Saturday, September 10, 2016

Auckland to Rotorua - and back - on the same day in my Nissan LEAF

On Thursday I drove my 2015 Model S LEAF from Auckland -> Thames -> Tauranga -> Rotorua -> Hamilton -> Auckland.....on the same day. The opening of the new fast chargers in Thames last week and Rotorua this week meant it's now possible to do this trip on the same day as you can charge up fast enough between each leg to keep moving in a timely way.


Auckland to Thames

I left just after 5am. It was about 9C in Auckland. I arrived in Thames, at the public library, just after 6am on about 16%. The nominal distance is 108km. It was 5C in Thames. 

At the new / PowerCo fast charger in Thames (behind the public library at 505 Mckay St), I charged up to 95%. It took about 35 mins. I walked over to Mcdonalds at the Goldfields Shopping Centre (5 mins walk) and had a quick breakfast. There were closer places, but Mcdonalds was the only place in Thames without the doors wide open early on a cold morning.

When I got back to my LEAF (I don't refer to it as "car" anymore) it was on 94% and stopped charging about 1 minute later on 95%. Perfect timing.


Thames to Tauranga

I jumped in (active language - it's still early!) and headed to Bayfair Mall in Tauranga. That's 119km according to Google Maps.

SH 2 Thames to Tauranga

But by the time I got to Kopu, only 6km later, my battery had dropped to 90%. Hmm. Maybe it's the cold. Maybe it's a thing I should take into consideration. To be (a little) safer, I stopped in at the Kopu Cafe. They open very early and they have a 30amp Delta charger you can use for $2.50/hour. My LEAF Model S only has a 3.3-ishkw AC charger. To get to from 90% to 98% should take me about 40 minutes. The flat white was great. On 98% I took off for Tauranga. It was light by then....and the traffic was very light as it was still only around 7:30am. 

As I often do when going somewhere I've never been before that's over 100km away, I drove very conservatively along SH26 to Paeroa. A big unexpected hill and / or a strong headwind can endanger plans.

To guage my power use, I've worked out a "one dot" (on the LEAF dash power meter) method that seems to be extremely efficient with battery power. Basically, to get moving, I press the accelerator just enough to get power use to one dot right of the mid-dot.

On a flat or slightly inclined road this will get you to 55kph in 15-20 seconds. Terrain and wind allowing, I can get to 75kph in about 45 seconds or maybe less. If there's no traffic around, it doesn't matter. If it's flat, I can carry on to the point where the growing wind resistance matches the power being added and I then stop accelerating.....but still only drawing one dot.

The road may dip....and I'll go faster....and that's gravity being my friend. When the road rises again I may be doing 95 kph....and I stay on one dot and my momentum carries me up the incline...some or all of the way. I kept just doing this.

On SH26, this got me over most of the rises and falls while drawing minimal power. The actual distance travelled plus the GOM (Guess-o-Meter on the LEAF dash) kept creeping higher and higher. At one point it looked like I would be able to do well over 200km on a charge if I carried on like that.

But NZ isn't flat or uniformly undulating, so occasionally I'd hit a higher hill or steeper incline and have to increase the power to two dots to maintain a safe highway speed (75kph or higher, IMHO, for a few seconds with no one around is perfectly OK). I found that two dots of power will actually get me over 90% of the smaller hills and moderate inclines....and even on the bigger ones I'll get a long way up them before my speed falls to 75kph (unless it's pretty steep)....and I then have to go to three dots or four dots to keep my speed up until I reach the top. But usually no more than that. I very rarely had to go beyond 4 dots on that highway or any of the others. One or two is usually enough, with the occasional 3. I just need to be happy to accelerate more slowly. We are only talking fractions of a minute, not minutes. 

From time to time someone roared up behind and, if possible, I pulled over on the flat or - preferably - at the crest of a hill to let them pass. From the top of a small hill I can then see in front and behind to safely resume...and starting to move is more efficient as I'm going downhill to get up to speed. Even just a little bit helps if you do this 20 times it adds up. 

By the time I got to Paeroa, my actual kms traveled plus the GOM (A+G) was just over 180km....and I only needed 119km. So I relaxed a bit. There wasn't going to be a problem here. I did keep applying the one-dot method, but also wasn't a pest on the road by driving slow.

