Four boys as young as 14 have been arrested and a fifth is on the run after an armed robbery at a Bay of Islands service station.

The owner of Waipapa BP said police did a "pretty exceptional job" to catch the offenders so quickly - but in particular he praised a regular customer who spotted the youths jumping the counter and followed their car until police arrived.

Sergeant Ross Laurie, of Kerikeri police, said a vehicle stolen earlier in the day pulled up at the service station about 7pm on Sunday. Four boys got out, entered the shop and pointed a gun at staff, who locked themselves in a back room.

The boys stole tobacco, the cash drawer and chocolate before fleeing north on State Highway 10.

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A member of the public saw the robbery and called police who were already on SH10 north of Waipapa. When the youths saw a police road block ahead they turned into a driveway where some fled on foot.

Two were arrested still in the vehicle while two more were tracked by a police dog and located shortly afterwards. One was still on the run as of yesterday afternoon.

Two offenders were aged 14, two 15 and one 16. All were from Kaitaia.

The four arrested on Sunday were held in police custody overnight and appeared in the Kaikohe Youth Court yesterday charged with aggravated robbery and unlawfully taking a motor vehicle. All are under 17 so they cannot be named.

Service station owner Darren Johansson said three staff were working on Sunday night.

"The youngest is just 16 so he's pretty traumatised. They're all quite shocked. This doesn't happen every day in Kerikeri."

He was grateful to police for catching the offenders so quickly and a regular customer who played a key part in their capture. The customer was at the dairy across the road when he saw the boys leaping the counter, called police and followed their car.

The Waipapa service station had suffered a number of ram-raids in the 18 years he and his wife had owned it but this was the first armed robbery.

Mr Johansson said staff were trained in how to respond in a robbery. He was relieved no one had been hurt.

The car used in the robbery, a black 1997 Mazda Familia, was taken about 3pm from The Warehouse car park in Waipapa.

Mr Laurie said good work by staff, help from a member of the public, and having resources in the right places at the right time, led to the quick arrests.

"But it's concerning that kids of this age are out doing this sort of thing."

He urged anyone who had seen the youths hanging around The Warehouse on Sunday afternoon, taking the vehicle or robbing the service station to call Kerikeri police on (09) 407 9211.