Opinion has been divided in the Bay of Plenty over the last months of the New Zealand flag debate.

But on Thursday night the country decided, when the preliminary results of the second flag referendum were released with 56.6 per cent of New Zealand - 1,200,003 voters - by choosing to keep the current flag.

The silver fern flag generated 43.2 per cent support, with 915,008 people who voted for change.

The results showed the Bay of Plenty electorate had a 74.6 per cent voter turnout, with 18,197 or 51.4 per cent voting for change. The Bay of Plenty was among only six electorates in New Zealand who voted with a slight majority for change - 17,118 or 48.4 per cent voted to keep the current flag.


Tauranga RSA member and war veteran Bob Swile said he was delighted the flag was not changing.

"I'm the last of five boys who were in the war, we fought for that flag," he said.

Mr Swile, who celebrated his 90th birthday the day before the referendum results were released, said it was a nice birthday present to know the current flag was staying put.

Tauranga deputy mayor Kelvin Clout said the referendum results showed New Zealand was not ready for change, but it was also not a complete victory for keeping the current flag.

"Quite a few people were happy for change but I'm sure they didn't feel that [the alternative design] was the flag they really wanted," he said.

He believed the process needed a proper design panel to take some of the key elements desired, whether the silver fern or the Southern Cross, and have a proper and skilled design process.

Mr Clout voted for change but said he was not 100 per cent happy with the design that was presented.

Local Green Party representative Dr Ian McLean said the referendum was "a sad outcome".

"It was a badly constructed research project."

Clayton Mitchell, NZ First MP, said it was a great result.

He and his family cheered when the results were released.

"I was a little surprised it was 56 per cent, I thought it was going to be higher than that," he said.

National MP for Bay of Plenty Todd Muller said he was disappointed to learn the outcome as he was a strong advocate for change, but said voter turnout was "phenomenal".

The 2.1 million voters gave a clear result, he said.

"The New Zealand flag that flew proudly yesterday will fly proudly tomorrow.

"When you go through these sorts of processes people hold very passionate views on both sides, those who see their choice reflected back in the results will be delighted and those who don't willbe feeling very disappointed at the moment.

"But they will wake up tomorrow and carry on."

The official results of the referendum would be released on Wednesday at 5pm.