It was a case of back to the future yesterday when the NZ Transport Agency appealed to northbound motorists to bypass a heavily congested State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Warkworth.
Trying to relieve an hour-long queue of cars south of Warkworth during the morning, the agency recommended motorists heading to Northland instead take the standard alternative route of State Highway 16 from the Silverdale interchange.
At 11.30am the agency reported a 17km queue of slow-moving traffic stretching from Warkworth back to Puhoi and the $365 million Northern Gateway Toll Road.
Only the night before, Aucklanders hoping to get a flyer on their Waitangi Day holiday - courtesy of the tunnels and sweeping viaducts of the toll road - found themselves part of a 15km convoy.
When the toll road opened a fortnight ago, it was hailed as an answer to traffic delays between Orewa and Warkworth which could take an hour and 40 minutes on long weekends in summer. The toll road is said to take at least 10 minutes off the normal time for travelling between those centres.
By 10.30am yesterday, the stop-start procession motoring northward started at the Pohuehue Viaduct 9km from Warkworth, and by noon it had grown.
Marion Ransom, of Ransom Wines, 3km south of Warkworth, said customers reported an hour's crawl along the highway to reach there.
"Those who booked for lunch have been late, but then some have called in to get out of the traffic," she said.
A queue of usually about 20 motorists formed at the cash payment kiosk at the Silverdale BP service centre for two hours from 7.30am.
Six "toll ambassadors" from the Transport Agency were on hand to greet newcomers and try to speed the payment process.
Offering free calendars depicting features of the fully electronic toll road, the agency's workers asked each motorist whether they knew their vehicle's registration number and whether they wanted to pay by credit card.
The one out of 10 who did were sent directly to an ambassador seated at a desk with a laptop who rapidly completed the transaction for them or set up a prepaid account with deposits starting at $20 for a single vehicle.
The rest queued for between five and 10 minutes to use the two touch-screen machines to pay their $2 toll, or $4 for heavier vehicles.
Interviews with some first-time patrons showed why they used kiosks instead of freephone and online payment options. It also showed a strong preference for an old-fashioned coin collection system.
One of the earlybirds, Damian Abdallah of Wellington, was heading to Paihia with his family and had not heard about the toll road.
"We just saw the sign now. We thought we'd better pay now than later."
Another Wellington resident, Jean Guthrie, said: "I just heard about it on the radio on the way up from Wellington. I was coming in here for a coffee anyway. It would be just easier if you could just drive through and then put the money in a funnel-like tin."
Raewyn Lum of Auckland said she knew a toll had to be paid but found alternatives to the cash kiosk "too hard". She added: "I don't know why we can't just have coin drops."
Anaru Te Maro of Auckland said he thought the road would have toll booths like the Auckland Harbour Bridge once had.
He wondered why people had only three days to pay, because other businesses gave clients 30 days.