Winston Peters has sought refuge in the place where he was raised, in a bolthole on an estuary that can only be reached by car at low tide.

This is classic Northland. Horses being ridden bareback in the sea, hoofprints left in the long, golden sweep of beach.

On Saturday night Peters said: "All roads lead to Russell." Yesterday he was in Whananaki South, one hour east of Whangarei, and there is only one road to Winston Peters.

The road fades out into a long dirt track which runs parallel to the sea before turning to run alongside the Whananaki Inlet.


It passes a cluster of classic Kiwi baches before dipping down below the high-tide mark until a driveway appears, turning up to a gate which is firmly roped shut.

On the other side was the man who would be kingmaker.

The Herald was turned away at the gate with a polite but firm rejection. His MP's car with the now-outdated "MP for Northland" was parked behind the first of two houses.

This was no longer his electorate, but as his brother David said, Northland has always been his home.

David Peters turned up at the Whananaki Reserve in his farmer's ute to check out the unfamiliar cars parked up in a place where almost every car and face is known.

Winston Peters left, David Peters stayed.

Where one brother went out into the world, the other remained and worked for years as the local grader driver and always as a farmer.

Having decided the Herald was harmless, he stopped to pass the time of day with a chat that rolls back in time and across a landscape with which he has a lifetime's familiarity.

The property where NZ First leader Winston Peters is staying in Northland. Photo/Nick Reed
The property where NZ First leader Winston Peters is staying in Northland. Photo/Nick Reed

It's uncanny the similarities between the pair, from looks to voice to mannerisms. And values, too.

Those issues on which Winston Peters holds forth - the value of work, law and order, decency and a respect for who people are and not what - are all issues which David Peters chatted about while the afternoon wore on.

And, it seems, they all started here. With one exception, the detail of the conversation would not be fair to report. David Peters stopped for a chat and not an interview.

But the themes are fascinating. Where one Peters appeared a brotherly reflection of the other, what was truly startling was the unconscious echo of the Whananaki values Winston Peters has turned to policy.

David Peters kept pulling it back to upbringing. This is where they were raised, 11 children of Len and Joan Peters.

And that one detail that can be reported?

"The other day," he said, "at the farming meeting." David Peters is talking about the rally in Morrinsville at which his brother was jeered by the hundreds gathered.

They shouted at him: "What would you know about farming?" David Peters recalled.

Well, he said, they didn't know about his brother milking cows. "He would have been 8 [years old]."

There was a farm nearby where the farmer was short of help over a long period, he said.

Every morning at 6am and every afternoon "straight after school" at 4pm, Winston Peters would walk kilometres to the farm and put in a shift milking.

"That was common around here, for us boys. We'd help our neighbours. If they had a young fellah who got sick, they'd call on us.

"Even as a young kid he was good with animals. [He had a] lot more ability than most kids his age.

"He did that night and morning, and he made sure he did the job properly - you don't take the cups off when the cow's only half-milked."

And that wasn't the only time the boy who was Winston milked cows.

If there's a point to the story, then it's this. His brother knew what he was talking about when he got up to speak to the farmers.

It was a lesson of Whananaki, taken out into the world. There wasn't any "bull dust", Winston Peters knew what he was talking about.

Listening to David Peters chatting in the hot Northland sunshine, that lesson seemed to be only one of many which Winston Peters spun into reality out in the world.

And now, great decisions to make, Winston Peters has returned.