Internet for Travellers
We think that having easy and economical access to the internet while you're on tour is a must for most modern travellers so we've gone to a bit of trouble to help you get connected. If you're in an urban area, you should be able to get an internet connection without too much difficulty. Once you head for the wilderness, it's a bit more tricky. New Zealand, unlike most parts of Europe, has large areas that are out of digital range. The good news is those areas are our most remote and pristine locations so you'll be so engrossed in watching the bird life or soaking in a thermal pond beside a mountain river that you won't be thinking about what your stocks or shares are doing!
You have three main options for getting connected while on tour: a pre-paid mobile internet package, free wi-fi (in a library, restaurant, or central city business district), and pay-as-you-go access (at an internet cafe or holiday park).
Pre-Paid Mobile Internet Package
If you want to access the internet at other times or other locations, we recommend you purchase a pre-paid broadband package. Check our Extras and Accessories page for your options. These packages provide the most flexibility giving you internet access on the road wherever you can get a mobile phone signal. This is what EVERY veteran NZ traveller uses. The advantages are many including being able to use it at night or from your motorhome parked or “on the go” near any town. Thus, one person goes grocery shopping, the other does internet. On a rainy day you can research options from the comfort of your motorhome when your #1 plan washes away down the storm drain.
For occasional internet use, you can either use a pay-as-you-go service at a holiday park or internet café or try to locate a free wifi service in the location you are visiting.
We asked our New Zealand travel expert Scott Cook for his experience on getting a free (or low cost) internet connection while on a campervan tour of NZ. "Right now, I would sum up internet access in NZ for on-the-go travellers as “spotty” at best. If you live in a big city and have a broadband hook up then the internet works well. But once you get on the road, free Wifi becomes a much-sought-after rarity. A prepaid mobile broadband package is definitely the way to go if you want maximum flexibility. But nothing is ever 100% guaranteed when it comes to internet in New Zealand. Even a robust signal on your prepaid internet device can be iffy."
If you’re on a tight budget, you have limited options for free Wifi connectivity. Be advised, most are unsecured networks. Here are the ones I’m familiar with:
1. Public Libraries: Many small-town local libraries are members of The Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa. This service provides free access to broadband internet in selected public libraries and is available to anyone who has access to a public library. It was designed for locals who don’t otherwise have access to internet so they can benefit from accessing, experiencing and creating digital content. However, these islands of free Wifi are increasingly popular at tourist destinations so you’ll see crowds of travelers crammed into the Wifi-room Skyping in every known language. The problems with this service are it isn’t in every town, it only works during daylight library hours (when you’d rather be out playing in the warm NZ sunshine) and it can be busy it runs on overload.
2. McDonalds restaurants: A couple of years ago, the NZ branch of the international fast food chain saw a need and filled it by offering free Wifi at almost all their restaurants throughout NZ. This has become hugely popular, causing increasing problems with system overload and various malfunctions. My most recent experiences weren’t good. It functioned exceptionally well in 2011but by 2012 many restaurants were inexplicably off-line or down-for-repair. Also, as users have increased the limited bandwidth slowed-down considerably (you’d see half the people in line on an iPhone and you knew why your little spinning ball kept spinning). Some Wifi seekers reported 0 from 5 attempts at getting online in McDonalds.
3. Central city business districts: Probably the most exciting advance in free Wifi is the development of wireless hotspots across entire central city areas. First it was Wellington in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and more recently Palmerston North. We’re hoping other progressive cities will follow suit. When you arrive in a city centre, search for free connections on your mobile device.
Here are a few resources that you may find helpful in locating free Wifi (although I should warn you, none are particularly exhaustive):
- Jiwire iPhone app: a free app for a map of free Wifi
- JaHoog : an open source database of free Wifi in New Zealand
- Zenbu Wifi hotspots: A commercial Wifi provider that has some free hotspots. Search “free” on their map of wireless zones.
Loads of New Zealand cafes offer free wi-fi to their patrons. Esquires Coffee House, with outlets across the North Island (and a few in the South) are a good example. Just buy a coffee (or anything else) then ask for the wi-fi password. You can browse the internet or catch up on your emails while enjoying a caffeine fix.
Pay as you Go Access
You can buy internet access either on an internet terminal or via Wifi at internet cafes, Tourist Information Centres (i-Sites), and many campgrounds and holiday parks. Other than cost, the major downsides are accessibility and opening hours.
If you plan to stay mostly at commercial campsites, you may wish to consider buying a prepaid internet card from the Internet Access Company (IAC). They provide wifi at more than 200 campsites around the country – by far the most. Most of the campgrounds in the three main commercial holiday park networks family parks, kiwi holiday parks and Top 10 have internet access and most use IAC. In fact, all of the holidays parks in the Top 10 group except one (Omarama), have guest internet services (when we last checked). Check the holiday park websites for more information about internet services they provide.
If you purchase a prepaid card from IAC, you can use it at any participating campsite or cafe. That way you won't have to purchase internet access each time you stop at a new location. You can just use your access code to log in using your laptop in your camper. You can either purchase the card at the campsite or directly from IAC who provide much more competitive pricing than the campsites. Contact email@example.com for more information.