The rollout of New Zealand's "electric highway" has begun in earnest - and right now all roads lead to Northland.

Charge.net.nz officially opened the country's second fast-charger for electric vehicles (EVs) in Kaiwaka on Friday, adding to the first installed by Northpower in Whangarei's Alexander St last year, and cementing in place the first segment of the so-called electric highway.

The brainchild of north Auckland software developer Steve West, an EV owner who became frustrated at the slow take-up of EV tech in New Zealand, charge.net.nz plans to "blanket the country" with 75 fast-chargers over the next five years. The firm, collaborating with Northpower and Kaipara District Council, chose Kaiwaka, because Northland has the highest per-capita concentration of EVs in the country.

Around 100 people attended the opening ceremony, plus legions of schoolchildren, and a fleet of 20 EVs from the Bay of Islands to Auckland. After a broken-down Toyota petrol car was towed away to make way for the opening, Northland MP and NZ First leader Winston Peters told the crowd that, while it was great to see Northland getting ahead of the rest of the country, the Government had not done enough to encourage the uptake of EVs, "the best way for New Zealand to reduce its carbon footprint".

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He said Norway, a similar-sized nation, now had 70,000 EVs on its roads thanks to state incentives while New Zealand had only 800. "Our great advantage is we can turn water into energy".

Whangarei kaumatua Fred Tito said EVs were not a technology of the future "but now" and their uptake would help mend the Earth rather than destroy it. For EV owners, the new station, outside Greg and Paula Jaques' Four Square in Mangawhai Rd, will mean about a 20-minute stop to recharge, instead of waiting four hours at the slower-charging Wellsford station, which now can be used for top-ups. Northland EV advocate Joe Camuso, owner of New Zealand's first all-electric taxi, sees the new station as both the gateway and keystone to the region: "From Kaiwaka you can go to Mangawhai, Matakohe or Dargaville - the Twin Coast Highway - as well as Whangarei, and Northpower plans to install Type 2 chargers in Mangawhai, Tutukaka, the Town Basin and Kerikeri."

Whangarei EV advocate Joe Camuso, left, and Charge.net.nz's Dee West and Mark Yates celebrate the opening of the new fast-charger at Kaiwaka.
Whangarei EV advocate Joe Camuso, left, and Charge.net.nz's Dee West and Mark Yates celebrate the opening of the new fast-charger at Kaiwaka.

The Kaiwaka charger is "just within range from Auckland" for Nissan Leafs, the most widely-owned fully electric cars, , but owners of the upmarket long-range Teslas and plug-in hybrids such as the Mitsubishi Outlander will also likely charge there. "Another [charge.net.nz] fast-charger is going in Warkworth so this will be great for Aucklanders to enjoy Northland without expending carbon emissions."

As well, fast-chargers are planned for Dargaville and the Far North, while power network firm Vector is believed to be opening another fast-charger in Auckland later this year, which would make it possible for Leaf owners to comfortably travel from Hamilton to Bay of Islands and beyond.

Charge.net.nz is hopeful that a mass adoption of EVs would move NZ toward energy independence and reduce CO2 emissions by 5 million tonnes annually. Northpower estimates there are now more than 50 EVs in Northland, mostly in Whangarei, and the lines firm is keen to share its knowledge to help other regions with EV infrastructure.