It’s been said many times before, but New Zealand is a first world country with third world internet. For any connected traveller, it’s a frustrating proposition in a beautiful place. Part of the problem is due to the fact that New Zealand is an island country, and relies on a single underwater cable from Australia for access to the internet. Australia itself has poor access and so you can see where I’m going here. We all know that the internet is a series of tubes. It’s not a big truck. So there.
Below are some of the best options for spending your time online in New Zealand without pulling your hair out. I’ll be focusing on accessing via wifi as there are internet cafes available in most cities.
Many of New Zealand’s libraries are part of the Aotearoa People’s Network, which is slowly rolling out wifi and computers to locations through New Zealand. Many of the locations offer free wifi during business hours. There are often power outlets and tables set aside for you to use, but be warned that some of the more touristy spots (Nelson & Te Anau come to mind) can be especially busy.
Pros: Free, available in many cities and towns
Cons: Only available during library business hours, usually only one location per city / town. Often (not always) capped speeds (20k/sec)
Tips: Bookmark the map & locations to know where your next participating library location will be.
Pay per MB
I’ll be honest; the idea of paying for internet by the megabyte was a foreign idea to me before I reached New Zealand. After experience, I’m still not a fan.
Zenbu is the largest of the pay-per-megabyte company for hostels and businesses in New Zealand. It’s cheap to set up, so many places offer it. The price is 10MB for $1NZ. Now what is a megabyte you ask? Well it depends. Let’s just say that if you want to check your e-mail or the weather, Zenbu is a great deal. If you want to watch youtube or download an album from iTunes, prepare to blow through credits like you wouldn’t believe. Watching a youtube video could cost between $1NZ and $5NZ, and downloading an album from iTunes (that you already purchased separately) could cost another $10NZ on top of the purchase price. I accidentally blew through $15NZ in credit in just a few minutes when my iTunes automatically started downloading podcasts in the background.
Pros: Cheap for checking e-mails, basic websites. Available in many locations including hostels, coffee shops etc. Speed is often good
Cons: Anything with media (photos, music, videos) can eat through credit and your wallet like nobody’s business
Tips: Download their PDF file with all their locations to your iPhone or notebook so you know where to find access. Buy the credit from the website with your credit card, rather than at the location itself so that your credit is good at any Zenbu location. Download Flashblock for your Firefox browser to block flash content (like youtube, and flash ads) from automatically loading.
Pay by Time
My favourite pay-by-time service was from a company called IAC. At their locations they have many different access options for you including hourly, daily, weekly and monthly. When you purchase a monthly block for instance, you pretty much have free reign to use the service for a whole month, though there is a bandwidth limitation in terms of transfer amount. I found the speed at many of the locations to be decent, and the one time I needed assistance, they returned my call within a few minutes.
Pros: Pay once and it can be good for a month (less than NZ$1.50/day). Decent speeds at most locations
Cons: Costly if you just buy an hour, not a lot of locations.
Tips: Buy a larger plan ($40) and then you’re set for a month or so. Often found in Holiday Parks and YHA hostels.
It took about a month in New Zealand to figure out how it was going to be and come to terms with it. Don’t expect to upload the hi-def videos you’re shooting to YouTube without having to search around for a place with a decent price and decent speed. Oh and don’t expect to watch them either for that matter. I actually found myself choosing places to stay based partly on what kind of internet access option they were using.
Now there are more companies out there, but these are the major ones. Try to stick to a company or two otherwise you’ll have little credits left over from a bunch of companies. Some internet cafes will let you bring your laptop in and connect via wifi or Ethernet, but be warned that the speed varies a lot, and many places will cap your bandwidth @ 20k/sec.