Town still basks in glow of movie role

By James Ihaka

Photo / Paul Harper
Photo / Paul Harper

Years after Sir Peter Jackson called it a wrap on Lord of the Rings, Matamata is still basking in the fame of its other name - Hobbiton.

The location was used extensively in the Rings trilogy and will be used again if The Hobbit is filmed in New Zealand.

But when the Herald went to the small Waikato town, 64km from Hamilton, most people spoken to were clearly worried the work would be moved overseas.

Philip Reinecke, a Matamata business consultant, said it would be a shame if talks to keep the movies in New Zealand fell over.

But he pointed to the number of tourists who still visit the town because of the Rings films.

"In reality if it goes I don't know if it'll make a difference because people will still come back here to get their photographs taken next to the Hobbiton sign or next to the Gollum statue," he said.

"I don't think New Zealand can afford to lose any more business, particularly something as big as this."

Matamata-Piako mayor Hugh Vercoe said the Rings films had provided ongoing and enormous economic benefits for the town.

He saw Warner Bros producers coming to New Zealand next week as a positive sign.

"I'm still positive something can be sorted here, it would be a real tragedy if it shifts," he said.

"Matamata is still receiving a substantial number of people who are coming here ... the new film would be a tremendous boost so we hope common sense prevails."

Sue Whiting, manager at Matamata's i-SITE visitors' centre, said since the Rings trilogy, visitor numbers in the small Waikato township had increased dramatically.

Ms Whiting was in the town for its boom tourism times when in 2004 more than 364,000 people from all over the world visited mainly because of its association with the popular movies.

"We used to get about 50,000 people a year before the Lord of the Rings."

She said the movies had completely changed Matamata's face. It was "a completely different place now".

Russell Alexander, who owns the Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tour near Matamata, said: "It could have an adverse effect on New Zealand, particularly the New Zealand film industry and tourism industries if it doesn't happen."

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