Refresh throughout the night for the latest results
Live election feed from Newstalk ZB
12.32: Quotes from Key's victory speech:
"Let me start by thanking every New Zealander who has cast their vote for National. Thank you for your support and thank you for your trust."
He said some people had stuck with National for "nine long years".
"Tonight your patience has been rewarded."
Others had not voted for National.
"Let me say this; whether you voted for National or not, tonight you have my pledge _ I will lead a government that serves the interests of every New Zealander and it will be a government that values individuals' achievement and it will be a government that supports those that cannot support themselves and it will be a government we can all be part of."
Mr Key paid tribute to Helen Clark.
While the opposing leaders shared different views "we share a love for this country".
"I've always admired her dedication to the job, her ferocious work ethic and her desire to make New Zealand a better country."
He confirmed the next government would involve National, ACT and United Future and said he would hold dialogue with the Maori Party.
"This is not as good as it gets. Yes we face challenges, but we will rise to them."
12.29: Key has told Sainsbury Helen Clark's career was "glittering" and said NZer's have a yearning for the country to be better and more prosperous, "or Kiwis will continue to head overseas". And NZ needs to be safer says Key.
Key said the mood felt "fantastic on the street" and he said tonight's result "is a fantastic feeling".
Rodney Hide comes on to the television and tells Key he's going to be a great PM. Key tells Hide they'll get together on Monday and "sort it out".
12.00: Key confirms he will form a coalition Government with United Future and Act and says he will enter into talks with the Maori Party next week to find common ground.
23.52: Key begins his speech to loud music and applause and he looks delighted. "I can't tell you how good it feels to be here," Key says.
"Let me start by thanking every New Zealander who has cast their vote for National today."
23.47: John Key is now inside Sky City and getting ready to make his victory speech.
23.31: A bombshell from Helen Clark and party president Mike Williams has admitted to TV1 election host Mark Sainsbury that he didn't know that announcement was coming. Helen Clark has led the Labour Party for 15 years, the last nine as PM.
23.29: Clark says she is standing down and a new leader will elected by Christmas.
"In politics you experience the highs and lows and I've experienced both in a long career," Helen Clark says.
"This is a time for rebuilding.
""This is the tenth time I've contested the Mt Albert electorate and I want to thank the people of Mt Albert for giving me such strong support."
23.24: Clarks begins her speech with a greeting in several langauges. She says "as is obvious to all, tonight is not our night and I congratulate John Key on the result he has achieved," Helen Clark said.
"Tonight is a night for the winners to saviour but we won't be going away."
Clark says "I accept responsibility for the result."
23.21: Clark has arrived at Labour Party headquarters and is walking into HQ and she is getting a loud round of applause. She is preparing to speak to supporters who have gathered.
23.15: Helen Clark is leaving her home in Mt Albert and heading to Labour Party headquarters on Auckland's New North Road.
23.12: Rodney Hide told his Act supporters at Orakei RSA that National leader John Key had just rung to congratulate him. Mr Hide said Mr Key told him they would meet on Monday to discuss the formation of a new government.
23.10: Helen Clark's parents have just arrived at Labour Party headquarters in New North Road, with the outgoing Prime Minister set to arrive shortly.
23.07: With 98 per cent of the vote counted National are on track to snare 59 seats. Act, with five seats, has been one of the big winners on the night and, with United Future's Peter Dunne, the three parties will likely form a coalition with 65 of the 122 seats in Parliament.
23.02: Herald reporter Andrew Koubaridis reports that Judith Tizard, who has just lost her Auckland City seat to National's Nikki Kaye, has arrived at the Labour Party headquarters in Auckland. She has been warmly greeted and hugged by supporters.
23.00: Helen Clark has called John Key and conceded victory. He will be leaving home shortly to come to Sky City in Auckland to make his victory speech.
