"Spring is coming," says NZ First's Shane Jones.

It makes him sound like an inverse Ned Stark with an optimistic view of New Zealand's own Game of Thrones, forecasting change.

Actually, he's just worrying about the state of the weeds in his garden an hour north in Kerikeri where he lives - out of the electorate in which he's standing.

But it would be unfair to call Jones a carpetbagger. He's a true Son of the North - born in Awanui from where Kaitaia was going to town and Whangarei was the big city. His roots run throughout the area.


But those roots have to run far before arriving in Whangarei where he's trying to unseat Dr Shane Reti, the embedded National Party MP whose work as a GP for 17 years (and three terms on the local health board) mean he has his own stake in the ground.

Whangarei is a true blue stronghold. Reti captured 56 per cent of the electorate vote in 2014 (a 13,000 majority) - higher than the 50 per cent of the party vote National won.

That uphill battle is why it's more than three weeks since Jones - a former Labour Party cabinet minister - has been home.

Jones says voters want to hear about how NZ First is going to end what it sees as provincial marginalisation. "I think Whangarei could be massively rebuilt," he says.

Voters want to hear about the promise to turn around a city that was labelled a "zombie town" by an economist. Jones points to the smelter at Tiwai Point in Southland and its ability to cling to subsidies - he reckons that's down to the political power of Southlander Prime Minister Bill English.

Whangarei and Northland stand to benefit from Peters Power, he says, with an expanded Northport, new jobs and a stronger local economy.

"It's battling against a culture of low expectations because they've had so little for so long."

Reti doesn't refer to people in Whangarei as "they" - he uses "us" instead. But then, he lives in the city and has done before shooting off to the United States from 2007-2013 to work at Harvard University.

If you've any doubt over the extensive qualities he possesses that attracted the Ivy League institution, he'll fill you in - extensively.

Reti also doesn't talk about Whangarei missing out.

In his view, the voters in the electorate keep talking to him about "continuing to grow" jobs and the economy.

Reti rattles off a succession of recent reports from banking anaylsts about Northland's strong growth, big drops in unemployment and rating as a "five star region".

He says it's down to the Government providing incentives and policy which local people have seized. "They've taken on board the opportunity and they have taken on board the risk."

Beyond jobs and "continuing" to grow the economy, Reti says people want to talk about health and infrastructure, including roading. There's going to be four lanes through to Te Hana in the south, which will join up with the road dubbed the "Holiday Highway".

With that in place, he says it becomes feasible to commute to Auckland.

Labour's Tony Savage came the other way, moving from the Queen City 13 years ago. He works as a lawyer - mainly property - and expects to go back to doing that after the campaign.

He's a first-time campaigner with a first-timer's unguarded openness about the arcane world of campaigning.

Yes, he's been doorknocking and the issues people care about are education, health and crime.

Policies though? He's not sure the voters care about the detail.

"If you go doorknocking and say, 'here are our policies', they say, 'I like Jacinda'."

Savage - who may or may not be descended from Labour's most famous Savage - says the leader of the party is "the big determinant" but what voters really want to know is that he cares.

And he does, he says. He cares about everyone in society getting an equal opportunity to make the best of life they can.

"Some aren't going to take it. Some are going to be losers. As long as everyone gets a fair crack at it. And out of that comes fairness."