Venus and Starlink Satellites. Photo / Mike Lewinski / Creative Commons

The Best Internet on Great Barrier Island (Aotea)

From Pigeon Post to Stellar Satellite Internet.

Venus and Starlink Satellites. Photo / Mike Lewinski / Creative Commons

For years, Great Barrier Island has grappled with the challenges of communication, often employing innovative solutions. The island’s history includes the world’s first pigeon post mail service, which notably delivered news like Queen Victoria’s death from Auckland before the news could travel by boat. This historic milestone symbolizes the island’s long-standing struggle and ingenuity in overcoming communication barriers.

Today, the internet options on Great Barrier Island range from basic and unreliable to high-quality but costly. Here’s a closer look at the available services:

ADSL: Limited Efficiency in Peak Hours

ADSL, available through copper phone lines in the settlements of Tryphena and Claris, is the most basic form of internet connectivity on the island. While it provides about 2 Mbps download speed, its effectiveness significantly diminishes at night, especially during high seasons. In fact users report that the service becomes nearly unusable in the evenings. The bottleneck is primarily due to the lack of a fiber internet cable to the island. Instead we rely on a radio relay to the Coromandel Peninsula. The demand for high consumption apps like Netflix, Neon and TVNZ on Demand mean that basically the wireless relay is completely overloaded.

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Mobile Internet and the Challenge of Topography

Similarly, mobile internet services on Great Barrier Island, including new’ish 4G coverage introduced under the Rural Broadband Initiative, also depend on the same radio relay system. Furthermore, the island’s topography, with its high peaks and deep valleys, poses challenges for getting mobile reception at all. Cell towers on Rosalie Bay Rd and Station Rock, while providing some coverage, cannot effectively reach areas shadowed by the island’s rugged landscape. This results in patchy and unreliable cell service in many parts of the island.

Above: One of the island's solar-powered radio towers. Photo / Will Trafford
Above: One of the island’s solar-powered radio towers. Photo / Will Trafford

Starlink: Reliable, High-Speed… Costly

Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite service has emerged as a game-changer, offering unprecedented speeds of around 300 Mbps, suitable for streaming, gaming, and almost anything else. The issue is its hefty price tag, around $180 each month. A new discount from SpaceX, Musk’s rocket company, has seen Starlink equipment pricing drop to $600 from the initial $1,100. Additionally, there’s an option to acquire refurbished units for as low as $300. You can even rent the satellite and router for $19 a month. There are also anecdotal reports of some residents sharing the Starlink service cost (and network) with their neighbors. But even if you tackle that, there’s one final thing to consider: Starlink satellites are pretty brutal in terms of energy consumption. The Standard Gen 2 dish, for example, typically uses between 50 to 75 watts, with idle consumption dropping to around 20 to 30 watts. The High-Performance dishes consume more, averaging between 110 to 150 watts. Starlink recently introduced a “Sleep Schedule” feature to help manage this power consumption, allowing users to set the dish into a low-power sleep mode during times of inactivity, such as at night.

Recommendations for Visitors and Bach Owners:

  • For Bach Owners: Starlink offers a plan that can be turned on and off month to month, providing flexibility for those who don’t require continuous internet service throughout the year.
  • For Visitors: Internet access is available at Claris Airport, the library, and the Claris Service Centre. Additionally, there are patches of cell reception in Medlands and Tryphena, as well as in other unexpected places where reception can be found.

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