To be honest when the thought of the need for VPN use in New Zealand came across my desk, I was a little flabbergasted. After all, it is one of the countries in the world where freedom is highly rated, with Freedom House rating it an eye-raising 98/100 on their freedom scale.
Yet thoughts of what may lie beneath the surface prompted some research and surely enough, once I started digging out came the skeletons in the closet. Well, some of them anyway. From illegal government surveillance to providing intel to US intelligence agencies, New Zealand is a hotbed of covert activities – against its own residents.
While it is true that the Internet there isn’t known to be censored, it is still disturbing that there is not just one, but multiple sources of Internet surveillance. Even worse is the fact that the government is making moves that indicate it thinks these activities are necessary and hence, legalizing them.
Is it time for residents of New Zealand to look for the right VPN service?
GCSB Has Acted Outside The Law
The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) is what passes as the internal security arm of New Zealand. That fact alone makes it sound a little sinister and recalls images of the Soviet NKVD or similarly dark agencies.
Yet the scope of its work sounds innocent enough on paper and that is to defend the country’s national security through information collection and analysis. Unfortunately, as with many intelligence agencies, the GCSB has been known to work outside the law.
For example, it was known to have illegally spied on Kim Dotcom (founder of Megaupload), who was residing in New Zealand. Even worse was the fact that due to this case, it was discovered that GCSB didn’t understand its own law and had as a result also illegally spied on 88 people.
By law, GCSB isn’t allowed to spy on New Zealand residents. To compound all of these matters, after GCSB had claimed to have stopped surveillance activities on Kim, it was later discovered that their equipment continued to operate – operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA) which was involved in the case.
This scenario raises a few issues. The first is that a New Zealand government agency either was ignorant of its own country’s laws or decided to violate them. Secondly, there seemed to be little compunction about sharing intelligence on the country’s own resident with a foreign agency.
New Zealand Can Legally Spy On Residents
What is described above can only be taken to be the basis for this next segment which is that in May 2013, the government made amendments to laws relating to GCSB powers, allowing the agency to legally collect information from all New Zealanders.
GCSB would also be allowed to pass on any or all this information to other government department, meaning that the entire government could legally obtain any infromation it wanted at any time. Despite protests from many factions including the NZ Law Society and the Human Rights Tribunal, the law was eventually passed, effectively turning New Zealand into a potential police state.
Despite the government’s assurances that wholesale surveillance on residents was not being carried out, the fact was disputed as part of the Snowden revelations.
Allegations Of Southern Cross Cable Tapping
All data on the Internet flows through a series of massive data cables which are routed through various points around the globe. The major point of contact for New Zealand is Southern Cross Cable. Since 2013, there have been various allegations of spy agencies tapping into the Southern Cross Cable.
The New Zealand Herald once reported that Southern Cross Cable has in the past asked the NSA to pay them for mass surveillance of New Zealand internet activity. In 2014, allegations were made that interception points were being made on the cable. The government of New Zealand has denied any such occurrences.
VPNs Are Still Legal In New Zealand
While this may be a legitimate concern, there are only a handful of countries around the world which has outright banned the use of VPNs. These are usually the countries with more draconian laws such as Iraq and North Korea. Even China and Russia have only carried out partial bans.
Thankfully for New Zealanders or visitors to the country, use of a VPN there is still perfectly legal. However, do note that while the service itself may be legal, what you do on it also has to be legal as well.
For example, if you carry out P2P activities and download copyrighted stuff then technically you are still liable for that. What the VPN does is shield those activities. The crux therefore is to either use a VPN for strictly legal activities or to find one which cannot be compelled by the New Zealand government to hand over user activity logs.
What We Look For In A VPN For New Zealand
1. Privacy and anonymity
With the more obvious horror stories I’ve shared above fresh in your minds, it’s probably a good time for me to suggest that it’s a really good idea to focus on the privacy and anonymity aspects of a VPN for users in New Zealand. With both the government as well as private industry coming after users, a VPN needs to be able to ensure that your data and activities can be kept exactly the way it should be – private.
One of the best ways to ensure this is to keep an eye out for VPNs that not only have strict no-logging policies but that are also based out of countries that are laxer in their data retention laws. This certainly excludes countries in the five eyes and fourteen eyes jurisdiction.
