Puzzling World shares forty years of memories
A Wanaka tourism business that has wowed more than three million customers from all around the globe has celebrated its 40th anniversary in retro ‘seventies’ style.
When Puzzling World pioneers Stuart and Jan Landsborough, having been refused a loan from the bank, sold their house to buy seven acres of barren land and build a1km maze, many questioned their rationale.
Six weeks, 12,000 wooden planks and a lot of hard graft later, ‘The Maze’ opened on the outskirts of Wanaka just in time for the 1973/74 summer holidays. In its first year, charging 50c for adults and 25c for children, it welcomed 17,600 people.
Four years later, the Puzzle Centre was established – with just one table and five puzzles. Between 1985 and 1988 Stuart travelled around the world designing and building twenty-five 3-D ‘Supermazes’ in Japan, USA and Australia.
More innovations followed thick and fast – half a kilometre of passages and over-bridges were added to the maze, the Puzzle Centre was extended and the first illusion rooms were added.
Roman ‘trompe l’oeil’ toilets made them possibly the most photographed loos in New Zealand, in 1999 came the famous Leaning Tower of Wanaka and more illusion rooms followed.
In 2004 Stuart retired and handed the reins over to daughter Heidi and son-in-law Duncan Spear. Innovations continued in 2012 with the addition of the $2.5m Sculptillusion Gallery, a large room featuring over 20 large sculptures, artworks and displays complete with Living Walls, wave ceilings, stone carpet and hanging waterfalls.
Mr Spear said Puzzling World’s vision for continued innovation and development in line with its philosophy of ‘puzzling eccentricity’ meant it continued to grow in popularity.
“As we celebrate our 40th anniversary we simply have to pay tribute to Stuart’s dedication to and passion for the business which we’ve been lucky enough to carry on in his name,” he said.
At the anniversary party, resplendent with 70’s style drinks along with prawn cocktails, rolled lamb roast and fondues that harked back to the beginnings of the iconic tourist venture, Heidi Landsborough told more than 80 guests how special it had been to “grow up with a maze in my back yard” and to witness how “strange ideas” had created a world unique attraction.
“Duncan and I are extremely proud to manage the business to ensure my parents’ vision is carried through to the next generation,” she said.
“We’re dedicated to continued re-development and investment in the business, and the current growth in traffic from emerging Indian and Asian markets in particular is testament to the attraction’s reach across all nationalities.
“This year Puzzling World has launched some incredible new innovations including New Zealand’s first permanent Holoboxx hologram, and the first Virtual Assistant display explaining where to go and what to see in the business.”
Guests at the function included staff from the very earliest days together with long-standing suppliers, contractors, past staff and family who all helped achieve the 40 year milestone.
Stuart Landsborough talked of the struggle to establish ‘The Maze’ business in the early days.
“We were working in a climate of oil crises, farming subsidy removals, no ground water and a perception locally that what we were creating was ‘crazy’,” he said.
“But now as we celebrate 40 years and see what we’ve established for the tourism industry locally and nationally I’m proud to see continued development by the next generation, as I’d never have had the courage to build anything so incredible.”
In a fitting tribute, a cake brought out to celebrate the 40th anniversary carried a partial replica of the matchstick maze he and Jan created to help gain planning permission to build their dream all those years ago.