The 7.5km Auckland toll road extends the Northern Motorway from the Orewa turnoff to Puhoi, bypassing the seaside townships of Orewa, Hatfield’s Beach, Waiwera and the Wenderholm Regional Park. Depending on traffic volume and the number of slow vehicles, this will cut 10-25 minutes off the non toll route. The Johnstone’s Hill Twin Tunnels are 15 metres apart, 380 metres long, 12 metres wide and 9 metres high.
They were built to carry two lanes each, plus a shoulder and an emergency pathway. The northbound tunnel has only one lane open due to the merging of traffic into a single lane after the tunnel. The southbound tunnel has two lanes open. Opened January 25, 2009, it passes through a historically rich and diverse landscape containing steep topography, large tracts of native bush, streams, estuaries and areas of pastoral farmland. Eco viaducts at Otanerua and Nukumea were built to protect native aquatic fauna and natural wetlands. There are views of the Puhoi river back to Wenderholm, the ocean and Hatfield’s Beach as you travel the road. The Northern Gateway Toll Road utilises a fully electronic toll collection (ETC) system is to collect the tolls. Cameras using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology read the front and rear registration plates. Unlike America a “Sunpass” type device mounted inside the vehicle is not required. A registered owner lookup permits an administration charge and later a non payment fine to be issued should an account not exist or if payment within the due period is not received. Although the vehicle speed is recorded going under the camera gantry, speed, photos of vehicle occupants other details cannot legally be passed to other law enforcement agencies.
When using the road our recommendation is that you pay on line for any journeys prior to using the toll road. If you only have the option to pay cash, take the non toll route. The non toll road runs from Orewa along the coast, up a hill with views over Orewa beach, along side Hatfield’s beach and up another hill into Waiwera. You cross a bridge over the Puhoi river, past Wenderholm Regional Park, up another hill with a short passing lane and down to merge with the Toll Road traffic as it exits Johnston’s Hill tunnel. Be prepared to stop when approaching the tunnel northbound during busy periods as the two lanes merge into one.
The NZ government is fast tracking the expansion of the single lane highway north of the tunnels to a continuous dual carriageway through to Warkworth and on to Wellsford as part of its Roads of National Significance program. State Highway 1, especially through Dome Valley is very dangerous and an accident black spot. Many lives will be saved and the whole Northland economy will improve with the extension to Wellsford. As proven by the Ramarama bypass at the Bombay Hills south of Auckland, the excellent design, dual carriageways, straighter road, centre crash barriers, wider lanes and improved camber has already prevented many fatalities. Never vote for a politician who calls it the ‘holiday highway”. Have a safe journey and visit the Bay of islands soon
HOW TO PAY
Best option is to pay on line at http://www.tollroad.govt.nz. Simply enter the registration number and the total number of trips (up to 10). You can pay up to 180 days in advance and up to 5 days after a journey. On line and phone payment by Visa and MasterCard only. Regular users can open a pre-paid account on line. You can also pay by phone 0800 40 20 20 (8am – 6pm Mon – Fri only) but a $3.70 transaction fee is added. . You can also pay at the BP service centre on the Northern Motorway between Albany and Silverdale and southbound 500 metres prior to the tunnel on the left next to the river. An additional transaction fee applies.
TOLL – cars, motorcycles and campervans $NZ 2.40 each trip. Heavy vehicles $4.80 (over 3.5 tonnes). Take note of the vehicle registration number as this will be required. There is no additional charge for trailers. If a toll remains unpaid after five days, a toll payment notice is generated incurring an administration charge of $4.90. If after 28 days, the toll payment notice remains unpaid, an infringement notice is issued for each outstanding toll. This attracts an additional $40.00. A reminder notice is sent if the infringement notice is not paid within 28 days. If after a further 28 days the notice remains unpaid, the outstanding infringement may be referred to the Ministry of Justice for debt collection
Traffic volumes, especially during peak holiday periods have dictated the need for at least a continuous dual carriageway between Auckland, Warkworth and Wellsford. During these periods queues can form at the approaches to these towns and for up to 10km prior to the toll road tunnels. The Northern Gateway Toll Road has improved the situation but has only moved bottlenecks further north. The National government has accelerated plans to expand the dual carriageway to Wellsford but commencement is still some time away.