22.50: Act leader Rodney Hide addressed supporters at the Orakei RSA. He said last election his supporters "pulled off a miracle" by getting him elected in the Epsom seat, but tonight's "overwhelming victory" made him feel "even more humble".
22.47: We've just received news Key hasn't left his house, as earlier reported, but departure is imminent.
22.45: Labour Minister Harry Dunhoven is set to be tipped out of the New Plymouth seat in a substantial swing to National.
Most tellingly, the city has voted substantially in the party vote for National. National's Jonathan Young is just ahead of Mr Duynhoven as the last votes are being counted.
With 98 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Duynhoven is behind by 190 votes.
Mr Duynhoven, the Minister for Transport Safety and Associate Minister of Energy, is not on the Labour list, so will be out of Parliament if he loses his seat.
The seat may now depend on the counting of special and overseas votes.
Mr Duynhoven won the seat in 1987, lost in 1990 but won it back in 1993.
In 1999, he earned the highest majority in the country - 15,092.
22.43: Jeanette Fitzsimons is now addressing Green supporters at the Hopetoun Alpha Centre in Auckland.
22.42: A Labour Party scruitineer at the party headquarters in Auckland said: "We have done what we can in the leadup and we will just have to accept the result."
22.40: Herald reporter James Ihaka reports that the bellwhether seat of Hamilton West seems to have been won by National's Tim McIndoe, with his Labour Party opponent Martin Gallagher going to the National Party electorate base to concede defeat.
22.37: Nats look like they'll be able to govern with Act and United Future. Labour has just lost the most marginal seat in New Zealand. Otaki, held by Labour by just 382 votes, has fallen to National's Nathan Guy. He claimed the seat with a majority of 1,422 over Darren Hughes. The party vote also went to National with an even bigger 3,000 gap.
Hughes, though, may get back into Parliament on his high list position for Labour.
22.32: John Key has left his house and is on his way to National Party headquarters at Sky City Convention Centre, where celebrations are starting.
22.31: National's Nikki Kaye has taken Auckland Central over incumbent Judith Tizard, a huge win for National.
22.25: Celebrations have begun at Act Party headquarters in Orakei RSA, with the party's "five MPs" as they are calling themselves walking around the room, shaking supporter's hands.
The party is confident that Rodney Hide, Heather Roy, Roger Douglas, John Boscawen and David Garrett will all represent it in the new Parliament. Mr Hide is preparing to give his victory speech.
22.19: Peters tells his supporters in Tauranga, "This is not the end .. make no bones about it this has been a marvellous experience."
22.18: The mood at National Party headquarters is upbeat. As the results of the seats show up on the big screen, cheers go up.
The loudest cheers have been for Paula Bennett, who is leading Labour's Lynne Pillay in Waitakere and Simon Bridges who seems to have defeated Winston Peters.
22.15: Winston Peters is about to make a speech to NZ First supporters in Tauranga.
22.15: Peter Dunne says he's disappointed in United Future's showing tonight, in a speech to supporters.
22.13: Former TV weatherman Brendan Hoyle, now a list candidate for New Zealand First has arrived at his party's headquarters in Tauranga. About 100 supporters are there, but the mood is very low-key.
22.10: One of the key Labour seats and most famous Labour names could be about to be tipped out of Parliament.
National's young candidate, Nikki Kaye, is leading incumbent Judith Tizard by 993 votes with 83 per cent of the votes counted in the Auckland Central electorate.
Tizard has held the seat since 1996.
Kaye is a 28-year-old businesswoman and relative newcomer to politics.
22.07: Bill English has won the Clutha-Southland seat.
22.06: The historic West Coast seat is about to fall to National.
The result is a morale blow for Labour, since it was partly on the Coast among the miners that the Labour party was born.
The seat, on the west coast of the South Island, has traditionally been a safe seat in its party homeland.
But in 2005 Labour Minister Damien O'Connor held the seat by just 2154 votes.
But electorate changes meant it took in some small rural settlements from the Nelson electorate, making it more marginal.
