Dave and Dustin on phones

The State of Internet Access in New Zealand

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Note that this article was written in 2013, and no longer reflects the reality of internet access in New Zealand. A countrywide fibre rollout dramatically improved speeds and availability in much of the country, and on our recent trips, the difference was very noticeable in hotels, hostels, and AirBnbs.

It’s now much rarer to find places that charge for access, and download speeds are on par with what you’ll find in most other countries. Slow, unreliable internet still exists, but is now largely confined to remote towns and villages.

We’re leaving this piece up for its historical interest, but don’t rely on it for accurate information at this point!

First World Country, Third World Internet

This is how I referred to Internet access in New Zealand when I began traveling three years ago. In fact, it was the first country on my first round-the-world trip, and one that set off my pattern of intermittent travel blogging.

A few years on, and New Zealand is still far behind the rest of the Western world when it comes to cheap and plentiful Internet access. In fact, I often compare it to the leading reigning champion of horrible Internet: Myanmar (Burma,) which we’ve also covered.

Below, we’ll dive into why Internet access is so poor in New Zealand. We’ll go back in time to see how far things have come, see what it’s like today, and what you can expect as a traveler in the future.

Finally, we’ll cover how to get the most out of what little Internet you’ll find, and how to track down that elusive free Wi-Fi in New Zealand.

The Past (2009/2010)

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about the struggles of finding Internet access in New Zealand. Free Wi-Fi? Only at the few municipal libraries, and even then, capped at slow speeds and overloaded by other travelers and locals.

The most common option available for a traveler at the time? Pay-per-megabyte services such as Zenbu offering 10MB for $1 NZD (~$0.80). I wrote about how I accidentally blew through $15 NZD in credit when my podcasts began downloading in the background.

Hourly rates for Wi-Fi were around $5/hr, with cheaper rates available for longer terms (week/month). Unfortunately, to use them over the longer term, you would have to follow the hotspots the company had put up around the country.

Mobile service (3G) was too cost-prohibitive to even mention.

In a word, horrible.

The Present (2013)

There have been some serious strides made in the quality of service and available options, but still doesn’t come close to what the rest of the world has to offer.

Free WiFi in New Zealand

The best source of free Wi-Fi is at libraries and government facilities around the country. From the Te Papa Museum in Wellington to the smaller libraries in places such as Akaroa, this is the place to catch up on your online backups and sync your Dropbox.

Telecom, a local telecommunications provider, has set up “Free Telecom Wi-fi Zones” in tourist areas around the country. Oddly enough, they’ve done this by outfitting payphones with Wi-Fi hotspots.

You’ll need a mobile phone number (with any provider) to sign up for the service, which then allows you to connect up to five devices and download up to 1GB/day for each.

You can find the hotspots on their map, or just keep an eye out for a bunch of people surrounding the local phone booth. I found the connections fairly flaky.

The odd accommodation here and there will offer free Wi-Fi, but this is the exception rather than the rule. In towns where one place offers free Wi-Fi, the chances are much greater that a few others will as well.

The trouble with free Wi-Fi at the moment is that since you have to pay for internet access in so many places, people tend to use all that they can while they are there. Approximately 10% (3 of roughly 30) of the places we stayed at in the past two months offered free Wi-Fi.

Free Wi-Fi can also be had in some cafes and restaurants, but it really depends on the city or town you’re in. Finding unsecured Wi-Fi will be very tricky, so you’ll likely have to stay for a while with a drink or meal to see if it’s any good.

Paid Wi-Fi in New Zealand

Services such as Global Gossip which operate in many “backpackers” (New Zealand’s name for hostels/guesthouses) has gone from charging $5 NZD/hr in 2010 to charging $5 NZD (or less) per day now. Lines are often capped at about 100Kb/sec down, but Skype calls were possible without issue.

YHA New Zealand, which is a member of this network, offered free Wi-Fi to their members this summer. I suspect that this will just become free after the trial finishes at the end of April 2013.

IAC Wifi Prices in New Zealand
And it’s all downhill from here…

If you thought that $5 a day was a push, it only gets worse.