2. Speed and stability
With an average fixed line broadband speed of 87.47 Mbps in New Zealand, there should not be a major issue with VPNs since almost all top-tier VPN service providers should be able to manage this benchmark.
The security spiel on VPNs is the same for New Zealand-based users as everywhere else. The ideal balance is known only to you, as a user. Do you opt for 256-bit encryption at the risk of lower VPN speeds or are you willing to lower that bar for increased speed?
The point in question here is – does X VPN service provider off you the choice of adjustable encryption rates? That is probably what you need to ask if this is an issue for you.
4. Geolocation spoofing
Being on the other side of the world from the US, New Zealand-based users don’t get access to US-restricted Netflix content. This is one of the reasons why users around the world use VPNs – for geolocation spoofing.
5. P2P support
This really isn’t a priority for VPN users in New Zealand since P2P has largely been ignored here. However, it is always good to have especially with the knowledge that the government is starting to crack down on certain things like android tv boxes.
Look out for VPNs that have P2P traffic guidelines clearly spelt out in their terms of service, such as TorGuard or NordVPN.
Best VPNs for New Zealand
As with all my VPN tests, before judging their speed I always judge my own. The following is my actual broadband speed based on a service line of 500Mbps, without a VPN connection active:
Note that as I am based in Malaysia, my connection to New Zealand, even without a VPN service active is a little spottier than my normal connection speed which can go up to around 400 Mbps. The purpose of me connecting to an Auckland-based speed test server is to indicate this.
As you can see, a VPN-free connection to a local server nets me a decent speed of 126 Mbps. I suspect that a speed this low is also due to the infrastructure route that is needed to bounce my data from here to Auckland. Speeds of course will vary at times, so take this with a pinch of salt.
- Price is based on the currency exchange rate of 1 USD = 1.51 NZD.
- Price shown is based on 12-mo subscriptions. Price can get cheaper when you subscribe for a longer period.
- Offshore privacy protection
- Full 256-bit encryption
- 148 VPN locations
"ExpressVPN seldom disappoints us and their performance in our NZ speed tests certainly back up our faith in them!"
One of the best VPN services I have ever tested, ExpressVPN has so far been my top pick no matter which country I am ranking it for. It has a massively broad range of server locations and many servers. Even better, it is based out of the British Virgin Islands which is lax in its data retention laws.
I have tested the service comprehensively and have no hesitation in recommending them as the top VPN service provider for New Zealanders. ExpressVPN is stable and allows access on a good range of devices as well.
As an idea of how good it gets, I compared my default line speed without a VPN to an ExpressVPN covered test to the same location. With ExpressVPN on and connected to a server in New Zealand, I managed to show a solid 76Mbps downstream speed.
Read our full ExpressVPN Review for more information!
- No logs
- Kill switch
- Supports 6 devices
"NordVPN is a combination of many good things – Stable performance, reasonable prices and sheer user-friendliness."
NordVPN takes a strong second place in our Best VPN for New Zealand list for many reasons. One of the first is that they are based in Panama, which is also a good place to be for VPNs. Aside from that, NordVPN has a sterling reputation and is another VPN provider that has a huge number of servers in many countries.
Their strict no-logging policy combines with 256-bit military grade encryption and great price plans to offer almost anyone a deal that is hard to resist.
With a 46Mbps downstream speed, in this round of tests NordVPN showed very stable performance in their New Zealand server. What makes them even more attractive thorough is that they not only allow P2P traffic but have specially optimized servers for P2P traffic!
- Built for P2P
- TorGuard stealth proxy
- Supports 5 connections
"One of the best VPNs for P2P file sharing, TorGuard is simply a must for any P2P users in New Zealand."
One of the most important deciding factors in TorGuard’s placement is that it is a very P2P-friendly VPN service provider. There isn’t a lot of bling on the user-facing side, but it is remarkable in performance.
There is one key difference between TorGuard and many competitors in that it allows you to choose what level of encryption you prefer. This means that for P2P users, you can turn down encryption a notch and enjoy faster torrenting speeds anytime!
Aside from that, TorGuard has many other redeeming qualities, such as stable speeds, multi-platform capability and the ability to bypass VPN blockers.
As one of the top three best VPNs for New Zealand, TorGuard of course met certain speed requirements. This showed in my test result for it from a New Plymouth-based VPN server and again, New Zealand should generally get this speed with few issues.
