Many 21-year-olds might dream of getting a flash car, travelling around the world or putting on a big party for their special birthday.

But for Matthew Smith, all he wanted was the chance to meet his ultimate hero: Thomas the Tank Engine.

The 21-year-old from Whanganui is autistic and finds it difficult to interact and communicate with others.

Read more: Thomas the Tank Engine meeting could be a birthday wish come true

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But one of the constants in his life has been his love for all things Thomas - including the children's television series, toys and videos.

His mother, Stacey Williams, said her son's interest in tank engines started as a toddler after older brother Sam decided to give all his Thomas the Tank Engine toys to his baby brother, who loved them.

"It's been a calming thing for him,'' Williams said.

"Right throughout his entire family, no matter what happened, he could always go back to the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, toys and videos and find calm.

"So it made so much sense that of all the times that he wanted to celebrate something - and he's never asked for anything in his life - this is what he wanted."

Williams decided to put out an appeal online asking for help to make her boy's dream come true.

A GiveALittle page raised just over $2500 and helped to get the whole family - including twin brothers Taitoa and Arapeta, 7, sister Te Aroha, 6, mum Stacey and her partner Richard Tidbury - to Auckland over the weekend.

Matthew Smith celebrated his 21st birthday with a visit to see his hero: Thomas the Tank Engine. Photo / Supplied
Matthew Smith celebrated his 21st birthday with a visit to see his hero: Thomas the Tank Engine. Photo / Supplied

The Glenbrook Vintage Railway happened to be holding a special Day Out With Thomas event that included rides on several steam trains decked out as the much-loved Thomas and friends trains, on the same day as Matthew's birthday.

Williams said it was an exciting thing to see her son's dream come true - and for them to all be with him also.

"There was a sense of that he didn't quite realise what was going on because it was overwhelming.

"But once we got on the train for the ride and everything else started to tick along, you could see his excitement.''

Williams thanked members of the public who had donated towards the trip and which ensured they could afford to make it happen.

"All I can say is that I don't know how to thank the entire community for what they did for us. Know that he absolutely loved it."

Matthew Smith back home in Whanganui with his Thomas the Tank Engine set. Photo / Bevan Conley
Matthew Smith back home in Whanganui with his Thomas the Tank Engine set. Photo / Bevan Conley