Winston Peters has exiled media from his tour bus, so Claire Trevett has launched her own 'Banned from the Bus' tour . . .

NZ First leader Winston Peters rolls into Napier along with a polar blast.

Like Moses wading through the Red Sea to the Promised Land, Peters has swept up from the South Island with all the routes closing behind him as soon as he passed.

He got his bus on the last ferry across Cook Strait before they halted, he made it to Napier just before the roads to the south closed then skipped over to Taupo just as the first flurries hit, and before snow closed that route as well.


He tells his audiences this as if he's personally responsible for his own good weather.

His bus with "Together for New Zealand" on the side rumbles into the carpark outside the Bev Ridges on York bar in Tamatea for a public meeting.

Peters used a bus for his Northland byelection campaign as well. The same driver, Geoff, is doing the regional tour, apparently something of a lucky charm.

The media are not allowed to ride on the bus. This is because the bus is home to all manner of secrets which the media Must Not Hear.

If this was a Bond movie, it would be M's lab. Inside Peters is planning world domination. It is his happy place, his cocoon, and the media must not pass.

Instead the Herald is trailing behind the bus on its own "Banned from the Bus Tour".

Peters has scented opportunity.

He tells every crowd he speaks to there is change in the air, change sparked in Europe and the US which he intends to harness for New Zealand. He tells them they have "get up and go".


Then he tells them they are woebegotten, forgotten, down at heel and neglected. He is on the road to talk about roads and how more should be spent on rural roads and how people shouldn't be be using the roads at all, they should be using rail or boats.

His roadie is also about listening, he tells them. He talks at length about how much he is listening and how much National is not listening. He promises NZ First will return the regions to the land of milk and honey by letting them take a stake of GST and royalties on resources.

When he realises Prime Minister Bill English is also now visiting the regions and making funding announcements, he accuses English of hurling money around to get votes.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters aboard his campaign bus with MPs Darroch Ball (left), Fletcher Tabuteau (rear left) and Clayton Mitchell (rear right). Photo / Claire Trevett
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters aboard his campaign bus with MPs Darroch Ball (left), Fletcher Tabuteau (rear left) and Clayton Mitchell (rear right). Photo / Claire Trevett

His main targets are National - in particular Bill English and Finance Minister Steven Joyce.

He calls them "a bunch of Ned Kellys", claiming they are stealing from the regions without putting anything back in.

He mocks English for his social media and appearing in women's magazines - something he claims he has never done. "He's got all the class of my big toe."

In Tauranga, Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges is "all Brylcreem and no socks". Conservation Minister Maggie Barry is "Maggie Muldoon" after the Government said it would change the law to prevent a repeat of the Ruataniwha Dam Supreme Court decision.

He has a go at the Greens, and the media. He rarely mentions Labour.

He peppers his speeches with stories from his own past, recalling the dating advice for his generation at university was to find a nice Hawkes Bay girl whose father had a barn.

In Taupo, a party supporter waits outside for the bus and the polar blast. "It's a big day for Taupo," he says, in all seriousness. "A big day."

The mayor is there, and the deputy mayor and a councillor. Peters is paraded into the meeting room by bagpiper Don Ryder.

It's like touring with the Queen.

In Tauranga the Herald is granted an Audience on the bus.

It is a 55-seater bus which carries four to eight people at any one time - Peters' MPs Fletcher Tabuteau, Clayton Mitchell and Darroch Ball are on duty this week.

Peters' own car is the advance guard, sometimes driven by his partner Jan Trotman, who joined the bus in the South Island and stayed on to help out.

Behind them are row after row of empty seats and a printer that prints off The Secrets.

Winston Peters NZ First leader speaking at Tamatea Tavern, Napier. Photo / Warren Buckland
Winston Peters NZ First leader speaking at Tamatea Tavern, Napier. Photo / Warren Buckland

The purpose of the bus is not to carry people at all. It is to carry the signage on the outside to the eyes of those who live in the regions - his messages for the regional crowds centre on separatism and law and order.

"It's time to wake up," Peters urges them.

In Taupo, he speaks about the Green Party and the minute he is done, the hail starts thundering down outside.

It is there Peters also comes face-to-face with both his target market and his problem.

It is in the form of John Bromley, who tells Peters he has long been a National Party voter but is considering voting Peters. He owns a thoroughbred breeding and racing company and rated Peters as Minister of Racing.

But he does not want to vote for Peters if Peters is going to throw his lot in with Labour and the Greens. The question is met with "hear, hear" from others in the audience.

Peters asks Bromley if he has ever played cards: "Ever tried playing cards without seeing them? Nor have I."

Peters is also asked what his bottom lines will be and, in Tauranga where he was MP for 21 years, whether he can offer stability.

"Let me remind you of one thing. I've seen them all off, Labour leader after Labour leader. They've had 11 leaders and deputy leaders, so has National, all come and gone. I'm still standing."

Peters mentions US President Donald Trump directly only once.

That was in Tauranga when he started talking about the Trans Pacific Partnership, and "the guy with the funny hair" who managed to scupper it.

"It wasn't Peter Dunne," someone in the audience says.

"No - Trump," another says back.

"Donald Trump," Peters confirms. "Peter Dunne will sign on to anything."

There is the nationalistic billboard just north of Bethlehem: "New Zealand First puts our country first."

There are the attacks on the media and repeated references to China.

In Tauranga he refers to people of "a certain ethnicity" with a nod and wink.

In between such comments, Peters scoffs at the Greens' claims he is racist.

On Thursday morning, there is an hour to go before his speech.

The bus has spent the morning in Mt Maunganui being filmed by a drone for Peters' campaign video before they go for lunch.

Peters sits in a mall working on his speech. In front of him is a plate of Chinese food.