IAC offers wireless mostly through campgrounds such as the Holiday Parks throughout the country, and is much more competitive than it was three years ago.  It also has nearly-unlimited access, with the 30-day plan offering up to 5TB of data. Good luck getting 1% of that with the speeds you’ll be getting — we got 50Kb/sec on a good day.

The aforementioned Zenbu, which somehow is still in business, continues to charge a criminal $1 for 10MB. To put that in perspective, renting a movie on Google Play will cost you about $5. Downloading the 2.2GB file with Zenbu will cost you another $220.

Too rich for your taste? Watching a Youtube video will only run about $1/min. Better make that a short video of cats playing the piano.

As it is in many parts of the world, the more expensive your accommodation, the more expensive (and worse) your internet access will be. New Zealand is no different.

Motels and hotels we stayed at were typically worse than guesthouses. One place charged $2 for 10 minutes, which makes the place that charges $18 for 6 hours seem like a bargain.

Manapouri internet prices
Mt Maunganui Internet Prices

The worst offender of all is HQ WiFi, which charges $5 for 15MB at Milford Sound.

Mobile Internet in New Zealand

Mobile has made huge strides in the past few years. Telecom and Vodafone both offer prepaid plans with 500MB of data for $20/month. Heavy users can opt for a data-only SIM from Vodafone giving you 2GB for $50.

We’ve also been using XCOM Global mobile hotspots while on our travels here in New Zealand. They roam on the Vodafone network, and allow up to five devices to connect to the MiFi device at once.

At $15/day for “unlimited” (actually about 400MB / two days), they are good value for someone coming to the country for a week or two who doesn’t want to deal with the hassles of Wi-Fi or unlocked phones.

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Making the Most of the Internet in New Zealand

One huge drawback with paying for Wi-Fi, besides the obvious paying part, is that you’re typically only allowed to connect one device. The easiest way to get around this is by using Connectify to share your Internet connection. Connectify is available for Windows (free) and we have the lowdown on how to set it up.

You can make the most of your limited bandwidth by turning off syncing for Google Photos and iCloud, online backups, and automated podcast downloads. Also consider setting your computer updates to download only when you ask for them.

Why Is the Internet in New Zealand So Bad?

There are a few things that are keeping the internet down in New Zealand.

New Zealand is an island in the middle of nowhere.

The arteries of the internet run through undersea cables through the world’s oceans. New Zealand, being an under-populated country far from the larger continents, gets most of its internet from Australia, which gets its connection via Asia. Essentially, New Zealand is the end of the internet line.

Small Companies and Lack of Competition

This is the most interesting to me. A few smaller companies seem to be holding on to the fact that the internet in New Zealand is a scarce resource, and charging exorbitant rates for usage. These appear to be small companies working the local angle by setting up hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants in the area with customized routers.

These companies have been able to survive because of little competition and hotel owners who don’t know any better. The good news is that I see this changing rapidly in the next few months, and most of these companies who are gouging customers will need to change their model or go out of business in the next year or two.

The Future of Internet in New Zealand

The wholesale price of internet access is far lower than it was three years ago, and we’re seeing those savings being slowly passed along to travelers. These small companies who continue to gouge their customers instead of changing their business strategies will quickly disappear.

More free Wi-Fi availability in a town or city will make other local coffee shops and accommodation do likewise. We’ve already seen this in places like Queenstown and Picton.

Service companies are no different. Bluebridge Ferry currently offers free Wi-Fi, while Interislander charges a cool $7 for 40MB.


So the future is looking bright(er) for travelers to New Zealand. In the meantime, however, be prepared to pay too much for your Internet access while keeping your patience level high and your expectations low.

Images via author

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  1. Great article! Well researched and written. I am originally from NZ but have been living abroad for 20 years, now in Germany, where superfast unlimited internet is ubiquitous.

    It always amazes me how bad and expensive the internet service is back home when I visit. NZ has always had a monopoly problem with fixed line and mobile services. A new entrant in the mobile space, 2 degrees, offering cheaper services and greatly improved customer service, has thrown the cat among the pigeons.

