Visitors taking in panoramic views of Auckland from Maungawhau-Mt Eden yesterday mainly backed a new ban on buses, despite a claim it is driving tourists away.
The Auckland Council, with support from the Tamaki Collective of Maori tribes preparing to "co-govern" the mountain, has banned from the summit all vehicles heavier than 3.5 tonnes or with more than 12 seats.
It is encouraging visitors to walk the final 297m from a new coach parking area halfway up the mountain but has introduced a free shuttle service for the elderly and those too infirm to walk.
Two 12-seater shuttles are available for busy periods - including today when three cruise ships are due in Auckland - but demand was too light yesterday to justify using more than one of the electric battery-powered vehicles.
Temporary driver Craig Creevey, filling in until iwi mountain guides gain licence endorsements needed to run the shuttles, refrained from requiring proof of disability before accepting passengers.
"You've got to show some Christmas spirit," he said after inviting able-bodied but travel-weary English tourist Clare Cash-Davis aboard as his only passenger on one shuttle trip.
Ms Davis said catching a ride up the mountain but walking down "sounds like a good idea".
On their next trip, Mr Creevey and Ngati Whatua mountain guide Shyne Pari ended up with a full load after offering two elderly members of an Asian tour party a lift.
The pair declined the offer and proceeded to bound up the mountain but 12 of their fellow travellers piled on board.
They were beaten to the summit by the sprightly pedestrians, who took a direct route compared with the circuitous path of the shuttle.
A middle-aged Herald reporter also found a brisk six-minute walk faster than motorised transport.
Aucklanders John and Vai Langton, hosting visitors from Australia, were pleased at the lack of buses turning around in the confined space at the summit.
"I think it's better for our environment - some of those buses were quite huge," said Ms Langton.
English tourists Louise Balmforth and Adele Coombs said they enjoyed the walk after being dropped off by the Explorer bus service from the coach parking area.
"If it's for the sake of saving the mountain, why not?" said Ms Balmforth.
But Explorer operator Mark Gibson denied buses were harming the mountain and said few passengers got off his vehicles at Mt Eden nowadays "because most just can't walk 300m up a steep mountain".
"Anybody over 60 just doesn't bother and that's most of our customers, unfortunately."
Mr Gibson, who acknowledged he had not attempted the walk himself, said the ban made it easier for drivers to meet a tight timetable but many large tour bus operators were avoiding Mt Eden completely.
That was disputed by Auckland Council regional and specialist parks manager Mace Ward, who said the ban appeared to be having little impact on the number of summit visitors.
The summit attracted 10,000 to 12,000 people at weekends, which was similar to previous numbers he said, although the council had yet to make a detailed comparison.
"We haven't noticed a big drop-off."
Mr Ward said the shuttle and mountain guide service, which included up to four members of the iwi tourist organisation Tamaki Hikoi a day, was expected to cost about $6500 a month to run in the off-season and $10,000 a month at busy times.
Most bus operators were observing the ban but a raised pedestrian path on the inside of the downhill section of the summit road, due to be completed next month, will make it physically impossible for large vehicles to pass.