Had I been short of power on this leg, there are caravan chargers in Paeroa, Katikati and Te Puna. If necessary, I could have pulled over in any of those and charged for 30 minutes or an hour - whatever might have been required to fill the gap.

But there was no gap. This was just as well because the chargers in between Thames and Mt Maunganui open for business in reverse order when coming from Thames. The Paeroa public charger doesn't open until after 08:30am. The motel in Katikati doesn't open until after 09:30am. The Te Puna charger opens at 8am....but it's the furthest away (88km).

I needn't have worried. The route through the Karangahake Gorge is relatively flat between  Paeroa and Waihi. After Waihi it's open and can be windy and after a long, lovely drop, there is some climbing up to the Athenree turnoff, but after that it's mostly downhill. What I lost on the climb, I got (most of) back on the descent toward Katikati. From this point it was clear I had battery to burn and I relaxed. 

I arrived at Bayfair Mall on 22% and my actual + GOM was 119.5km + 41km for a total of 160.5km. The trip was only I had loads to spare and I'd also used up some of the 'excess' power between Katikati and Tauranga. 

For those who haven't been there, the PowerCo / Veefill charger at Bayfair Mall is on the ground level inside the parking building off Girven St. They are very close to the pedestrian entrance to the Mall from the carpark. 

Bayfair Mall EV Parks

I've used this charger 3 times now and each time I have had curious people stop to ask questions (on arrival and departure). People are very interested, so I took the time. 

having reached 95% I then went to my mother-in-law's house in Greerton. It was the day before her 91st birthday, so I had bought a wee cake and some biscuits at the Mall and stopped to have lunch. I had to allow for the drive from Bayfair Mall in Mt Maunganui to Greerton eating 10% of my battery for some reason. Traffic is usually heavy and you can't really avoid going 100kph. I arrived in Greerton on about 85%.

I was there for about 90 minutes as 91 year olds don't have a lot of "party stamina". While I was there I charged my LEAF from a normal power point in her garage. That got me to 98% for my trip to Rotorua.


Tauranga to Rotorua

The distance between Bayfair Mall (if you don't have an alternative power source in Tauranga) and the Haupapa St Carpark Rapid charger in Rotorua is about 68.4km. Easily do-able in the Gen 2 LEAF almost no matter how you I hoofed it a wee bit. No worrying about dots on this leg. I had more than double the amount of power needed.....and I could charge up again on arrival.

SH36 Tauranga to Rotorua

There are two steep gorge sections on SH36. The Mangorewa and the Mangapouri. They eat your battery for a while as you go up, then when you come back down again the regeneration gives a lot of it back. On this leg, no worries. Power to burn.

When I got to Rotorua just after 2:30pm, I didn't really note where my battery or GOM were. I went to the Whakarewarewa "Living Village" tourist attraction. I'd been to the geyser end of it several times, but had not been back to the village since the big falling out a decade or so back and the two became separate attractions. I thought I would charge up for the leg to the WEL charger at Te Rapa on my way out of town after I had seen whatever I wanted to see.

I got to the Haupapa St Carpark around 4pm. The street sign for Hapapa St had been turned the wrong way by someone pranksters so I had to go around the block and approached from the other end, on the side furthest from the carpark (visually). The street has a boulevard down the centre. I drove past the carpark a couple of times trying to spot the new fast charger, but trees and tall SUVs and signs (and my desire not to run into anything) meant I couldn't see it at first. I worked out where the entrance to the carpark was....and then, having entered, located the charger. It's obvious enough once you're in the flat, open carpark....but not so obvious from the street. 

I'd just pulled up and then a another LEAF pulled up next to me at the charger. I hadn't even had time to turn my LEAF off. The other driver was Kenya, who posts in the NZ EV Owners Facebook group sometimes, and she lives locally. She had at least one child in the LEAF with her and her Gen 1 LEAF needed to charge up so she could get home.

No problem....She charged and I waited. We talked about EVs and chargers and other stuff during the 20 minutes it took her to charge up, then off she went. I started charging and I think I was on about 46%. It wasn't going to take long. I wandered off and got a quick coffee and got some gold coins, as I noticed the fast charger was free (until February) but there was nothing saying the parking was free. But I needn't have bothered as the parking ticket vending machine next to the EV parks was broken anyway.

