Tourist num­bers, crashes rise as Hob­biton draws crowds

Sunday News - - NEWS - KEL­LEY TANTAU

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.

Pho­tos: GETTY/STUFF

In Oc­to­ber, PrimeM­i­nis­ter Jacinda Ardern, an­nounced fund­ing to help de­velop tourism and in­fra­struc­ture. Hob­biton gets more than 3000 vis­i­tors a day.

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