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Exploring New Zealand


STUART LANDSBOROUGH'S PUZZLING WORLD, WANAKA

The mind is a funny thing that often plays tricks on us. Puzzling World, on the other hand, is purpose built to play tricks on your mind. The brainchild of Stuart Landsborough, it's a devilish mix of optical illusion and technological trickery that amuses and surprises in equal measure.

Sign for Puzzling World, Wanaka

Located on the eastern outskirts of Wanaka (alongside the main road heading out of the town), it's easy to spot. A series of colourful towers draw your attention and offer the first of many photo opportunities.

Cluster of towers as Puzzling World, Wanaka

The fun starts on the outside of the Puzzling World building with the "Leaning Tower of Wanaka". Pisa has nothing on this monument, which seems to balance precariously on one of its corners and at an impossibly acute angle. (That's your second photo opportunity.)

The leaning tower of Puzzling World, Wanaka

Once inside, you'll notice there are actually three features under one roof. The large atrium is a self-service cafe and shop, where you can also buy tickets to visit the adjoining Puzzling World illusion rooms and/or the Puzzling World maze outside.

The cafe is stocked with the traditional selection of cakes, pies and other light refreshments. Portions are generous and the fun doesn't stop while you're eating or drinking. Each table has various puzzle toys on it which keep you occupied long enough for your pie to get cold or for you to forget there's more to Puzzling World than a cup of tea and an iced bun.

While mazes are not everybody's choice of entertainment, it's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't enjoy the adjoining illusion rooms. The first one is an exhibition of holograms, with a standard far higher than your typical shop or museum display. A huge trombone hologram is a notable highlight.

Nested animal illusion

Be careful when going round: some of the holograms demand you stand back from them quite a bit, so it's easy to get in the way of other people's viewing experiences.

The Hall of Following Faces at Puzzling World, Wanaka

The second room is the most impressive. You've heard of portrait paintings where the eyes seem to follow you round the room. Now imagine almost 170 three-dimensional faces doing the same thing. That's the Hall of Following Faces.

Looked at up close, each face is a concave mould of a famous visage from the past. But when you cover one of your eyes and move around the circular room, each face appears to project out of the wall and move up, down or sideways as you pass it. Spooky.

The next room - the Ames room - is one that has you scratching your head in bemusement. As you move from one corner to the next you appear to grow dramatically shorter or taller. It certainly feels that way as you eventually end up crouching to avoid bumping your head on the ceiling. But for those watching from afar, the room appears completely normal as you shrink and grow.

A camera records your movements and plays it back with a time delay. So you can nip into the room, walk about a bit, then come out and see your magic shrinking act on the monitor outside.

Gravity tricks

If that doesn't confuse you completely, then the final illusion room will. The tilted house has a floor that slopes...and displays that don't. But your brain can't handle that concept too well.

To your confused eyes, water seems to flow uphill, balls roll up a table, and everyone seems to stand at a very peculiar angle. If they stand at all...the illusion is so strong that it becomes disconcertingly difficult to keep your balance. So the tilted house is not recommended for those with balance problems or in a sensitive condition (like pregnant women).

Once you've found your feet again, go and visit the outside toilets. Even if you don't need to answer the call of nature. There's an optical illusion in there, too. At the correct viewing angle, you appear to be sharing a toilet facility with several citizens of ancient Rome. And in the real toilets, look out for the unusual seats: clear perspex with objects embedded in them.

By now you may have fallen in love with the business of puzzles and illusion, in which case you should visit the shop. As well as the usual souvenir apparel, there are jigsaws, games and (of course) puzzles. And you can pick up working copies of those three-dimensional faces that follow you round the room, prepacked for sending home. Just add stamps (they're very light).

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