In the interim road agencies have attempted to reduce the crisis by trying to convince people that a longer, winding, back road is a better and faster option. It is not. We measured the time and distance from the Hobson St, Union St intersection in central Auckland to Wellsford. In good traffic conditions the trip using the Northern Gateway Toll Road was 76.8km and took 58 minutes.
The promoted alternative route distance is a longer 105km and took us 1 hour 23 minutes taking the north western motorway and SH16 through Helensville following a western route to Wellsford. The problem is that apart from the north western motorway and a short length of road just north of Hellensville, there are no passing lanes and virtually no safe places to pass slower vehicles due to the constantly winding road and poor visibility.
If you get stuck behind a slow truck, trailer, caravan or rented campervan you are basically screwed. The journey could take longer than the direct route, even with queues. Our recommendation – leave early or late in the day at the beginning and end of public holiday periods. Unless you live in West Auckland, use the shorter direct route via the toll road.
Don't get a
In New Zealand the issuing of speeding tickets to generally law abiding drivers is a major source of government revenue. The ticket tolerance is 10km/hr so doing 111km/hr or more on the open road. The tolerance is further reduced to only 5km/h during public holiday periods. The New Zealand Police highway patrols frequent the motorway between Albany and Puhoi, often hidden up on ramps. Be careful going down the hill just prior to and through the tunnel northbound where the speed limit drops to 80km/h. Likewise look out after the tunnel heading up the first hill southbound where the speed limit is still 80km/h and next to the camera gantry at the end. The speed limit has been reduced to 80km/h through the Dome Valley between Warkworth and Wellsford and also over the Brenderwyn hill between Wellsford and Whangarei. These are high crash rate areas due to the poor roads making them high enforcement areas.
Fixed speed cameras are located in approaching the Dome valley, Warkworth, Kaiwaka and Kauri (northern outsjirts of Whangarei) Unmarked speed camera vans can be found at many locations, typically on or at the end of straight stretches of road, passing lanes and reduced speed areas. Be vigilant for speed camera vehicles (Hyundai and Toyota Previa vans) as pictured opposite parked at the roadside in suspicious locations. These can snap you traveling in either direction with new digital speed cameras. The low power narrow beam angled across the road provides minimal advance warning even to the best radar detectors such as Escort Passport and Valentine 1. These must now have K band reception activated to detect the new digital cameras. Highway patrol and traffic duty police vehicles have Ka band Stalker mobile radars. These radars can lock on a vehicle coming up behind the patrol car, in front of the vehicle or coming from the opposite direction. Many officers have great pleasure using the instant on feature – waiting until a vehicle is close before activating the radar for an instant reading. This reduces the effectiveness of radar detectors. Unmarked radar equipped Holden Commodore sedans and occasionally other makes are used. The bottom line is watch your speed, enjoy the drive, get added fuel economy and arrive safely!
ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) equipped camera vans have been introduced. These have roof mounted cameras aimed at traffic travelling in both directions. Infra red and OCR (optical character recognition) technology is used to read the number plates of approaching vehicles. Details are matched against the police national database to identify vehicles with flags in addition to the obvious expired registration licence fee or Warrant Of Fitness. When a vehicle is flagged, the operator sitting in the back can notify nearby check points or mobile patrols further ahead to stop the vehicle. Vehicle of interest flags include stolen, registration expired, registration hold, expired WOF, vehicle exemption, suspended driver, excess demerit points, petrol drive off, arrest warrant, fines warrant, previous drink driving conviction and owner or associates of interest to name a few. For law abiding motorists with street legal vehicles there is nothing to worry about. The ability to check up to 3,000 vehicles per hour makes these vehicles and associated recourses very efficient – so efficient police claim they do the work of 25 police officers and 25 dispatchers. Mobile ANPR cameras are also being fitted to some patrol vehicles