The only downside is that for younger users who are used to the sleekness of modern applications, the TorGuard interface will look like something from the past.
- Offers data compression
- Ad blocking
- Supports 7 devices
"CyberGhost offers secure and private service but are perhaps not on such an even footing with the likes of ExpressVPN."
CyberGhosties are happy with them and they have certainly tried to be hip and upbeat in their marketing. This is another of the more well-known names in the VPN industry but personally I feel that they just might be a tiny bit overhyped.
Specification wise CyberGhost talks the good talk but having gone through tests with them I advise a small pinch of salt. Do keep in mind though that this is a ranking list, so my expectations are quite high.
New Zealanders need to take note that most of CyberGhost servers are in the EU zone, but thankfully, they have some in the Australasia region as well. Unfortunately, coverage here is a little more limited and their speeds aren’t the best.
Still, we managed to get very useable speeds of 20Mbps which is still enough to stream media on.
- Forced 256-bit encryption
- Unlimited P2P
- Supports 10 devices
"Great for the Paranoid but perhaps won’t be top of the list for New Zealand-based users, IPVanish is highly marketed but poorly supported."
IPVanish has suffered greatly in recent times due to its embroilment in certain …shall we say, unfortunate incidents. Yet aside from that, take note that they are under new management and hopefully such things will become just speed bumps in their past.
Moving those incidents aside, they remain a VPN giant in the field and boast speeds that are impressive. Luckily for that, since if you have any complaints about their speed, there isn’t much you can do as they force 256-bit encryption on everyone without exception.
Speed-wise, IPVanish certainly isn’t normally the greatest. Performance for their New Zealand servers though seemed to be excellent and I eked out impressive speeds of up to 63 Mbps here. I don’t think this was a one-off occurrence as I managed to replicate my results over a number of attempts.
This bodes well for New Zealanders who will be connecting to servers here but even if that doesn’t work out great, proximity to places like Singapore and Australia should give solid alternatives.
- Easy-to-use apps
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Supports split tunneling
"PureVPN is certainly one of the leaders in a completive industry thanks to a solid network of servers."
Hosting over 2,000 servers located in more than 140 countries around the world, PureVPN certainly has the infrastructure needed to show itself as an industry leader. It complements this with excellent enterprise-grade security features to protect its users from intrusion or detection.
One big benefit of trying them out is that they are one of the few in the market now who are allowing access to the WireGuard protocol – a next-gen protocol that is supposedly lightyears ahead of OpenVPN. It is a little limited in coverage though, with a presence in only around five countries.
Connecting to an Auckland -based PureVPN server I was able to get close to more than 43 Mbps – excellent results considering the low raw speeds I was seeing from my connection. I would say that these figures are hard to beat and can only be shown by a company which does indeed have a focus here.
- Optimized servers for P2P
- Allows server hopping
- Supports 10 devices
"FastestVPN isn’t the fastest but it certainly offers a value proposition that is hard to challenge."
FastestVPN isn’t the fastest I have tested but neither is it the slowest. It offers more limited countries to run your connection out of compared to many top-tier VPNs but at prices from as low as 83 cents a month it is a steal. They also have P2P optimized servers which makes them good for that as well.
The low prices do come with one serious drawback and that is the limited performance in overcoming geo-blocking. At last we discovered, FastestVPN can’t allow you to access either Netflix US content or the UK’s BBC iPlayer – bummer!
Do I Really Need A VPN In New Zealand?
This really is a tricky question to answer now. Much of what has been so controversial about Internet freedom in New Zealand is disputable. However, I am a firm believer in the adage that there is no smoke without a fire.
Even worse than ignorance is complacency, and there have at least been some instances that are highly suspicious. Take for example the New Zealand government giving such broad powers to GCSB.
Technically, there isn’t much of a reason for the average Joe to want to use a VPN service in New Zealand, but my feeling is that it just rubs me the wrong way to know that someone might be reading everything I send out, knowing every button I click on the Internet and worse. Why anyone would be ok with that is beyond me, even if you claim that there is no issue if there is nothing to hide.
So, while I do not think it is absolutely necessary for a VPN in New Zealand, it would still make me feel better if I used one while I was there. As such, I would recommend you use one too if you’re staying there!
To recap, here are the top 3 VPN for New Zealand:
SECURITY & PRIVACY