02/08/11 - Queenstown to Wanaka
The day had come to finally leave the cozy cradle of Queenstown and see the rest of New Zealand. It was good that we'd stayed on one extra day because when we pulled out that morning we felt happy to be moving along. That sense of adventure had gripped us once more.
Our first stop was a bungee jumping bridge that rested right over the very river where Aragorn and friends passed through the "Pillars of the Kings" in "The Lord of the Rings." We looked at the cliffs and river but couldn't see anything in that range of scale, but you have to assume that massive amounts of CGI were added to those shots. And no, we didn't expect to see gigantic statues of kings, but perhaps an inkling of the grandeur shown on screen.
What we did see, however, were bungee jumpers giving up $180 for three minutes of thrill. I’m not exaggerating – that’s how long the whole thing took! They stood in line for a while until they ultimately reached their jumping point. Then the bungee guy would have them smile at the camera before practically pushing them off the platform. I’m only slightly exaggerating. They give you zero time to contemplate what you’re about to do. One woman was having a mini panic attack, and when she tried to grab the guy or the surrounding platform he pried her hands free and leaned her forward over the drop. She did jump in the end. It didn’t seem like they gave her a chance to back out!
Despite the fear I saw on some faces and my own internal doubts when I looked at the drop, I did have a desire to try it. But $180 seemed too steep for me (so to speak). I think I’d rather skydive.
We departed and focused on our new destination, because on that day we weren’t traveling just anywhere, no sir, we were headed straight for what may possibly be the most exhilarating, most stimulating, most mind-blowing place on the entire planet! You guessed it: Puzzling World!
We knew immediately that this was a “must-see” tourist hotspot when we noticed a whopping ten cars in t
he parking lot. On entering, we saw tables spread across a cafeteria-like room with mind-bending games laid across every surface. People scratched their heads while they puzzled away. We instantly took a seat and joined in. I built a pyramid while Katie worked on connecting links. After perusing the gift shop we were finally ready to pay the entrance fee and cross the threshold into a magical land of mystery and wonder!
The first mind-blowing spectacles: a green-tinged hologram and a plasma ball! Gasp! This place truly was a wonder! Somehow we'd been sucked back in time to 1990 gift shop! Then we came across a wall that had black and white off-set boxes painted in parallel lines, like a wonky chessboard. The effect made the rows look angled even though they were all perfectly straight. Next we toured through the “Hall of Following Faces” where inverted molds of famous figures followed us wherever we moved. This, evidently, is the largest room of its kind anywhere in the world! Gad-zooks!
The “Tilted House” certainly through us for a loop. The angled floor confuses your sense of what is flat and what is slanted. For instance: a pool table with a golf ball rolling uphill; a swing hanging at a 45 degree angle; feeling balanced while standing on tilted stairs. The slope of the room and all its illusions made my inner ear feeling a bit icky.
The exhibit ended with an “Ames Forced Perspective Room.” This technique was used to create the illusion of abnormal sizes between characters in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy as well as many classic films such as "Darby O'Gill and the Little People." The shape of the room is trapezoidal, although when viewed from the outside through a window the room looks perfectly parallel and normal. Katie and I had fun trying to capture ourselves on video demonstrating our magical shape-shifting powers. (I uploaded the video to this blog. Enjoy!)
Afterwards we set our sights on “The Great Maze.” Imagine a human-size mouse maze, but instead of hunting cheese we were hunting for four colored towers – yellow, green, blue, and red. The average time to completion: 30 min. to 1 hour. We began our quest without food or water; only our wits to keep us alive.
The wooden maze had no curves, only perpendicular turns, and it sometimes rose up with crisscrossing walkways resting atop the labyrinth walls. We quickly checked off the dead-end pathways before running up our first staircase. We never looked down to try and decipher the best way to get to the towers, we figured the fun was in living through all the twists and turns. We quickly found the green tower and moved onto the next. We hit the blue tower and then the red. Lastly, we had to get to the yellow tower which was closest to the start of the maze. Knowing it wasn’t back the way we came, we ran across the last couple of walkways and proceeded downward. Eventually we found the correct pathway to the final tower. We’d done it! I asked Katie how long it had taken us. About 18 minutes. Perfect! We still had plenty of time to make it back to the beginning and beat the average time of 30 minutes! (Of course I'd turned it into a competition.)
Getting back to the start was, of course, easier said than done. Hell, it was the hardest part! We tried to remember every turn we’d taken and ignore all those blasted dead-ends, but suddenly we were sweating for more reasons than the sun!
“How much more time?” I called out.
“3 minutes!” Katie responded.
I was getting frustrated. Time was running short and we couldn’t find the right path. Then Katie yelled “This way!” and we dashed forward, seeing the exit door just in the nick of — Noooooooooooo!!! We crossed the threshold in 30 minutes flat. We didn’t beat the time! We weren’t above average, we were just plain average. I slumped down in defeat, wallowing in mediocrity.
Later I rationalized that we DID beat the time. (I can’t live with average!) We had, after all, spent several minutes in the first tower taking pictures and enjoying the view. That more than made up for the last minute we needed to beat the average. Don’t you agree? I’ll pretend your answer is yes.
After such an exciting and stressful ordeal, we naturally headed to the “Roman-Style Toilets” to get some relief. (Don’t worry, the real toilets were behind the walls). An impromptu photography shoot later, outside of Puzzling World, gave Katie the power of fifty men in her one little finger!
By the end of our puzzling tour I was feeling hot, tired, and hungry. Being thrown off kilter in dizzying rooms tends to slant me toward a muddling mood. We snacked on some Bumper Bars before picking up a bag of crazy Kettle chips at a gas station. We’d already tried Honey Soy Chicken flavor back in Christchurch. Today we chose Roast Lamb & Mint. The initial flavor was surprising, and definitely good (especially seeing as how hungry I was), but after a few mouthfuls Roast Lamb & Mint potato chips tended to taste like…well, potato chips. Your mouth can only take so much salt before it all tastes the same: Bad for you.
Continuing on, our drive took us alongside another beautiful blue lake before delving into Mt. Aspiring National Park. We passed through the “Gates of Haast” and came out the other side to meet the sea. The drive north was long, curvy, and the roads weren’t in the best condition. In fact, we ran into a lot of construction along the way (which is often confusing for us motorists, I have to admit. They need more signs, or people, or something). Additionally, clouds had gathered and yet another front of rain was falling along the shore. We were grateful to have some podcasts of “This American Life” to listen to on the road. It was so captivating it made the trip that much faster.
Before long we were at Glow Worm Cottages in Franz Josef. We had just enough time to check-in and make dinner before hitting the hay. Tomorrow morning we had an early start with our all-day glacier hike. Exciting!