With around 93 per cent of the vote counted in the seat National's Chris Auchinvole (13,324 votes) has a lead of 1286 votes over Mr O'Connor (12,038).
Crucially, Nationally has a solid lead in the electorate in the party vote.
22.03: Act candidate Kenneth Wang has conceded that National MP Pansy Wong will win Botany and become the first Chinese electorate MP to be voted into Parliament. Wang says he's disappointed people didn't vote strategically.
21.55: National's environment spokesman Nick Smith has won Nelson, the first official electorate result.
21.51: Simon Bridges has just arrived at the Tauranga Golf Club and been met with loud cheers and yells of "Simon, Simon" by the crowd of about 400 people.
The National candidate was introduced as "Simon Bridges, member of Parliament, Tauranga" by an exuberant member of the campaign team, but Mr Bridges said he preferred to treat the results so far with caution despite a strong lead over New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.
"It's good news," he told reporters. "[But] I suppose I'm a conservative not a liberal. We'll see how it goes right at the end."
21.44: Labour could be in trouble in the provincial city seats.
One of the party's strengths over the last nine years was it held many of the provincial cities but in initial results it looks like it could lose several.
In a round-up:
- Hamilton East: With 42 per cent of the vote counted David Bennett is opening a massive 3,559 lead over Sue Moroney.
- Things are much closer in Hamilton West where National's Tim MacIndoe has a 1,534 lead over incumbent Martin Gallagher.
Gallagher beat MacIndoe by just 825 votes last time so this is a rematch.
- New Plymouth: This seat, held by Labour senior party member Harry Dynhoven, is shaping up to be very marginal. With around 80 per cent of the vote counted Jonathan Young for National leads by 482 votes.
- Palmerston North is a similar close race but Labour is just ahead. With around two-thirds of the vote counted, Labour's Iain Lees-Galloway is ahead by around 500 votes over his National rival Malcolm Plimmer.
21.38: With 65 per cent of the vote counted National's lead is holding steady at 46 to 33 over Labour. The Greens are at six per cent but NZ First is short of the fiver per cent mark needed to make Parliament and Winston Peters may be on his way out of Parliament.
21.35: Act supporters have begun arriving at the Orakei RSA in their droves. The crowd has grown to about 200 and furniture has had to be moved to accomodate everyone.
21.30: Cheers erupted at Simon Bridges' party in Tauranga when latest results showed the National candidate with a lead of nearly 7500 over New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.
Tauranga MP Bob Clarkson arrived at the party at the Tauranga Golf Club a few minutes ago and said he was pleased for his young counterpart.
"He's exceeded expectations and Winston hasn't helped himself by more lies and corruptness."
Mr Clarkson said he was happy if Mr Peters lost "because he's rubbished me damn near every week in Parliament".
He also predicted Mr Peters' demise would be the demise of New Zealand First.
"New Zealand First is Winston First," he said. "With Winston out of it, they're history."
21.26: Herald reporter Martha McKenzie-Minifie reports that a big cheer and spontaneous applause broke out at the National Party headquarters at the Sky City Convention Centre when the results for the Tauranga electorate were shown on a big screen.
It showed that National's young gun Simon Bridges is leading NZ First's Winston Peters.
21.24: Can National win all three big city central seats - Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington?
That is now being actively considered with National candidates ahead or competitive in all three seats in early voting.
If so, it will mark a massive demographic shift in the seats which have been steadily changing with mixes of wealthier homeowners, younger flatters and liberal sophisticates.
At this stage - with just 22 per cent of the vote counted - National's Nikki Kaye is leading incumbent Judith Tizard in Auckland Central.
Just as interesting, is that the party vote is running for National - around 2,000 party votes to Labour's 1600.
The Green party, which showed up strongly in a Herald last-minute survey of the seat, is not featuring strongly.
Kaye is leading by 316 votes.
