Hey Everyone, it’s my turn again. In today’s post I can promise you all puzzles, beer, some sashimi and a bloody-great mountain called Mount Cook. How’s that sound? Good, now get reading!
So we were in Wanaka and pretty happy to be there too. We’d found it to be a quieter and more relaxed version of Queenstown. On this fine day where I pick up the story, Emma was getting very excited, she would be visiting that place she’d seen in the photos of many friends who’d also traveled here. A place that would push her to the limits of reality and back again, yes, the sole reason for coming to NZ. I can only be talking about one place, I’m talking about Puzzling World 🙂 I found myself slightly embarrassed at being dragged here for opening, but then as I said, Emma was very excited. Hopefully it hasn’t come across in my writing so far, but I wasn’t quite as keen about visiting this place as my dear wife, but still I thought I’d take a look.
Within a few minutes I’d started to soften up and after a few more I was loving the puzzles as much as George Michael loves, no, erm, as much as anyone. This place is basically room after room of optical illusions, holograms and other weird and wonderful creations that make your brain explode. Lots of the exhibits you recognise from books, but the great thing here is that you’re seeing huge 3D models of the trick, bringing the illusion to life before your eyes. Many left you scratching your head at why your brain would perceive something a particular way, even when you tried to see past it. The highlights for me were a round room of inverted facial casts all mounted on the curved wall, their gaze followed you wherever you went and their faces appeared to pop out of the wall, very weird. Another was the Ames room, a vast room that when a viewer was stood in the correct place, appeared to make the two people stood next to one another very different heights, you’ll see in the gallery. Just a very clever trick of perspective. After this we went outside and took on the 3D maze, a conventional maze but with the addition of bridges passing above you which had to be used to get around the maze. The goal was to reach each of the different coloured towers, one in each corner. If you were a pro then you had to reach them in a particular order, meaning you’d need to know your way around and couldn’t randomly stumble upon a corner. Well after over an hour of covering everything we could, we’d only managed to reach 3 of the 4 towers. We’d got so frustrated by going round in circles that we’d given up by walking out of one of the many emergency exits. It really is huge! A sign on the wall stated that in order to complete the maze you’d need to walk several kilometres, impressive ay?!
In order to wind down we thought we’d sit in the café and chill out at one of the tables. The tables were covered in small wooden puzzles and after ten minutes of trying to make at least two different shapes from 4 pieces of wood, I was pulling my hair out with frustration. I realised that when it comes to these sorts of things, I’m not the most patient. Emma managed to do it in 5 minutes! I should have taken a leaf from the book of the very loudly snoring Chinese tourist fast asleep on the table next to us! Check out the gallery and you can see what fun we got up to.
Next stop was a complete spot of luck. We’d heard of a microbrewery in town called Wanaka Beerworks and had flukily arrived just in time for their 2pm daily tour. This place was run by only two guys who worked alternate shifts so that the building was open 7 days a week. When you saw the jobs involved in getting orders out to the many pubs and supermarkets that stocked their beer as well as getting it brewed in the first place, you couldn’t help but be impressed. From a very small amount of space they produced 3 beers for their standard range along with many seasonal specials. As we were shown around by Peter Holsworth, the assistant brewer, he showed us several of the specials that were being prepared for the winter and an oak barrel of lambic beer that would take three years to be ready! All of the other brewery tours so far had been conducted by a tour guide, this time it was one of the brewers himself showing us around so it was much more technical. I hadn’t realised what a precise art it was and how the slightest error can ruin a whole batch of beer, a very costly mistake. As usual the tour ended with us sat around the small brewery bar doing a tasting. The brewery’s owner is a Belgian guy, in true Belgian fashion we were handed a bowl of cheese pieces to munch with our different beers. Luckily for me it was Emma’s turn to drive so I got to make the most of the brews on offer, poor Emma 🙂 We tried one called Aoraki, a wheat beer, then onto Sir Walter, another wheat beer but with orange, cardomom and coriander flavours. Next up was Lake Town Beer, brewed for the release of the Hobbit and described as a middle-earthen pale ale as it had been brewed in a style that Tolkien describes in the book with nettles and sage. Then onto Lady, another Belgian-style beer made with sour cherries with a very deep cherry colour. Then we tried Tall Black, a dark lager and finally we finished up with our favourite, Miners Galore. This beer was a DoppelBock meaning it was very strong and almost stout-like in flavour, but with the subtle aroma of rosehips, very pleasant. Apparently the goldminers here back in the days of the goldrush drank rosehip tea to combat scurvy. We liked this one so much that we bought a takeaway bottle for later 🙂 I also took away a burning desire to make my own beer when I get back home. I was inspired! If you’re in Wanaka, definitely pay these guys a visit, for $10 it’s worth every cent and having a beer poured for you by the brewer himself was something quite special.
We were now done in Wanaka and had decided to take the epic 200km trip inland to see Aoraki, meaning cloud piercer, otherwise known as Mount Cook, NZ’s highest mountain. The road to Aoraki was a dead end, so once we were done there we’d have to drive all the way back to Wanaka, ouch. Aoraki had better be worth it… After several hours of hot sweaty driving, we stopped off to break up the trip at a salmon farm and stretched our legs whilst feeding the huge fish. We couldn’t help but try a small pot of fresh sashimi, that’s raw fish, to see how good the salmon tasted. It tasted pretty damn good and even better with the pickled ginger and wasabi. On we went, soon arriving next to lake Pukaki where we were treated to our first view of Aoraki in the distance with the beautiful vivid blue water of Pukaki before it. The drive now became amazing, following a huge glacial valley with Aoraki before us. As we continued on, slowly Aoraki became temporarily obscured by the huge mountains now on either side of us. We could now see huge glaciers clinging to their sides, something neither of us had ever seen before. Massive clumps of bright blue ice smothered in rock they’d torn from the mountainside, incredible! Eventually we reached the small town at the end of the road, we were now at that dead end. We paid a quick visit to the Sir Edmund Hilary visitor centre and sat out on their balcony cooling down with an ice cream and admiring the spectacular view. There was no way on earth we could climb this beast of a mountain, so we intended to walk the Hooker Valley instead, a path which leads close to the base of the giant and would give us the best views we could hope to get.
We parked up at the White Horse Hill DOC campsite and evaluated our options, it was just gone 4pm and still gloriously hot. We decided to go for the walk now despite it being pretty late in the day. The walk was awesome, climbing the Hooker Valley and crossing several swing bridges over raging rivers as we went. We were treated to incredible views of the Hooker and Mueller glaciers. As we stood and admired them occasional chunks of ice would break off and smash down the mountainside, a thunderous crash would fill the air echoing around the mountains. Our view of Aoraki was getting better and better. Huge clouds started to form over the mountains and soon the sky had gone from bright blue to a dark grey, rain was coming. We decided to turn around as we knew we had another hour and a half still to get back and didn’t fancy getting stuck out here in bad weather. We reached the van just as it started spitting, hearing another huge avalanche of ice crash down the mountains behind us, something that makes you feel very alive.
Thanks for reading peeps, we’ll be back soon.