The man behind the wheel of a bus that crashed near Gisborne on Christmas Eve, killing three people, has pleaded guilty to careless driving charges.

Talakai Aholelei, 65, has admitted to 27 counts of careless driving causing injury and three counts of careless driving causing death.

His pleas were entered in the Auckland District Court on Friday in front of supporters in the gallery.

The bus, carrying a school brass band from Tonga to a Christmas Day concert at Gisborne's Wesleyan Methodist Church, crashed down a steep embankment on State Highway 2, 30km south of Gisborne, on December 24.


Tongan citizens Sione Taumololo, 11, and Talita Fifita, 33, died in the crash and Leotisia Malakai, 55, died later in Waikato Hospital.

There were 53 people on board.

Aholelei was charged in April and initially pleaded not guilty.

He will be sentenced in January and restorative justice has been ordered.