In the other "Central" seats:
- Wellington Central:
Labour's Grant Robertson is leading Stephen Franks but by a mere 126 votes with a quarter of the votes counted.
- Christchurch Central:
A tiny majority of four votes is all that separates National candidate Nicky Wagner has 2937 votes to Labour Brendan Burns' 2933.
21.19: Herald political analyst Claire Trevett says National's Louise Upston is building a lead in the Taupo seat and with 31.7 per cent of the vote counted she leads Labour's former Cabinet Minister Mark Burton by just over 1,500 votes.
National is getting a very strong party vote in the seat, with almost double what Labour has so far.
21.16: About 150 National Party supporters at the Sky City Convention Centre are enjoying drinks and snacks, including a lavish antipasto, thai chicken sausage rolls, sushi and a variety of cheeses. Beer is the favourite drink, but some supporters, confident of a victory, have already cracked open the champagne.
21.10: A steady stream of Labour party supporters have begun arriving at Labour Party headquarters in Auckland.
One supporter said the crowd gathered there need to begin dancing "to cheer us up" based on early results. Other supporters admonished him, saying the early results last time were also bad, but Labour managed to win in the end.
21.07: There is standing room only at the Act headquarters at Orakei RSA. The mood is upbeat and applause breaks out every time results come through showing leader Rodney Hide ahead in his electorate seat of Epsom. Mr Hide is very busy, moving around the room, shaking many hands.
21.04: The battle among the tiny micro-parties is interesting.
The Kiwi Party has pulled 2,839 votes nationally in the party vote, just behind Jim Anderton's Progressive on 3,974 and United Future on 3,731.
The Bill and Ben Party, founded by the comedians from Pulp Sport, has polled a creditable 1,817 votes so far.
20.59: Herald reporter Jarrod Booker says Jim Anderton seems to have a fight on his hands in the Wigram electorate seat. A recent count showed Anderton leading National Rival Mark Alexander by just 370 votes with 7 per cent counted. Anderton has held the seat since 1996 and won the last election with a comfortable 8548 majority.
20.56: With 25 per cent of the vote counted, we are now witnessing a slow slide in the New Zealand First vote.
Needing five per cent to cross the threshold for entry into Parliament under MMP, NZ First is now at 4.3 per cent, down from its counting in the early election night results.
But Winston Peters is well behind in Tauranga, the seat he needs to win to get his party back into Parliament.
National's Simon Bridges has opened a huge 3421 vote lead over Peters with 18 per cent of the Tauranga vote counted.
Meanwhile, NZ First's other hope - Ron Mark - is in distant third in the seat of Rimutaka.
20.52: The Marae-Digipoll may have got it right in the Wellington and South Island Maori electorate of Te Tai Tonga.
In that seat there is an extraordinarily close race between Labour's Mahara Okeroa who took it last time round by a comfortable margin.
He is vulnerable to new Maori Party candidate, Treaty lawyer Rahui Katene.
If Mr Okeroa loses, his 40th position on Labour's list could also see him exit from Parliament.
Katene is ahead 1298 votes to Okeroa's 1114 votes with a quarter of the votes counted.
20.48: Rotorua's National Party candidate Todd McClay has taken an early lead of 865 votes over incumbent Labour MP and Conservation Minister Steve Chadwick.
With 6 per cent of the vote counted, Mr McClay said he was heartened by the results but was treating them with cautious optimism.
"We've just got to wait until all the counts are in," he said from his election-night gathering at The Dutch Club in Rotorua.
"It's early days and there's still a long way to go."
20.43: If Winston Peters was hoping that Ron Mark might help New Zealand First find a second electorate seat, with Mr Peters struggling in Tauranga, the strategy does not appear to be working.
Ron Mark is running a distant third in the electorate of Rimutaka.
With just 5.6 per cent of the vote counted, he is well behind Labour's Christopher Hipkins (1461 votes) and National's Richard Whiteside (1,392).
