Could petrol prices reach $3 per litre? Motor Trade Association 'wouldn't be surprised' if they get close

Fuel prices have never been so expensive in New Zealand, with the national average of 91 octane now $2.39 per litre.

In Auckland, it's as high as $2.57 per litre, according to price-tracking app Gaspy - about $130 to fill the average tank.

And experts believe prices will only go higher, with demand for energy skyrocketing as COVID-19 restrictions ease around the world. 

The Automobile Association believes there's also a supply issue, although not the same one that saw the army brought out in the UK - their shortage is due to a post-Brexit lack of truck drivers.

Craig Pomare, from the Motor Trade Association, says the prices are hurting New Zealanders.

"It's some real basics of supply and demand," he told The Project. "We import Crude [oil] and that's refined, and that ends up as petrol in your car - that's gone up 151 percent since lockdown last year and even just in the last month it's gone up 14 percent."

Before the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded last year, prices hit $2.41 per litre in New Zealand. They then dipped as the pandemic emerged and the world locked down, causing demand to plunge.

But much of the world is now emerging from lockdowns - causing demand and prices to steadily rise again.

"We can't pick and choose what we pay - that's what it is," Pomare said.

He said there are still cheaper prices at some stations - but how long they could last is unclear.

"Where I live in Wellington, I can drive down the streets and within 500m we've got four petrol stations - and their price differences can be as much as 10c a litre. So sometimes it's just competition.

"Some have a higher price, some have a lower price - lower price because they want to get people to come to them. But the longer you keep a lower price, the lower the margin - the less that you earn."

The Project on Wednesday asked Pomare if prices could get as high as $3 per litre.

"If I was a betting man, even then I'm not sure I'd put a bet on it but given where we are now, we've some prices as high as $2.60, $2.70 a litre. Given where the Crude prices are going, I wouldn't be at all surprised, sadly, if we start heading closer."

While petrol is as high as nearly $2.60 per litre in Auckland, it's cheaper to fill up further south. In Te Rapa, northwest of Hamilton, people can find fuel for $2.17 a litre, according to Gaspy.

Cantabrians can also score slightly cheaper fuel too, with multiple Christchurch stations charging $2.19 on Thursday.