Air New Zealand apologized to passengers and said a special service would take them to Shanghai at 11 pm local time Sunday.
"We know customers will be deeply disappointed and frustrated with this situation and we are very sorry for the disruption of their travel plans," Air New Zealand said.
Disgruntled passengers expressed their disapproval in social media. One posted a Twitter photo of the on-board flight map showing the aircraft spinning over Papua New Guinea.
"I just experienced a new level of China Bad: in the middle of our flight from Auckland to Shanghai, the pilot informs us that the Chinese authorities had not given permission for this plane to land, so we had to turn around. ", the passenger commented.
The same flight, NZ289, was returned on a flight to China on August 24 last year, although an airline spokeswoman has said that this is due to an engineering issue, and not authorized.