There was no waiting in the wings for NZ First leader Winston Peters tonight - he joined his election night party before the first results have come in.

Shortly before 7pm, Peters strolled onto the deck of the Duke of Marlborough in Northland's Russell, with partner Jan Trotman, to be greeted by family, friends and supporters.

Plans to go fishing had "hit a snag", he said, and the day had been consumed with "domestic duties".

Peters dismissed any talk of nerves - "too many campaigns for nerves" - but did look taken aback to find former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley was having dinner in the Duke's restaurant about 10 metres distant.


"Are you joking," he asked, and then said it "wasn't 1996" - a reference to the first MMP election and the coalition deal NZ First signed with the National Party.

Among those present for the party was Bill Rayner, a self-described "political junkie" who was concentrating on walking a curiously straight line.

As Auckland director for Grey Power, he is avowedly apolitical.

But as the partner of Anne Martin, former NZ First president and mother of the party's deputy leader and MP Tracey, he has the dogs-body jobs anybody would expect to fulfil.

As black-and-white balloons were arrayed on the deck of the Duke, Rayner was lugging in plus-size cutouts of Peters' head - presumably for waving once the party got underway.

"I'm here as a Grey Power observer," he said. "When I carry Winston's banners, I turn his face around."

And so he did, with the blank side of the cutouts facing outwards and that well-known face hidden from sight.

The party has taken over a third of the Duke's available space, with about 100 people expected to turn up.


There were a number of candidates from various seats, and other members of the party machine (Young NZ First, no less) and a smattering of supporters.

Not much in this campaign for "the senior community", observed Rayner. Rising house prices and the cost of living - and the latest blow being the costs of dealing with leaky homes for a community that is capital-rich but cash-poor. Not much point living in a mortgage-free home that leaks if you can't afford to get it fixed.

"We need a collaborative type of politics, not this adversarial type of politics."

For Peters, this election is not just a fight to maintain the party's vote but a fight for his Northland seat.

National's Matt King has fought a determined campaign after the party's fumbled fail at the byelection in 2015. His message to Northland has been, "you sent us a message and now we're listening".

That followed the 2015 drag race between National and NZ First during which Peters barnstormed the electorate, saying a vote for him would send a message to Wellington that Northland was sick of being forgotten.


Tracey Martin was overseeing the party arrangements - the colour of the lights on the deck proved difficult as neither red, blue or green was seen as appropriate.

"Tiring," was how she summed up the campaign. She says she's been on more panels, across more portfolios and traveled more than during the last campaign.

She was picking Peters to hold Northland and NZ First to pick up between 10 per cent and 12 per cent of the vote.

And having named a number, she then joked about jinxing the result.

Martin said the party had suffered in terms of media coverage by the intense focus on Labour and National.

And the duel between the large parties, "outside looking in, it looks pretty dirty".


Martin said the single moment in the campaign which stuck in her mind was appearing on a panel organised by a migrant women's association.

"I get to this meeting and mainstream media portrayal of us is racist and xenophobic. I go into this meeting thinking these women are going to be thinking that about us."

After speaking about food prices, rental increases and security for tenants, she said those attending responded enthusiastically and warmly.

And that was the most memorable moment of the campaign.