First-time National candidate Matt King has snatched the Northland seat from kingmaker Winston Peters after a night of seesawing results in which the lead switched back and forth between the two rivals.

The National candidate's win - by 13,686 votes to the New Zealand First leader's 12,394 - is a shift back to the seat's traditional blue hue. National held the seat from 1969 until Mr Peters' landslide win in the 2015 byelection triggered by the resignation of MP Mike Sabin.

It was, however, a long and anxious wait for Mr King and his supporters at the Pioneer Tavern in Waipapa. The Northland results were among the last to come through, with Mr King, an Okaihau farmer and former policeman, only declaring his win about 11.30pm.

A nervous Matt King and a supporter follow the seesawing results on their cellphones. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
A nervous Matt King and a supporter follow the seesawing results on their cellphones. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

The race was neck-and-neck for much of the evening with Mr Peters pulling ahead one last time around 10pm before the tide turned in National's favour.

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"This is killing me, this is torture," Mr King said as the votes trickled in.

Special votes have yet to be counted but are unlikely to overturn Mr King's 1292 majority.
An elated Mr King described the win as the highlight of his life, after marrying his wife Sarah and having children.

It ended a "real rollercoaster" of a journey which began when he first missed out on National Party selection in 2011. He lost again before the byelection before finally succeeding last November.

As an unknown up against a "rock star" opponent he had to do the hard yards, campaigning the old-fashioned way by knocking on doors and visiting businesses for the past 10 months.

He paid tribute to the support he had received, especially from his wife.

Mr King said his top priorities were building infrastructure, tackling social issues and seeing a Ngapuhi settlement reached in his first or second term.

Although Northland had returned to National Mr King insisted it would no longer be taken for granted.

"The events of the last two or three years have meant that Northland will never be off the radar again. Those days are gone."

Pat King of Tauranga congratulates his older brother as the result becomes clear about 10.30pm. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
Pat King of Tauranga congratulates his older brother as the result becomes clear about 10.30pm. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

Among the supporters at the Pioneer were Mr King's parents, Jenny and Joe King from Okaihau, and his siblings Tara and Pat, from Tauranga.

Pat King said reaching Parliament had been his brother's goal for several years.

"I'm so proud of him. He's done the hard yards and he's going to be a good MP."

Meanwhile, Mr Peters said losing the Northland electorate was "a terrible shame" but he had given it his best shot.

"I was very privileged for a brief time to be their MP but now I've got more time to be an MP around the country."

But Mr Peters, who spent election night at the Duke of Marlborough in Russell, still has plenty to be pleased about. The election has put him in the position of kingmaker, needed by whichever major party forms the next Government.

Of the other candidates, Labour's Willow-Jean Prime placed third with 7219 votes, well up on her byelection tally of 1380 when Labour supporters were encouraged to vote for Mr Peters to keep National out. Her high list placing, number 17, means she will enter Parliament.

Also standing were Mel Taylor (Conservatives), 155 votes, and Craig Nelson (Act), 104.

National won 47.8 per cent of Northland's party vote, well ahead of Labour's 28.6 per cent and NZ First's 13.6 per cent.