Whangārei's Northport has reportedly passed with honours in its first test of handling big container volumes at pace in the race to get Christmas goods to Auckland store shelves - the question now is, will it make it a habit?
With shipping congestion and long unloading delays at Auckland's port, the country's main import gateway, and the spillover clogging up Port of Tauranga and the upper North Island supply chain, Northport stepped up this week to accept its biggest ever container ship visitor, loaded with Christmas imports.
Northport is a small container vessel port, so the task of unloading 1170 boxes from a large ship at short notice and at pace was a big challenge.
Spokesman Peter Heath said it passed with "flying colours".
"It was an exercise of immense goodwill. The support of staff and customers was incredible. People forwent annual leave to help."
Regular customers with cargo disrupted by the operation had been supportive.
"The major lesson was how to handle volume at pace."
Northport's big visitor, the Constantinos P, can carry 4500 containers. It was carrying import containers from China and North Asia and if Northport had not accepted it, the vessel would have had to wait until at least December 22 to be unloaded at Auckland, its usual first stop in New Zealand before continuing on to drop boxes at ports further south.
It had been due to tie up in Auckland last Sunday. Shipping line ANL instead sent the vessel to Northport on Sunday with all containers on board to be landed there.
Containers will be released for collection by trucks bound for Auckland on Friday morning.
This is a day later than hoped by the port because 300 more crane moves than expected were necessary to access Auckland-destined containers. Northport only has two big cranes, compared to Auckland's eight and Tauranga's nine.
Northport, once the target of a NZ First political campaign to get Ports of Auckland operations relocated there, may now seize the opportunity of the freight jam to show it can mix it with the big container ports.
It has been saying for some time that it wants to be part of a strong, resilient upper North Island supply chain, supporting supply chain participants in the so-called "golden economic triangle" of Auckland, Waikato and Tauranga.
Heath isn't giving much away.
"I imagine Northport will do what it needs to do to help freight forwarders keep the lines of New Zealand imports and exports moving."
A natural deepwater marine gateway, Northport has big marine-based economic development plans for Northland, including luring a national shipyard and dry dock servicing project and the NZ Navy base to its neighbourhood.
While Northport chairman Murray Jagger notes the port is just 130km from Auckland, some sector players are quick to point out the rail and road infrastructure is not in place to support the growth of container operations there.
The road between Northport and Auckland is described as "fragile", even by Northport development supporters.
Transport officials have warned motorists about the heavy truck traffic expected in the next seven days between Whangārei's southern perimeter and Auckland city as the containers are cleared off Northport's wharves.
The task of getting back to Auckland imports dropped at Tauranga by ships avoiding Auckland's delays, and new shipping line congestion charges imposed on Auckland import containers, have thrown up new questions about previous arguments against Northport.
Meanwhile, Heath has re-iterated the argument of the port - a joint venture between listed companies Port of Tauranga and Marsden Maritime Holdings - that the freight issues might be unprecedented, but they show the need "for a resilient and geographically astute upper North Island supply chain strategy that makes best use of the three existing ports that already serve the region".
"This, in turn, calls for continued central government investment in, and upgrading of, road, rail and coastal shipping infrastructure," he said.