Safety, cost concerns after Christmas cargo ship diverted from Auckland to Northport

A massive ship full of Christmas cargo has docked in Northland after being told it couldn't dock in Auckland for another two-and-a-half weeks.

It means the items can be on shelves sooner, but in order to get there it will take thousands of truck trips.

The 211-metre-long Constantinos P is Northport's biggest-ever visitor, making its urgent arrival stacked with cargo just in time for Christmas.

"If you want to consider that we've saved Christmas, we've certainly contributed to very happy customers," says Northport CEO Murray Jagger.

The ship was originally supposed to arrive in Auckland's port on Saturday but a backlog mainly caused by COVID-19 pushed it out until December 22.

Northport - nearly 150 kilometres away - stepped up to the challenge. It's only ever catered for ships this size through simulations, but is keen to flex its cargo credentials.

"This is an exciting opportunity for Northport. We've planned for this for some time and this is going to prove our capability," Jagger says.

This takes the pressure off Auckland, where vessels are waiting an average of eight days to dock.

"While we're gutted not to be able to handle those containers, it's great we have a system in the upper North Island that can allow freight to flow through whichever port is best able to handle it," says Ports of Auckland communications general manager Matt Ball.

Around 1300 containers will be unloaded, requiring more than 2500 round-trip truck journeys from Auckland to Whangārei to get the goods where they need to go.

"This is going to be many hours for each individual box on the back of a truck, on poor roads. And there's no rail to support that," warns Road Transport Forum CEO Nick Leggett.

The Road Transport Forum's concerned importers could pass the extra cost of delivery onto consumers.

"Freight should be as close to its destination as possible, and I think we're going to learn that unfortunately in this emergency situation," Leggett says.

Northport is calling for more government investment to upgrade the infrastructure.

"We don't need three ports pitted against each other. We need a collaboration in producing a resilient upper North Island supply chain," says Jagger.

After unloading its cargo, the Constantinos P will visit Tauranga, Napier, Wellington and Lyttelton.

Northport wouldn't confirm exactly what's in the containers, only saying it's a "chunk of Christmas retail items".

So if there's something you've been missing out on - keep your eyes peeled.