“ Museum/theme park of optical illusions. „
Puzzling World is a family friendly fun building full of optical illusions near Wanaka in New Zealand's South Island. It is a vibrantly coloured building that is readily visible from the highway and was suitable for small children and adults alike. I would have loved to spend ages here, but I only had time for a whistle stop tour because we were on a tour. Part museum, part exhibition, it has been there for over thirty five years now, so it can't just be for maths fanatics like me!
Puzzling world is located a few miles out from the town of Wanaka which lies on the edge of Lake Wanaka, a couple of hours drive north of Queenstown. This is in the Southern Lakes region of New Zealand's South Island, an area I recommend strongly for a visit - it reminded me strongly of the Rocky Mountains in Canada.
Adult fees are NZD$9 (about $4) to go into the illusion room or the maze or $12.50 to go in both, with child fees $7 for the individual entry or $9 for both. Sadly, we only had time for the illusions room, but I would love to go and try the maze some time.
===The leaning tower===
Outside the building is a prominent sculpture shaped and coloured as if it were a tower leaning at 53 degrees to the vertical, with a prominent rock for you to stand on and a camera vantage point. If you stand on the rock, then your friend can take a picture of you as you appear to be holding up the tower - as is shown in the product image. This works best if your camera operator isn't too long sighted to see the screen - or you may end up with a few entertaining pictures where it doesn't quite line up right and have to do them again like we did!
The illusions rooms are a twisting suite of rooms that are quite maze-like in their construction. Each set of rooms shows a different sort of optical illusion or fun optical toy. These illusions vary from a dimly lit chamber full of many holograms and fibre optics toys to a big circular room full of faces which appear to follow you wherever you are. Two particular rooms stand out as my favourites, which I will now describe - though don't read this next section if you don't want to know how the illusions were achieved!
The Ames forced perspective room is where you and a friend can appear giant-like or hobbit-sized depending on which side of the special room you are on. The cameras on the far side of the room are rigged up so that when it is recorded, it looks like you are in a regular room with a square checker floor. But really, it's just an illusion - made possible by a ramped floor and ceiling and the "squares" aren't actually rectangular. Be sure to look at the television screens outside afterwards - they have a delayed feed so that you and your friend can try both sides of the room. Something very similar to this technique was used in the filming of Lord of the Rings to make the actors appear different heights.
Far and away my favourite was the tilted house, though none of the people I was there with could cope because they kept on getting dizzy. The walls and floors to this are all tilted at 15 degrees, which means that your brain gets very confused as to which way is up and vertigo (spinning dizziness) ensues. Lots of illusions are in here to make use of the tilt - you can slide "uphill" on a moving cart and have your picture taken appearing to lean at an incredible angle - really, though, you are on a plinth that is horizontal.
===Cafe and shop===
The shop here offers an extensive range of puzzle toys and gadgets. I bought a four strand puzzle ring from here, which fortunately came with a set of instructions - even with these, it still took me an hour to put it back together again! This is a good place to get some interesting postcards for any geeky friends. The cafe here is very child-friendly, but we didn't have time to sample the food so I can't make any recommendations. We bought a child's kiwi puzzle from here and spent hours trying to figure it out - pretty poor given we were five adults and it was supposed to be suitable for children just entering school for the first time!
Normally, I wouldn't recommend a trip to the toilets apart from practical purposes. But here, the toilets are also an art installation. Beyond the normal doors there is a third room laid out in Roman Style (holes in a bench), with a mural completing the effect.
My tip for vegetarians, vegans and people on a gluten free diet looking for lunch in this area is a combined cafe/whole food store called Soul Food, which is located in the town centre, which had a number of options that even the most carnivorous of our group wolfed down.
In summary, this is an intriguing place to visit if you are in New Zealand's South Island. I would have loved to spend longer here, but we were very restricted in our time. I really loved the tilted house in particular, but if you are prone to vertigo then you will absolutely hate it - half our group had to leave immediately because they felt too ill!
Review may be cross-posted elsewhere