The wait is over: the final four designs for a proposed new national flag have been revealed.
The alternative designs were revealed by the Flag Consideration Panel in Wellington this morning as a new poll shows nearly half of voters are open to a change.
A mammoth 10,000 submissions poured in earlier this year, which were later narrowed down to a long-list of 40 flag designs. The final four designs were:
• Silver Fern (Black & White) - by Alofi Kanter, from Auckland.
• Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue) - by Kyle Lockwood, originally from
• Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue) - also by Lockwood
• Koru - by Andrew Fyfe from Wellington
Three of the four designs feature the silver fern, including two by Lockwood.
The silver fern is Prime Minister John Key's favourite symbol and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has also spoken out in favour of the silver fern.
The panel released a long list of 40 flags in August for public feedback. The public will rank the four designs in order of preference in the first referendum in November. A second referendum next March will pit the preferred alternative against the current flag.
The shortlist comes as a Herald Digipoll survey shows almost half of voters were open to a change of flag, although 24 per cent said it would depend on the alternative.
A small majority - 53 per cent - said they did not support a change and 23 per cent said they did support change in principle.
Flag Minister Bill English said there had been much debate about the level of engagement in the flag after low turnout to public meetings but he believed most of it was driven by social media.
He said the panel had been independent and the flag designs shortlisted were confirmed by Cabinet on Monday. He said it was now up to voters to make the final decision on the future flag.
The most popular flag will be pitted against the current flag, which was introduced to New Zealand in 1902, in a 2016 referendum.
All Black captain Richie McCaw has also revealed he wants a change to a design with the silver fern.
"I think it's great that there is a debate about it. The silver fern is what it means to be a Kiwi and wearing the black jersey, so I am obviously biased in that regard," McCaw told 3News.
Flag Consideration Project head Professor John Burrows said the new flag had to be unmistakably from New Zealand. "It is important that those designs are timeless, can work in a variety of contexts, are simple, uncluttered, balanced and have good contrast," he said.
He defended the inclusion of three silver fern designs in the shortlisted final four saying the panel could have taken the easy approach of having four different symbols, such as a silver fern, a Southern Cross a, a koru and an abstract design but opted to chose based on the strongest design.
The two referendum votes and consultation are budgeted to cost $26 million - with Labour objecting to the cost, saying it is a "vanity project".
Once an alternative flag is chosen, it will then go up against the current flag in a second referendum in March.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that one of the flags on the long-list was removed for consideration after a copyright claim.
The Hundertwasser Non-Profit Foundation objected to the "Modern Hundertwasser" design, named after artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
The Herald-DigiPoll survey of 750 eligible voters was conducted between August 14 and 24, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 per cent.
Women were more likely to be against change - with 61 per cent wanting to keep the current flag, compared to 44 per cent of men.
He also said while the two Kyle Lockwood designs were similar, they looked quite different when flying and meant different things to different people so the panel had seen them as very distinct flags. He urged New Zealanders to vote for their favourites regardless of whether they supported change or not.
Referendum 'not deliberately timed around Rugby World Cup'
Prime Minister John Key says the first referendum on the flag was not deliberately timed to coincide with the Rugby World Cup in a bid to boost the chances of a silver fern making it through.
Mr Key said the two Kyle Lockwood designs of the four flags in the shortlist were his favourites for a new flag but if New Zealanders voted to keep the current flag he would still wave it with pride.
Mr Key's initial preference was for a simple silver fern on a black background, such as that on the All Black's jerseys. All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has also spoken in favour of a silver fern design.
Mr Key said typically the silver fern was flown a lot during the world cup. "But it wasn't brilliantly timed round that. It just happened to be the way the process worked."
The plain black with a silver fern was not on the shortlist released yesterday despite many expecting it to be. "I'm actually fine with that. If you'd asked me a year or so ago I started life thinking that might be a good place to start and now I've actually moved on in my thinking."
Mr Key went cold on that idea for a flag after it was mocked for being similar to the Islamic State flag and was happy with the shortlisted four although Cabinet could have refused to accept them if it wished.
