Summer is made for fun, and one of the most entertaining ways to spend an afternoon in the tame outdoors is to navigate your way through a maze. This pastime has entertained the public for decades, with New Zealand’s first maze being credited to the city of Dunedin’s beautiful botanic gardens which planted a living maze in 1910.
But not all mazes are equal, as those with a passion for finding their way through them will tell you. The simplest to solve mazes are those which can be solved by keeping one hand in contact with a wall, regardless of how many detours it takes to reach the centre. If the centre of the maze is contained within an ‘island’ of barriers, the task of reaching the goal becomes more difficult. 3-D mazes, which can sometimes involve bridges and tunnels, become even trickier, while those who are up for an extreme challenge like to pit themselves against time as well as barriers, or to take on the challenge of a ‘sensory maze’.
Perhaps the most enjoyable mazes of all are those which change with the seasons. These are usually constructed in maise fields where different paths are mapped out each year, and the height of the plants adds to the confusion! New Zealand has a range of mazes to choose from. These are our top picks.
Sensory Mazes, Auckland and Queenstown
If navigating your way out of a maze of hedges or fences sounds too tame, a sensory maze may be just what you’re looking for. Auckland and Queenstown are both homes to Odyssey sensory mazes which will challenge you to the limit. Not only will you encounter physical barriers but you’ll be working your way forward (hopefully!) in darkness, and with optical illusions such as mirrors and light barriers all trying to confuse you, as well as strange sounds and scents accosting you at every turn. Allow around 20-30 minutes for your adventure (unless you’re seriously confused), and if you’re not confident, we suggest taking a grandchild with you! (The minimum recommended age is 8 years.)
The Orchard Garden, Alexandra
Less than 4km from Alexandra is a deliciously shady spot to escape from the heat of Central Otago. True to its name, ‘The Orchard’s’ pretty gardens are filled with lavender and roses, and before or after your encounter with the living maze, you can enjoy coffee and cake (or a light lunch) indoors or out. When you’re ready for the challenge, the maze is just a few steps away, and is a seriously relaxing meander through a manicured planting of tall freshy-scented hedges (with escape exits well marked in case you feel panic rising). The maze is suitable for all ages as the more energetic can try it several times while those with relaxation in mind, or little grandies in tow, can take their time.
Just a short drive from Rotorua is a picturesque maze that will delight with its 1.4 kilometres of winding hedge-lined pathways. Opened January 2010, the living maze is the result of a 2005 planting of 1400 Escallonia shrubs all grown from cuttings and transplanted onto the site. The bushes now grow to a height of 1.8 metres, and provide a pleasantly challenging, but not daunting, half-hour or more of pure fun. Home gardeners will appreciate the immaculately pruned hedge which takes 2 professional maze staff 40 hours a year to prune!