With holiday hotspot Waiheke experiencing a massive tourist surge, some tourists were left behind on the Auckland wharf today.

Ferry operator Fullers said it increased its sailings by 63 per cent, but 20-40 people were left to wait on the wharf this afternoon when the 4.30 ferry was full.

Sunny weather, cruise ship visits and the peak holiday season have combined to bring about what's been described as the island's busiest summer.

John McCaulay said he had been visiting his Waiheke holiday home for nine years and the situation at the Auckland wharf near the Ferry Building was chaotic.


"It would be the worst I've seen it," Mr McCaulay said.

He said the 4.30pm Fullers ferry was delayed 25 minutes, and he was among a group left behind when it sailed.

Mr McCaulay said those passengers caught the next boat, which was supposed to leave at 5 but was also delayed. He said no useful information was provided to customers to explain the delay.

Mr McCaulay said tourists were "hacked off" at the delay, and he felt bad for overseas visitors who were delayed.

John McCaulay was delayed whilst trying to travel by ferry to Waiheke. Photo / Supplied
John McCaulay was delayed whilst trying to travel by ferry to Waiheke. Photo / Supplied

Mr McCaulay said Waiheke's ranking as the world's fifth-best destination, in Lonely Planet's Best In Travel 2016 publication, was perhaps partly responsible for the unprecedented crowds.

Fullers chief executive Douglas Hudson said "the odd peak service could overload" at this time of year, and that shouldn't be a massive surprise.

"This is the busiest week of the year for us."

Mr Hudson said the high volume of tourists meant short delays of up to five minutes were fairly common, since full boats took longer to load and unload. Longer delays were rare, he said.

"I think we're actually coping pretty well, to be honest."

He said half-hourly services introduced early this month would run for the rest of the summer, probably until March, and should help handle the influx.

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

Of a similar number moved today, only 40 were inconvenienced, he said.

" ... Which we don't like of course, but in the scheme of things, there's a lot of people being moved."

Mr Hudson said this Sunday could be an especially busy day, although forecast rain might put a dampener on that.

He said Fullers had a team of "wharf hosts" offering advice to customers.

The ferry business was competitive, he said, with rivals Explore also in the market.

Explore Group managing director William Goodfellow said his company's services had been "steady and busy but we haven't left anybody behind".

"Mad Butcher" Sir Peter Leitch, who has been holidaying on Waiheke for four decades, said there was "no question" this Christmas was the busiest ever.

"It's become more popular. It's a beautiful place."

Sir Peter said ferry operators were doing "the best they can" to cope with huge crowds.

He said many local businesses relied heavily on the summer influx.

In some cases, people who preferred the quiet life would be advised to make a few small compromises, he said.

Sir Peter said the island's main centre, Oneroa, "was like bloody Queen St" the other day.

"I accept it, and I just don't go up to Oneroa as often."

Mike Lee, Waitemata and Gulf Ward Councillor, said he believed ferry and bus companies servicing the island were generally efficient, and for the most part smoothly handled "huge numbers" of visitors.

- Additional reporting by Mathew Dearnaley