Whangarei retailers had contented smiles as shoppers continued this month's spending spree by splashing out on Christmas Eve.

Supermarkets were predictably packed and hordes of people pondered last-minute gift selections in city stores. Bars, cafes and restaurants were busy keeping the multitude fed and watered.

And retailers were happy because more money came out of wallets and purses than during the pre-Christmas spend-up last year.

New Paymark figures show the $1.4 billion which Auckland and Northland shoppers spent in the first three weeks of December was up 6.5 per cent on the same period last year.


Paymark, which processes around 75 per cent of New Zealand's electronic transactions, said shoppers spent more than $3.5 billion on their eftpos cards nationwide, an increase of 6.9 per cent on last December.

Last Friday was the busiest day of the year so far, with $235.6 million through the tills, up 5.7 per cent on the same day in 2012.

December spending for the accommodation sector was up 11.9 per cent, takeaways was up 10.4 per cent, hardware/building supplies 10.1 per cent, restaurants bars and cafes 10.4 per cent.

Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Tony Collins said the region's retailers had been through a tough time over the past 18 months and it was pleasing to see them regaining some of the ground lost during the year.

Good weather leading into Christmas and increasing economic confidence contributed to people feeling relaxed about spending more, he said.

Dickens Inn proprietor Nicki Cundy said the pub was busier this month than it had been in December last year. "The town is more vibrant," she said, attributing much of the crowd to the Whangarei District Council giving city shoppers a day of free parking.

Matapouri fisherman John, who was enjoying lunch at the Dickens Inn with his wife Alana and their daughter Morgan, backed up the Paymark figures by admitting he had spent more this Christmas than he had last December.

But teenager Regan Haika, of Kamo, who was nearby waiting to use a Westpac ATM to check his bank account, said he had spent less.

His family had a secret Santa system to ensure their half-dozen small fry received Christmas presents and adults shared the costs.

Further along Cameron St, Paper Plus manager Adam Isa was delighted with the large number of customers keeping his nine staff busy.

Books such as A Free Range Life by chef Annabel Langbein and The Luminaries by 2013 Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton were popular choices, he said.

Among several buskers crooning for the shoppers' spare cash on Christmas Eve was JT Taylor who has just left Whangarei Boys' High School and needs to raise $8900 to study drama at the Globe Theatre in London and attend Otago University next year.

With talented young guitarist Jimmy Kay helping, JT was attracting an audience among the cheerful shoppers.

But despite the trend noted by Paymark, JT still had lots of room for more coins in his guitar case open on the footpath in front of them.