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Exploring New Zealand


A small lakeside town in southern New Zealand is not the place you might expect to find one of the planet's great mazes. But Wanaka is home to Stuart Landsborough, maze designer extraordinaire and founder of the town's Puzzling World.

Sign for the Maze at Puzzling World, Wanaka

This tourist facility is split into two parts: a puzzle center, and history's first three-dimensional maze. You can visit one or the other separately, or get a combination ticket for both. You'll find it on the eastern side of the town, alongside the main highway. Look for the Puzzling World sign and distinctive leaning towers.

The maze began life as a standalone attraction in 1973, well before there were any buildings on the site. Thanks to the flexible wooden fence construction, it's gone through various modifications since then. Each change reflected the developing expertise of Landsborough, who put his growing understanding of maze psychology into practice with regular design updates.

Indeed, such was his expertise that he became a consultant maze designer, building various facilities overseas before returning to expand the Wanaka maze and create the puzzle centre.

Bridges muddy the picture further at the Puzzling World maze, Wanaka

Anybody used to the relatively simplistic approach of the typical hedge maze might be in for a bit of a surprise. The Puzzling World maze has a rather clever design guaranteed to frustrate those hoping to use typical maze tricks to find their way around.

For example, its 1.5 km of paths are bordered entirely by wooden panels. Since each fence panel looks like the next, it's hard to remember quite where you've already been. Now throw in towers in each corner, stairways and lengthy bridges and you have a whole new level of complexity.

You might think bridges and towers give you a chance to get an aerial view of the site to plan your escape. Not so.

The bridges themselves and part of the Puzzling World building complex obscure important views of junctions and blind alleys.

Stumped again: the corner tower remains tantalisingly out of reach in the Puzzling World maze, Wanaka

Your final resort then is to play the "always keep to the left" card. We tried that and there were enough loops built in to foil that particular escape strategy.

Not that escape is the object of the maze. The challenge is to reach all four corner towers. And those with a predilection for geographical torture can try and do it in a preset order.

As such, the maze is not something for a quick 5 minute excursion. You have to use the bridges to solve the puzzle, so it's not suitable for those with limited mobility, either. And children might grow weary of the challenge, since you can easily spend a good hour weaving your way around to the corners.

Fortunately, there are emergency exits dotted around the place. So if you lose heart, or run out of time and energy, you have a way to shorten the journey.

But if you do make it, the sense of achievement is great. You have mastered one of the world's great maze challenges.

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