Tourist numbers, crashes rise as Hobbiton draws crowds
MORE than 3000 wide-eyed Tolkien fans can step through The Shire in a day.
During Hobbiton Movie Set’s peak season, the rolling hills of Buckland Rd can be seen dotted with tour buses, campervans holding camera-toting tourists and cars with navigation systems on the windscreens.
How the tourists arrive and depart from the iconic destination is beginning to cause problems. Hobbiton is applying to change its resource consent to more than double its visitor numbers, from 300,000 to 650,000 a year, after breaches in the 2016-2017 year that saw 552,000 visitors flood in to Matamata. It’s also seeking to establish camping and accommodation.
The movie set is the country’s third largest tourist destination, attracting about 17 per cent of international visitors and likely to bring in $78 million a year to the Matamata-Piako district. But residents are worried more tourists will mean more crashes.
Annette Conder of Chooky’s Auto, is so used to crashes on the corner of State Highway 29 and Hopkins Rd that staff have a plan for when they hear the screech of tyres and the subsequent boom.
She doesn’t have a problem with Hobbiton but ‘‘the council needs to put the infrastructure in place. Ultimately a roundabout ... is going to solve this, but we want short-term solutions now.’’
In 2016, an American tourist was killed at the intersection, and just weeks ago, on December 10, a two-car collision left seven injured. Days later police patrol witnessed a near-miss when tourists turned in front of a truck to enter Hopkins Rd. On January
3, local SteveMay captured dashcam footage where a person driving a rental car turned onto Hopkins Rd in thewrong lane.
Police said there weremany crashes involving tourists due to drivers being unfamiliar with the rural roads, as well as SH29 being a 100kmkmh high-traffic flow road with turning vehicles.
Police have no issues with the majority of tourist drivers in Matamata but Matamata-Piako Mayor Jan Barnes said she has been ‘‘very vocal’’ in her concerns regarding the intersection. ‘‘We work closely with Russell Alexander, CEO of Hobbiton and his staff, to ensure all visitors heading to and leaving Hobbiton are doing so safely.’’
Council’s chief executive Don McLeod said it was working with Hobbiton to find a resolution to its consent breaches.
‘‘Rings Scenic Tours have
voluntarily contributed to road safety works ... as well as actively working with us to amend the District Plan to include a Development Concept Plan for Hobbiton.’’
Hamilton & Waikato Tourism chief executive Jason Dawson said Hobbiton has invested many yearswith the MatamataPiako District Council and NZ Transport Agency to improve its travel and arrival routes.
Hobbiton Movie Set chief executive Russell Alexander said it took road safety very seriously and was concerned to hear of the recent incidents.
The hearing for the Development Concept Plan for Hobbiton will take place early in 2019. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.
In October, PrimeMinister Jacinda Ardern, announced funding to help develop tourism and infrastructure. Hobbiton gets more than 3000 visitors a day.