While I was there finishing my charge, some people (Nigel, Ethan, Alex and Danny) arrived from Unison Power (It's their charger) with a camera and another LEAF. They were going to do promo photos and video. They were interested in my trip and asked if I'd mind having photos of me used in their PR. No problem. 

They took some photos and we talked for a few minutes about...well...not too hard to guess....until I reached 95%. Talking to others who are passionate about EVs is a great way to pass the time. :-) 

Then I left. By now it was about 5pm and it hailed briefly as I waited to pull out of Tutanakei St. Lovely.....but it didn't last long and I headed north toward SH5 to go to Tirau to join SH1. The distance to WEL at Te Rapa is 116km.


Rotorua to Hamilton

This is where it got a bit interesting. My GOM showed me as having 165km. Great. I only need 116km.

But the road from Rotorua to Tirau rises quite a bit as it goes...and just keeps going up and up. After only 17.5km, my GOM showed 99kms remaining. That's 116.5km total....and I needed 116km absolute-battery-dead-mimumum. The hill was still climbing. I'd only just started out!

I dropped back to 75kph and pulled over for everything that came along. I stuck to the one or two dot 'rule' as much as possible. I was doing everything I could to climb that hill using as little power as possible. I'd done my homework and knew that Rotorua is 280m above sea level and Hamilton is only 40m above sea at SOME point the road had to go downhill instead of uphill. I carried on, but with care, trying to prepare for any unknown unknowns. 

Eventually, I reached the summit of the road...and it flattened out a bit, undulating more gently and what went up then came down again. The one-dot rule began to see the GOM 'stick' on 99km remaining as I carried on and the actual kms piled up. The A+G total was slowly rising....and moving steadily away from the jaw-clenching 116.5km earlier. I pulled over to let a few cars pass who had been approaching from behind...and behind them was a BIG truck.

Awesome....something to break the wind for me. From here, the road started to fall steadily and I was trailing the truck at a safe distance. The LEAF GOM kept going up and up while my battery fell very, very slowly. At one point I realised I had done over 15km for only 2% of battery.....a rate that would see my LEAF doing an incredible 700km per charge if I was able to drive downhill for all of that way behind a big truck. :-) 

Life isn't that good....but it was good enough.

The truck turned off toward Tauranga just before Tirau. I stopped and had a pie and a rest in Tirau and waited for a big truck to pass. It was now about 6pm. The Sun was getting very low.
Tirau looks better with a LEAF

A few minutes later a big truck slowly went by...and I pulled out behind it toward Hamilton. Our speed was such that the one-dot rule served me well as I rolled along about 40m behind the truck. That's about 9-10 LEAF lengths (see what I did there?)...and certainly safe enough. I can stop a lot faster than the truck can if I need to. I was often able to do 100kph with just the single power dot. The A+G count continued to slowly increase.

I arrived at WEL in Te Rapa at 6:43pm. The distance covered was 116.8km and the GOM showed 35km (total 151.8km) remaining with 21% battery. That was MUCH better than the miserable 116.5km A+G total on the way up the hill from Rotorua!
Hamilton Arrival

It was dark now and very windy from the south. There are no open cafes (or any other thing) near the fast charger at WEL, so I just sat in my LEAF for half an hour. I know from several trips all I needed to get home from there was about 85%. I charged to 90% and left.


Hamilton to Auckland

The southerly seemed to really help me as I headed north toward Auckland. The one-dot rule was easy to follow most of the time....though I did throw all caution to winds from Hill Rd in Manurewa, where the 80km limit ends after the roadworks underway there. I got home at 08:43pm on about 16%.....having driven 524km in a single day, with stops and visits.


Job done! Auckland, Thames, Tauranga, Rotorua, Hamilton and the same day in my LEAF. Plus I wished my Mother-in-Law a happy 91st and visited the Living Village at Whakarewarewa, a place I haven't seen for 25 years.

Last week, this wasn't possible to do on the same day. At risk of being a bit melodramatic, I felt myself at the dawn of new era of fast(er) EV travel around NZ - even in a humble Nissan LEAF.  


  1. Great post. The higher than expected drop from Thames to Kopu might just be from the voltage settling after a charge. The charger may stop when the car says 95% but if you left the car sitting it might settle a bit lower anyway (by 1-2%).

    1. Thanks, Don. So if I waited a few minutes and plugged it back it might have charged a bit more? Interesting.


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