Coronavirus: Matamata's Hobbiton reopens to busloads of curious Kiwis after lockdown

The small town of Matamata - once home to one of New Zealand's biggest coronavirus clusters -  is now welcoming visitors. 

Its main tourist attraction, Hobbiton, opened for the first time on Saturday after lockdown. 

The Shire was back open for business, with busloads of visitors keen to see Bag End after a 10-week shutdown. 

"Looking at who's coming through, it is around 80 percent of people are New Zealanders," Shayne Forrest, Hobbiton sales and marketing manager, says. 

Tours of the movie set are almost booked out this weekend with Kiwis out to see something new in their backyard. 

"You don't actually visit what's in your own backyard until you can't get out of your own backyard," one says.

"Never been here so just making the most of my chance," says another.

Typically at this time of year, Hobbiton can host up to 1500 people a day, now it's hosting just a maximum 500, with each tour group split half an hour apart and only 20 people on a tour at a time. 

"Pre-COVID-19 our staff levels were around 280, so we've retained 26," says Forrest.

Cassandra Douglas is one of them. 

"I woke up at 3:20am this morning, because I was so excited," she tells Newshub.

The mother-of-four picked up a job as a security guard during lockdown. 

"Knowing that this business was going to open up again, meant a lot for our community."

Matamata, a small Waikato town, was home to one of the largest COVID-19 clusters, with an overseas source leading to 77 cases. 

"That time very scary, yeah, yeah everybody scared," says Dawindal Singh, Manly Superette manager. 

The bar where the outbreak began is now bustling with customers. But the tourism town could do with more. 

"As we get that visitation back, we can start bringing back some of those displaced staff," says Forrest. 

Even the smallest visitor can change the course of this town's future.