can fall at any time of year in the higher alpine areas, although this is much less common in February. You might be enjoying a pleasant summer day in Queenstown, and then wake up to a fresh sprinkling of snow on the mountains surrounding the city the next day. The average summer high in Queenstown, in the south of the South Island, is a cooler 71° F (22° C).
Summer is normally the driest time of year. You'll see evidence of this when traveling around the country, as farmland that's a bright green for most of the year will be brown and dry. The exception to New Zealand's generally dry summers are when an ex-tropical cyclone passes by, or through, the country. The Pacific Islands further north experience numerous cyclones each summer, between November and April. On average, New Zealand feels the effects of these cyclones once per summer, in February or March, although they don't hit New Zealand every year.
These storms lose a significant amount of strength by the time they reach New Zealand, so are usually experienced here as bad storms, with high winds and heavy rain but not widespread devastation. If you hear that a cyclone's coming your way while you're traveling in New Zealand in February, cancel any outdoor plans (such as multi-day hikes) and choose indoor activities for a few days. Swap your tent for a hotel, too.
Crowds and Costs
February is peak tourism season for international travelers to New Zealand. But, local schools are back (usually at the end of January or the beginning of February), so you will see a noticeable reduction of visitors at popular beaches, lakes, rivers, and other major attractions. February is also a better time to camp in New Zealand, because campsites won't be so crowded with local families. Always be aware of local laws regarding 'freedom camping', as this is not welcome in many parts of the country.
If you plan to cross the Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton on the Interislander Ferry in February, book tickets in advance. Although February is generally less busy than January, it's still peak season with foreign visitors.
Accommodation costs will be at peak season highs in February.
Where to Go
Everywhere in New Zealand is accessible in February, so where you decide to go should depend on your own preferences. If you want to spend time at the beach, Northland and the Coromandel Peninsula are the best options in the North Island, and the area around Nelson, the Abel Tasman National Park, and Golden Bay are the best options in the South Island. But, because New Zealand has such a long coastline, you'll find a lovely beach practically anywhere in New Zealand that's on the coast. In general, the east coast of both islands has better swimming beaches, as the west coast has wilder seas with stronger currents and heavier surf.
Hiking and long-distance trekking is a major reason why some people travel to New Zealand, and February is a good time to do this. Although you should always be prepared for unseasonably cold temperatures and bad conditions anywhere in the country, especially on alpine hikes, the conditions are generally good in February. The most popular trails (such as the Department of Conservation's 10 'Great Walks') can get pretty busy in February, although less so than in January. Book accommodation en route (at DOC huts and campsites) in advance, or avoid the big-name treks (Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Abel Tasman Coast Track, etc.) in favor of quieter trails in less busy areas.
While you can't ski in February (ski season runs from June to early October), this is a good time to make a road trip to the mountains. The Tongariro National Park in the central North Island, and Aoraki Mt. Cook in the central South Island are ideal destinations, and they're easily accessible.
What to Do
February is a great time to hit up a beach, whether lazing on the sand, swimming, or trying water sports like surfing, stand-up paddling boarding, or kayaking. At popular beaches on the weekends (and during the week in some places), Surf Life Saving patrols have a presence, so swim between the flags when they're flying.
As mentioned above, February is also a good time to go hiking. Conditions are likely to be hot and sunny, so bring sunscreen and plenty of water. But, you're less likely to encounter problematic rain, which can make trails muddy and slippery. New Zealanders themselves love to hike, so wherever you go in the country, you won't be far from a trail.
Mountain biking is another fun activity that is good in February. Trails are available for various levels of experience, from well-tended and marked tracks to more rugged and remote areas, where you will be sharing the trails with trekkers.
City sightseeing and cultural activities can also be enjoyed in February, from the museums and galleries of Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, to the important historical sites of the Bay of Islands and the amazing natural features of Rotorua and Taupo. Travelers wanting to learn more about New Zealand colonial history should try to be at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands on February 6th (see below).
Waitangi Day. This national holiday, on February 6th, marks the date in 1840 when Maori chiefs signed an agreement with the British Crown. It's a foundational day in New Zealand's history, and often—depending on who is in government—can be a time of protest and the airing of grievances. The whole country takes a holiday on this day, but events at Waitangi itself, in Northland's Bay of Islands, are especially interesting.
Napier Art Deco Festival. Travel back to the 1930s and celebrate Napier’s Art Deco heritage—the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, and rebuilt largely in the Art Deco style.
Traveling to New Zealand in February? Check out these great itineraries.
Highlights of New Zealand: From North to South - 15 Days. Traverse New Zealand on this two-week adventure-packed trip, covering the highlights of the North and South Islands.
New Zealand's North Island Adventure - 7 Days. This self-drive itinerary hits the highlights of New Zealand's North Island, with a wide array of activities and landscapes.
South Island Highlights and New Zealand Wines - 12 Days. Travel through New Zealand's beautiful South Island, getting to know its cultural hot-spots, famous landscapes and public gardens, and sprawling vineyards along the way.