Hobbiton set to shrivel in Waikato drought

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 26/02/2013
Hobbiton
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ
PARADISE FADING? Water cuts by the Waikato Regional Council threaten to turn Hobbiton brown.

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Bilbo Baggins' lush green shire could have the life sucked out of it after Waikato's undeclared drought restricted Hobbiton's water supply.

It's the region's driest summer in five years and, with no rain in sight, Matamata best known tourist attraction may become three hectares of parched grass and stressed plants.

Losing the green image threatens to damage Hobbiton's international image and could cost thousands of dollars to fix, manager Russell Alexander said yesterday.

The film set, that featured in both The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, has enjoyed an unprecedented summer of business.

About 50,000 people walked through the grounds since Christmas under predominantly clear skies. Hobbiton is still an oasis of green in a sea of baking brown, but its fertile look comes courtesy of a sophisticated spring-fed irrigation system.

Hobbiton's resource consent conditions with the Waikato Regional Council state that when river levels drop to a certain level, so does their allowable take.

Before the restriction came into force the daily allowance was 200,000 litres but it has been squeezed to 67,000 litres.

"It's very serious," Mr Alexander said.

"I'm hoping to work with the regional council to figure out my options."

Waikato Regional Council spokesman Stephen Ward said the council sympathised with all water users but the restrictions in place reflected the new policies in the regional plan.

"For some time the regional council and district councils have been reminding people to use water wisely," he said. "We have also been reminding resource consent holders that their water takes may be restricted due to the low river flows. Those restrictions are now in place . . . where river flows have hit trigger levels.

"This is affecting places like Hobbiton, residential users, farmers with consents and other consent holders."

Yet the big dry, which is expected to continue unabated for at least the next 10 days, has been a boon for coastal regions.

Companies on the Coromandel Peninsula are reporting up to 20 per cent more business than last year and it is a similar theme on the west coast.

John and Marg Ritchie, of luxury Poet's Corner Lodge near Waihi, said business was up a good 15 per cent.

Emma King, of The Falls Retreat, said it was the summer that kept on giving.

"Business since January has doubled on last year's takings and all the hospitality businesses around here are saying the same thing," she said. "We put it down partly to the weather. And we were expecting it start to tail off once the schools went back first week in February, but it hasn't."

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Coromandel Top 10 Holiday Park's Sean and Caron Steffert said the season had been "fabulous" thanks to the weather, with a large growth in domestic customers.

At the Raglan Kopua Holiday Park things are just as busy.

Office manager Mary Clark said takings were similar to last year's but "it just seems busier". "The weather has made all the difference.

"And the normal demeanour of people is so much better . . . everyone's happy," she said.

- Waikato Times

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