New Zealand has a lot to offer. Widely available free internet is not one of those things. The reasons for this are naturally cost related, with the cost of providing internet access being a prohibitive factor for most businesses.
This situation is improving, with fibre rollouts planned, but for now, it’s not easy getting your internet fix on.
However, there are a few ways to get free and nearly free internet access if you happen to have a device with wireless connectivity. Having just travelled around New Zealand for a year, here is my quick and easy guide to getting online for as little money as possible.
Free, as in the air you breathe
Genuinely free internet, rather than “free when you buy X”, is hard to find, and not well advertised. Here’s where to look:
- Public libraries. Most public libraries in New Zealand offer free internet up to a certain usage allowance per day. Whilst the major cities usually have this service available, it can also be found in a wide number of rural locations. For a map of towns and cities with libraries, check out the Aotearoa People’s Network site.
- Town centres. A small number of town centres, including Wellington, Tauranga and Hamilton, offer wireless access for free. Ask at the local iSite (the New Zealand name for a tourist office) for more details.
- Other public buildings. Some art galleries, museums or other public spaces offer wireless access for free. If you have a smartphone, don’t be afraid to whip it out and do a quick scan of the surrounding area when you are in one of these buildings.
Free if you don’t mind being a bit cheeky
A fair number of locations in New Zealand offer free wireless as an incentive to entice customers in. However, as wireless signals have a tendency to leak out into the surrounding area, you can usually hop on to these networks without having to pay for anything.
- McDonalds Restaurants. Pretty much every McDonalds in New Zealand offers wireless internet access. Usually you can just wander in and hop on without needing to actually buy anything, although the cookies are normally too tempting for me. You get 50MB of data, and it’s strictly web only – you’ll find your desktop e-mail program will fail to connect for example.
- Mobil Service Stations. This one has confused me for a while. For no reason that I can tell, a good percentage of Mobil petrol (that’s gas to some of you) stations offer free wireless access, to the tune of 400MB per day. This usually extends all around the forecourt, and as they never have an attached cafe or anything, you can just park up and use it from your vehicle, or wander by and stand under a lamp with your phone. Fuel purchase optional.
Not really free, but you probably wanted a coffee anyway
If you’re in the mood for surfing the web, coffee is a decent accompaniment. In fact, if you are like me, you’ll barely be able to function without the stuff. If you’re going to buy a coffee, you might as well get it with free internet, and a number of coffee places offer this. Usually the networks are encrypted or a voucher code is required – so hopping on without a purchase isn’t possible.
- Chain Coffee Shops: Most chain coffee stores such as Starbucks or Esquires will give you a voucher good for 50MB / 30 minutes of internet usage if you buy a coffee. Better than nothing.
- Independent Coffee Shops: Coffee chains are all well and good, but when you are in New Zealand, you really should be visiting the boutique coffee houses, who often roast their own coffee and have some pretty unique blends.
A good percentage of these coffee shops actually offer unmetered wireless access when you buy a coffee – you just need to ask for the code to the wireless network. This is a far better deal than the limited McDonald’s / coffee chain option, and is by far my preferred way of getting online whilst on the road. And the coffee is usually awesome too. Note that this service isn’t always advertised – just ask before you buy.
The other, not free, options
If all of the above seem like way too much effort, and you just want to be able to get online anywhere, cost be damned, then you have a number of options.
If you have a laptop, then pay as you go datasticks are available from the major three mobile network providers, 2degrees, Telecom and Vodafone. If you are going to be in one of the major cities, then 2degrees is likely to be your cheapest option, offering around 1GB of data for $20NZD. Otherwise rates for nationwide access are in the region of $10 for 500MB.
If you have an unlocked smartphone, then you can pick up a SIM card for one of these networks and buy a data pack which will let you get internet access pretty much everywhere.
In all my travels around New Zealand using my 2degrees SIM in my android phone, there were few places I couldn’t get an internet connection. Plus, as I can tether my phone to my laptop, I can have the full internet experience wherever I go. The cost of this obviously goes way up if you want to do a lot of photo or video uploading, but for general browsing you should be fine.
One final thing to note for all of this is that the internet in New Zealand is a fairly costly resource for a business to provide, and unmetered plans are fairly non-existent. So the more data that is used, the more the business has to pay. Which explains why it’s so hard to find, or if it is out there, data is carefully controlled. If you do strike it lucky, and find a place with an unmetered connection – go easy on it. Someone is having to pay the bill 🙂
And with that bit of moral advice, that is pretty much that for internet access in New Zealand. If you’ve got any tips additional to the above, do share them in the comments below!