    Another contributing factor has been regulation. The authorities were for many years slow to encourage competition by unbundling the local loop. Let’s hope that some more new competitors can enter the local market and shake things up a bit.

    1. Dustin Main Dustin Main says:

      Thanks Steven.

      Just checked out Zenbu’s website, and somehow it seems like they are still in business. Who would have thought??

      I have another digital nomad friend who has spent the last couple of months there, and the country is still trailing behind the rest of the world. Let’s hope that all changes by the time Dave sets up his tiny house and mini alpaca farm there in 2016.

      1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

        I’m actually planning on training the alpacas to deliver my emails in printed form. It’ll be faster, cheaper and easier than relying on the local Internet connections.

  2. Great article and analysis! Was looking for info on why the Internet sucks here, and you answered that question.

    I think your estimate of prices dropping and capacity increasing was a *little* optimistic (though not entirely). Here’s my data as of now, the beginning of November 2014 (a year and a half after this article was written):

    -AKL airport: 30min free, no data cap AFAIK
    -Spark (formerly Telecom NZ) SIM: $49 for 2GB 100min 100sms 1GB/day at payphone hotspots or $55 for 3GB (no payphone hotspot data included)
    -Poenamo Hotel, Northcote: free and unlimited; a wobbly 2mbps down and 0.3mbps up but sometimes slower
    -Castle Court Motel, Wellsford: free; 1GB; speeds decent (forgot to measure)
    -Starbucks, Sylvia Park shopping centre, Auckland: wasn’t a customer so didn’t log in, but there was a voucher paywall (odd for a Starbucks!)
    -Quality Hotel Ambassador, Hamilton: free; 500MB; 13mbps up AND down (FTTH)–too bad it’s so limited, as I was looking forward to taking care of some backups on this
    -Supposedly McDonalds have free Internet; unsure of the quality and limits, if any

    So it looks better than it was when you wrote the article, but there’s still a long way to go.

    3 weeks to go. I’ll have to use your tips of looking for wifi at libraries and government buildings…

    Quite a shock coming from South Korea, where my hotel had a 100mbps/100mbps unlimited connection (I suspect it was higher but for a 100mbps switch somewhere in the connection path)!

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Great update, thanks Chris!

      1. One more update:

        Comfort Hotel, Wellington: free and (apparently) unlimited; approximately 2-3mbps down and up but a bit variable. I gave up trying to do some work this morning when it slowed down and tethered to my phone (I was able to get a 4G signal with Spark in the room). I also just bought another 3GB of data for $49 with Spark… :O

        The real reason I stopped back by, though, was to make another observation: I realize that NZ’s a long way and subsea cables are expensive, but that really can’t be a valid excuse.

        I’m originally from Anchorage, Alaska, which is just about the same distance from Seattle as Sydney is from Auckland. We’ve got about 15% of the population in our state as NZ has (and spread out over six and a half times the area of NZ, too!), and yet we’ve got (to my knowledge) three separate subsea cables stretching the approximately 1,500 miles from the Last Frontier to the upper-left corner of the “Lower 48” US states with a total aggregate capacity of about 4.2Tbps. And while Alaskans complain about expensive and slow Internet, a reasonably decent Internet connection in Anchorage of 15Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up with 100GB of data transfer a month runs about $50 with the local cable company, and their top-tier plan (certainly sufficient for a motel/hotel of decent size) of 250Mbps down and 10Mbps up with 550GB of usage is $250/month. Even at the top end of the stable business-class connections, the company I used to work for up there had a 10Mbps/10Mbps (symmetric) G.SHDSL connection with truly unlimited data (and I’m sure we transferred at least a terabyte a month, if not more) was about $700/month.

        All that translates to plenty of free wifi at hotels and at many businesses in the larger cities of Alaska (it’s obviously more of a challenge to provide Internet to rural communities, many of whom rely on satellite connections).

        What I’m saying there is that Alaska’s in a similar situation of distance from the U.S. as NZ is from Australia, and even with a far smaller population to amortize the infrastructure over, we seem to get better prices and more free wifi availability there than you do here.

        From reading I’ve done, the wholesale cost of 1 GB of data across the Southern Cross cable is about 2 cents. So if Zenbu is charging 10 cents a MB (and they still are, according to their splash screen) or $100 per GB, that’s simply criminal.