His preferences were the two by Kyle Lockwood because they contained the fern which had long been a symbol of New Zealand worn by sports teams and marking the graves of soldiers overseas.
"I like the Southern Cross because I think it's got that connection with the old flag."
Mr Key said he was not worried that having three silver ferns would split the vote and bring the koru through the middle. While support for the silver fern from the likes of Richie McCaw was "not unhelpful."
"But in the end, Richie is only one voice."
Other sports people including rowers Mahe Drysdale and Hamish Bond had also spoken in favour of change. Mr Key expected more high profile people from other walks of life to start speaking out.
He said it would have economic benefits to New Zealand through branding and the silver fern was already closely associated with New Zealand internationally. The koru was his least preferred option.
He said it was up to New Zealanders to make the choice now and whatever the result he believed the discussion it was prompting on national identity was important.
"I do think it's the right time in the country to take stock and say should we do that?' I'm not saying it's the biggest issue there is, but we are an incredibly proud nation and we don't use our current flag to really demonstrate that much."
Architectural designer Kyle Lockwood says he was surprised to get two designs in the shortlisted four but was diplomatic about his chances of having the winning design, saying it was for the public to decide.
Mr Lockwood, 38, had two flags featuring the same design but with different colour schemes selected among the four that voters will vote on in the referendum in November. They feature the silver fern as well as the Southern Cross and his designs are already strong front runners in online polls.
He said he had hoped one of his flags would make the shortlist and the two selected were his favourites of his designs. "I thought one would make it, but to have two - I'm actually very pleased."
Mr Lockwood has long advocated a flag change. His flags have an early advantage because they are already well known - he designed the original Silver Fern in red white and blue back in 2004 when there was a push by the late Lloyd Morrison to force a referendum on the flag.
He said New Zealand was a humble nation which did not like talking about itself. "When designing a flag you have to put all that behind you and say, okay, what will make the world recognise us, what will make Kiwis proud to carry it and what will bring a tear to your eye when you see it on the podium?"
He said he would campaign in support of his flags but had only a limited budget and much of it would be online.
Mr Lockwood is from Wellington but now lives in Melbourne. His grandmother flies his red, white and blue flag at her house. While he didn't have a flagpole himself "I might have to get one now." He may even need two.
ALOFI KANTER: Auckland father Alofi Kanter is a flight attendant and says while he has no professional art or design training, he was passionate about the flag design process and heritage. "I wanted to make my contribution."
Born in Europe, Mr Kanter spent ten years in Samoa in his youth. He was dubbed Alofi and has kept the name ever since. The 51-year-old moved to New Zealand more than 20 years ago and lives with his family on the North Shore.
Mr Kanter said black and white were the de facto national colours of New Zealand and he believed that should be recognised in the flag. "I didn't want it to overbearingly black because of some connections some people make. So I tried to balance it and have equal amounts of black and white."
The silver fern on a plain black background has previously been compared to the Islamic State and pirate skull and crossbones flags.
A similar flag design to Mr Kanter's is licensed by the NZ Story Group and the trademark was owned by New Zealand Way. Professor John Burrows said it had agreed to support the use of the design on the flag if Mr Kanter's design was chosen in the referendum.
ANDREW FYFE: The freelance graphic designer and photographer has the only shortlisted flag which does not feature the silver fern, sporting a koru instead.
Mr Fyfe, who lives in Wellington, said he loved Maori design. "We are a multicultural society and Maori design has sort of crossed cultures and become part of New Zealanders' visual identity. So I think it's quite important we have some of that symbolism in our flag."
He had no concerns about the flag featuring black. "Black is very strong and striking. The contrast and how it will appear next to other country's flags - it stands out. White and black could not be more contrasting."
He said he was surprised to make it onto the long-list, let alone the short list. "It's a little bit like winning the lottery. No-one really expects that."
Mr Fyfe entered his koru flag in four different colour combinations including blue, green and a dual green option. Fyfe was born in Thames and raised in Tauranga - and has a claim to fame as the great, great, great nephew of Kate Sheppard. His interest in the flag was sparked when travelling around Europe with his now wife 17 years ago.