Ron Mark has 552 votes.
20.41: In Otaki National's Nathan Guy is winning the most marginal seat by the slimmest of margins.
Mr Guy currently leads the incumbent Darren Hughes by 21 votes.
Mr Hughes won the seat by a mere 382 votes last time around but both MPs will return to Parliament courtesy of high list positions even if they lose.
20.37: It is early days and Labour's fortunes are likely to improve when bigger polling booths come in.
But Herald political analyst Claire Trevett says, compared with 2005, it is notable that National's lead this time is far bigger than it was back then, when Labour infamously caught up to and passed Don Brash's party.
In 2005 when 9.1 per cent of the vote was counted, National led Labour by 45 per cent to 36 per cent - a nine point gap. In this election with 11.5 per cent of the vote counted, National leads by 49 per cent to 31 per cent - an 18 point gap.
20.30: In Waitakere, west Auckland, we have so far the closest race in the election night counting developing.
With only 5.4 per cent of the vote counted, National's Paula Bennett is just ahead of Labour's Lynne Pillay. The margin is a mere 25 votes - a torrid time is developing out west.
20.27: Diplomatic protection squad officers have briefed the media about security measures for National Party leader John Key and his wife Bronagh when they arrive at the Sky City Convention Centre later this evening. His two children Stephie and Max will also arrive later.
20.24: The Maori Party appear to be making inroads in the Maori electorates, although Labour are holding off big challenges in Hauraki and Ikaroa-Rawhiti.
The Maori Party are ahead in five of the seven seats.
Currently, the Minister of Maori Affairs Parekura Horomia is holding off a strong challenge from his Maori Party rival Derek Fox in Ikaroa-Rawhiti. With around 10 per cent of the vote counted, he is ahead by just 112 votes.
Nanaia Mahuta has a slim lead in Ikaroa-Rawhiti over Labour's Angeline Greensill.
But in all seven seats the margins are close with around 10 per cent of the vote counted.
20.21: Herald reporter Andrew Koubaridis reports that there is a strong security presence at the Labour Party headquarters in Auckland.
Police and protection squad members are in place ahead of the Prime Minister Helen Clark's arrival later this evening.
20.18: West Coast-Tasman is one of the key seats for Labour since its history is tied up among the unions of the mining industry on the Coast.
But, in a developing tight race, Labour incumbent Damien O'Connor is trailing Nationals' Chris Auchinvole by several hundred votes.
This is now a seat to watch.
20.15: A couple of developing electorate battles are proving fascinating.
Keep an eye on Christchurch Central and Auckland Central, two Labour held seats.
In Christchurch central, Labour's Brendon Burns, who is seeking to replace Tim Barnett, is ahead in early results but only just. He holds a slim 21 vote margin over National's Nicky Wagner.
In Auckland Central, held by Labour, National's Nikki Kaye is leading Judith Tizard by 261 votes with 4.9 per cent of the vote counted.
Kaye is just 29-years-old and one of National's young guns.
20.13: Still early days on the counting but with 6.1 per cent of the vote counted, National are still well ahead in the count.
NZ First 4.2
United Future 0.8
20.11: A few of Progressive Party leader Jim Anderton's friends and supporters have gathered at his home in Christchurch. Mr Anderton and his staff are in his Wigram electorate office about 100m away.
20.08: A special guest has just arrived at the Green Party HQ at Hopetoun Alpha in Auckland - Aila, the little girl who stars in the party's billboards and television adverts.
Sue Bradford and Keith Locke are also there, with the whole building ablaze with green lighting.
20.05: Quote of the night on TV so far, comes from Labour candidate Phil Twyford on TVNZ.
With five per cent of the vote counted, National are well ahead on around 48 per cent to Labour's 31 per cent, although traditionally the suburban and rural voting booths are counted quicker than the largest Labour-leaning city booths.