        I think the telcos’ arguments that it’s limited/costly international capacity is mostly debunked now. I suspect it comes down to the providers in NZ just needing some competition and/or regulation to spur passing lower wholesale prices along to the local population.

  3. Avatar Brandon Share says:

    Hey guys,

    I just got to Wellington last week and was also surprised by the lack of free wifi at the hostel and also the data rate on most of the cell providers here but I have a few updates.

    The Global Gossip rates are $4 per day and $12 per week at the Base Backpackers and the speed doesn’t seem to be capped any more, my current speedtest.net results were 5.28 Mbps down and 2.89 Mbps up.

    Also for mobile data check out Skinny – currently $26 a month for 1GB 300 min unlimited texts (NZ & Aus) with a $4 sim card.


  4. Hi,

    Spike here from HQWiFi

    Thanks for pointing out our WiFi prices in Milford Sound. Milford sound is serviced by a Satellite connection ($89 for 3GB 3Mbps down, 512kbps up at cost) is about 5 hours travel from our base in Queeenstown and very very hard to service, requiring a full 10 – 16 hour day to replace anything if it breaks. I personally think having internet in Milford (all be it costing such) is a pretty awesome thing.

    We have 120 sites and are slowly converting them to UFB (NZ Ultra Fast Broadband) and free where the owners of accommodation and properties are willing to pay for providing the service to their guests. Where they are not willing to pay for the expertise, service and management of the service we recover the cost of installation and operation via user pays (yes, you traveler) and share the revenue generated (that’s right, Internets costs monies and we’re a business which need monies to survive and staff who have cats who like to eat more than birds and mice)

    So despite all this our other access rates in locations which are not remote and stunningly beautiful (hope you got off the internet long enough to kayak around the sound or gaze in wonder at Mitre Peak) or serviced by satellite in remote areas that are closed off and require such long visits are

    Plan Speed Down/Up Time/Limit Price
    250 MB 8Mb / 512Kb* 7 Days $2.00
    1 GB 8Mb / 512Kb* 7 Days $5.00
    2 GB 8Mb / 512Kb* 7 Days $10.00
    5 GB 8Mb / 512Kb* 7 Days $20.00
    10 GB 8Mb / 512Kb* 7 Days $30.00
    20 GB 8Mb / 512Kb* 7 Days $40.00

    Which I think is pretty reasonable. The sites that are taking free we’re pushing them to 5GB per day with 10 devices. When running on UFB we try and dish out 20Mbps/5Mbps

    Hotels tend to have wireless contracts (5 years approx) provided by their international headoffices and can range from 30 min or 8MB free with up to $60 dollars a day for a minimal amount of data.

    Backpackers tend to put it out for free… which is ok if you sleep in backpackers.

    Anyways, Fiber is coming out fast (irony and pun intended) which is nice. Motels are moving towards free as a service. These things do need to be managed and cats need to be fed… so I guess.. on we go.

    We in the Hotspot industry and working hard with the tools we have to give the best service we can whilst feeding as many cats as possible. Happy, safe and fast travels readers 😉

  5. you know, if 50,000 locals are not happy enough with the price. why not try an attempt to KICKSTART a new undersea cable connection?

    it is only a KICKSTART. it may never succeed, but it will measure the temperature of how unhappy are people generally with telcos. and that may force telcos to drop price and offer better service.

    we all know, a large portion of what we are paying for does not go to infrastructure, in todays telco operation.

  6. It doesnt look like much has changed since your post. The internet is still being drip fed and at exorbitant prices here in NZ. Its so disappointing that NZ has to pay such expensive prices to be connected to the rest of the world.

  7. Avatar Paul RYKEN says:

    Hi Dave, we recently wrote about our experience using the rural broadband initiative and the options available to full-time travellers in New Zealand such as us where we use up to 130GB per month. I don’t know much about the casual rates or free options for Wi-Fi in New Zealand, but the prices are becoming more competitive between some RBI players.

    Would love to see an update on this article as to how things (if at all) have changed.

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