Far North Mayor John Carter has been returned with a 6000-vote majority - but concedes that the 4000-plus votes picked up by a little-known candidate are a sign his council still has work to do.

In contrast to the six-way race in Whangarei, only an 11th-hour nomination by Waipapa motoring writer Peter Gill stopped Mr Carter being re-elected unopposed.

Mr Carter, previously Northland's MP for 24 years, was the clear winner with 10,889 votes but Mr Gill polled a respectable 4485. Mr Gill's strong showing surprised many given his low-key campaign and the fact he has only lived in the Far North since 2013.

Mr Carter said he was pleased his vote had increased since 2013 and was "absolutely stoked" his Whangarei counterpart, Sheryl Mai, had also been returned.

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"But the fact that Peter [Gill] got more than 4000 votes is something to take note of, it shows there are issues that are troubling people," Mr Carter said.

"We've worked hard to improve customer service and the way we communicate with the community but there's still room for improvement. Also value for money and affordability of rates are big issues."

Mr Carter said he took Mr Gill's challenge seriously and ran a genuine campaign. Doing otherwise would have risked being seen as arrogant.

Mr Gill was philosophical about his loss.

"The people have spoken. Well, around 40 per cent of them, anyway. The majority say they are happy with the council leadership as it stands. I accept that. There's nothing more to say other than for me to wish John the very best," he said.

Mr Carter said his first-term achievements included stabilising the council, establishing good relations with other Northland councils, improved customer service (though much remained to be done), and progress on Maori issues such as rating multiple-owned land.

Priorities for this term included creating economic opportunities to reduce unemployment and reliance on welfare, and making rates more affordable.

The Far North election brought only minor changes around the council table.

In the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa ward Willow-Jean Prime (4894 votes), Ann Court (4566) and deputy mayor Tania McInnes (3115) were returned, while Dave Hookway - a mohawked public health worker who has contested several elections in the past - was rewarded for his perseverance with 3062 votes and a place at the council table.

Former councillor Di Maxwell did not stand. Bay of Islands-Whangaroa candidates who missed out were Harko Brown (2824), Steve McNally (1766), Jane Johnston (1669), Fred Terry (1685) and Patrick Crawshaw (1542).

In the Te Hiku ward Kaitaia fire chief Colin Kitchen collected the largest share of the vote (2917). Also voted on were newcomer and former council employee Felicity Foy (2117) and sitting councillor Mate Radich (2005). Kaitaia publican Dave Collard failed to win back his seat (1931); the other unsuccessful candidates were Adele Gardner (1094), Lawrie Atkinson (999), David Senior (987) and Karena Hita (594).

The two seats for the Kaikohe-Hokianga ward were won by sitting councillors John Vujcich (2100) and Sally Macauley (1586). The other candidates were Babe Kapa (1044) and Owen Emery (655).

Overall the number of nominations in the Far North was well down on the 2013 elections.

At community board level many candidates were elected unopposed, including a rare grandfather-granddaughter duo on the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board. Kelly van Gaalen was the highest polling community board candidate in the 2013 elections but stood down last year when she went on trial for possession of cannabis for supply. Her grandfather, Shaun Reilly, is a well-known Kaikohe identity who has contested virtually every local election in recent years.

The full community board results will follow.