Tourism operator Explore Group is quitting its ferry service to Waiheke Island just a year after it started.

The company is blaming dwindling passenger numbers and its exit raises the prospect of increased fares.

Explore Group managing director William Goodfellow said the decision to stop the service was difficult to make, especially because of the support the company had received from passengers and the investment it had made over the past two years.

"We've thrown everything we could at the Waiheke service and we greatly appreciate the support of Waiheke and Auckland travellers, however, the initial strong support from commuters was not sustained and ultimately the numbers did not stack up."


The service would run its regular schedule until May 8. There were a number of contributing factors, including infrastructure problems that prevented the company from offering passengers a comfortable experience, especially during the winter months, Mr Goodfellow said.

"We entered into the service with the specific aim of providing ferry commuters with a superior level of service and on-board travel experience. We achieved this and as a result we believe the ferry services to Waiheke are in better shape, both in terms of the standard on offer and the frequency of service, than it was two years ago."

Explore Group would now focus on its tourism business. Explore has been locked in a pitched battle for market share with rival operators Fullers.

Fullers marketing manager Stephanie Bell said the company had just learnt of the news.

It was too soon to know if Fullers would increase ferry prices, she said.

The Explore Group announced last December it would receive Government funding for free travel for pensioners travelling to and from Waiheke Island with a SuperGold Card.

Before the announcement, Explore was covering the cost of travel for pensioners holding a Waiheke Island loyalty card, but indicated it could not keep doing so indefinitely.

A huge surge in tourists to Waiheke over summer caused significant delays on ferry services on New Year's Eve.

Fullers said it increased its sailings by 63 per cent, but 20 to 40 people were left to wait on the wharf when one of the services was full.

At the time, Fullers chief executive Douglas Hudson said the odd peak service could overload during the summertime, and that shouldn't be a massive surprise.

Half-hourly services running over summer were expected to help handle the influx.

On a busy summer day Fullers would ferry 11,000 to 12,000 people to the island and back.

Mr Goodfellow said at the time, Explore services had been "steady and busy but we haven't left anybody behind".

Explore Group is still running a ferry service to Auckland's Rangitoto Island, tourism packages including dinner cruises on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour and sailing on an America's Cup yacht.