Asked if he was worried, Mr Twyford said "Labour supporters always live through the pain of an election at this time of night. We have to see later."
20.04: About 100 people have now arrived at National Party candidate Simon Bridges' election party at Tauranga Golf Club.
The mood is one of excitement as votes counted so far show Mr Bridges well ahead of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.
Electorate chairman Phillip Simpson said the strong showing for Mr Bridges reflected the hard work he had put into his campaign.
"That's the essence of it. He's a very good candidate [who has] related well to the community."
Candidate manager Bob Diprose predicted the figures would get worse for Mr Peters as the night progressed.
"He's going to get a mother of a hiding."
Betty Shaw, one of a group of several elderly women huddled close to one of the TV screens in the clubrooms, smiled at the prospect that Mr Peters may no longer be part of the political landscape.
"It's time for a change," the 78-year-old said. "He's been here just too long."
20.02: Act's Rodney Hide has just been interviewed on 3News, mainly dodging questions to estimate where his party vote will end up as the count rolls in.
He tells 3News that he is proud of the campaign his party has run in Epsom and across the country.
Hide is campaigning to hold his Epsom seat and take a few more MPs into parliament.
"We;ve worked hard in Epsom. People there have been good to me.
"It's been a good campaign in Epsom with all the candidates working hard and sticking to iussues.
He said that he was expecting a good result for Act but refuses to make "a wild prediction".
19.54: Grant Hawke, of Ngati Whatua o Orakei, is on the Maori Party list and has just arrived at HQ in Otahuhu. He will not get into Parliament at current voting levels, but said standing was "about mana - and that counts with our people."
19.51: Roger Douglas has arrived at Act headquarters in Orakei where loud applause has broken out after TV3 figures showed leader Rodney Hide leading Epsom.
19.49: With four per cent of the vote, results are showing a good surge for New Zealand First. They are just below the five per cent margin, crucial to getting a minor party into Parliament under MMP. But these are very early figures from the Electoral Commission.
With four per cent of the vote counted, the figures are:
NZ First 4.7
United Future 0.8
19.47: Herald reporter Andrew Koubaridis reports from Auckland that things are quiet at the Labour Party headquarters, with the party faithful yet to show up.
The only activity is from media representatives who are busy setting up for the evening.
Prime Minister Helen Clark is at her Mount Eden home and is only expected to go the Labour base later this evening.
19.35: TV3 have just used a similar device to that used in the US election by CNN. They beamed small holograms of Bill and Ben party members, Jamie Lineham (Bill) and Ben Boyce from the Bill and Ben Party.
The pair, who said they planned to have a party with a bouncy castle at their headquarters near the 3News headquarters, are part of TV3's madcap sports programme, Pulp Sport.
The CNN hologram ran into some flak this week after it was revealed that it was not a "real" hologram and, while its viewers could see the holograms of people like rapper Will.i.am, its anchors were speaking to a blank red spot on the floor.
19.32: Herald reporters at NZ First headquarters in Tauranga say Winston Peters is only expected to arrive much later tonight.
19.21: We've got some early results. With 2.3 per cent of the vote counted National leads on 48 from Labour 32, Green Party 6.2, NZ First 4.5, Act 3.2, Maori 1.5, Progressive Party .09 and United Future .08 per cent.
19.13: Act leader Rodney Hide has arrived at his Orakei base... and he's ditched the yellow jacket. Hide has gone formal for the big night and is wearing classical black.
19.08: A powhiri to welcome Dr Pita Sharples to his Otahuhu election night base has just begun. About one hundred supporters sang hymns in blustery conditions.
19.00: New Zealanders have cast their votes on who will govern New Zealand for the next three years.
Over the coming hours we'll bring you all the news and results from around the country.
Herald reporters will be filing from election hotspots around the nation including National, Labour, Greens and Maori party headquarters and from Tauranga, where Winston Peters is endeavouring to return to Parliament.
- NZ HERALD STAFF