Interneting around New Zealand

It’s like I was swimming in wondrous place full of endless fresh water that I guzzled liberally and wasted lovingly. When suddenly, I found myself parched in a dusty, dry desert with a single glass of water. Except water is the internet, and the desert is being a digital nomad.

A bunch of people have sent me questions asking how I find data while I’m traveling around New Zealand. No surprises there, the internet is important for working remotely. So here’s some details about what I’ve been doing to get connected.

In a nutshell:

I bought a NZ sim card for my smart phone that gives me 4.5 GB a month + an extra 1 GB per day in certain locations. I tether my laptop to my phone. I paused all automatic back-ups for cloud services like Dropbox. I regularly plan to be in a cafe or a place that has a fast wifi connection to catch-up with file back-ups, software updates and download media for offline use. I installed an app that keeps a track of my data usage so I can monitor it carefully. It’s hard to be frugal.

Ok now slowly, in more detail…

I bought a NZ sim card

I started with a pre-paid sim card from 2Degrees which I picked up on a whim at a car hire place in Auckland. 2Degrees offered a $20 NZD pre-paid data pack for 1 GB of data, expiring in 1 month. I didn’t get on with it. Mostly because the top-up procedures felt a little clunky to me and I regularly ran through my pre-paid data. If I didn’t successfully register my data package purchase (which happened once – I blame the dodgy UX), it ran down my credit quickly at a rate of $0.50 NZD (£0.24 GBP / $0.33 USD) per MB.

I eventually switched to a Spark post-paid plan. My deal’s main points:

Term: Open (30 days notice to cancel)
Monthly fee: $59.99 NZD (£28.39 GBP / $40.12 USD)
Texts and Talk: Unlimited NZ or Australia
Data: 4.5 GB of data per month (2.5 GB comes with the plan, and they gave me an extra 2 GB for free as a special deal)
Extra data: 2 GB of extra data per day by connecting to one of Spark’s free wifi zones located in over 1000 converted telephone boxes around NZ.
International calls: $0.91 NZD calls to the UK, USA, Canada and Ireland (£28.39 GBP / $40.12 USD)

I think I was able to get this post-paid plan because I have both UK and Aussie citizenship (In NZ, they treat the Aussies with similar rights as the locals). I also needed to provide details of the physical postal address that I rent, so I don’t think I’d be able to get this plan without it.

Some data providers prevent you from tethering your laptop to your phone, but Spark is fine with it. It’s really easy to tether using a personal hotspot on an iPhone.

mobile data-1

I paused all my automatic back-ups for cloud services

I use Dropbox for most of my back-ups, and a bit of Google Drive too. Some of the work I do requires me to process MP3s and WAV files for Hookline, while I add them to our online platform.

Oh brother, those WAV files are BIG. If my business partner in London has just signed a new artist for example, my Dropbox account will want to download everything, potentially running my monthly data out in half a day. Dropbox allows you to pause auto-syncing. But take it from me, always remember to re-pause it when you re-boot your laptop!

Pausing Dropbox is annoying when I’ve just got a small file to sync (like for a shared 1Password vault) or PDF. If it’s urgent, I just go looking for a wifi connection to get back up to date in the queue.

I regularly plan to be in a place that has a wifi connection

For bigger Dropbox syncs, backing-up my millions of photos I can’t stop taking and downloading media like films, tv shows and podcasts, I need to avoid using mobile data.

I have done a few things for these internet chores to get me by:

  • Sit in a cafe with a fast, free wifi connection and drink a flat white or two
  • Perch next to a one of Spark’s free wifi zones located in over 1000 converted telephone boxes around NZ
  • Use our campsite’s internet

The reliability, speed and cost of internet at the campsites we’ve stayed at has really varied. I am keeping a record of this to plot on a map for a future blog post. That’s not an easy thing to summarise here, other than to say about a quarter of the locations have been workable.

The Vanmaison parked at a campsite in Rotorua on one of our first nights.
The Vanmaison parked at a campsite in Rotorua on one of our first nights.

I installed an app that keeps a track of my data usage

I use an app called Bandwidth+ on my Mac and I highly recommend it. For one thing, you’ll keep on eye on what you use easily in the menu bar at the top of your screen. It’s totally simple and no-frills. It lets you download a CSV file of all your data usage patterns and that can help you understand how much data you’re using, what data plan you need to sign-up to, or spot any unusual peaks or data leaks.

It’s hard to be frugal with the internet

Nomading in the Vanmaison around NZ has been a sharp wake-up call. The experience has really showed me just how much I relied on fast, cheap fibre optic internet in London.

I need quite a bit of internet. I check my feeds first thing in the morning and I do the same again last thing at night. I check-in on what’s been happening on the web while I’m waiting for something or procrastinating. So judge me.

I get my news from my favourite internet people and online channels. I stream on-demand TV. AND BY THE WAY NETFLIX. Why can’t you let me watch things offline? I’ve switched to using Amazon Prime a little more than I did, but the content available in NZ is different from the UK. That’s a little irksome when one wants to catch-up with Season 4 of Vikings.

Chris and I have not watched much (in fact, hardly any) TV or Films recently. I get up and go to bed early for the first time in my life. Not having the internet on tap has a pretty liberating side-effect actually.

So while we may be in an internet drought, I wouldn’t change it for the world.


P.s. I’d love to hear what other people do too, especially if you do anything different and inventive. Ping me.

P.p.s. I took the featured pic from the Interislander Ferry, during our crossing from Wellington to Picton this week.

2 thoughts on “Interneting around New Zealand

  1. Sounds like we ended up on a similar solution. Tethering and Spark’s WiFi spots save the day, otherwise public WiFi is pretty bad in New Zealand. On more than one occasion I’ve had the 10-100mb data cap in a cafe used up the second I logged on before even realising they were limited, or you find out that it is “Unlimited Data” for 15 minutes…

    Oddly residential broadband and fiber doesn’t seem to be too bad (still not amazing) in most places so it seems like it is more of a cultural or cost things for businesses deciding not offer free WiFi and there seem to be one or two companies who have a hold on the networks offered by most Cafes.


    1. Urgh, yes, the old ‘free unlimited internet’ chestnut… that ends up being quite limited. Did you get a Spark plan too? Occasionally I’ll stumble upon the real deal and stay all afternoon pigging out on their bandwidth.


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