Still puzzling 50 years on

Wanaka’s award-winning tourist attraction Puzzling World will celebrate 50 years of memories next weekend with a public fete and 50% off the attraction’s ticket prices. 

Marketing and operations manager Duncan Spear said a full day of celebrations had been designed to involve locals, visitors, and more than 150 guests from the past.

In 1973, Mr Spear’s parents-in-law Stuart and Jan Landsborough bought seven acres of barren land at the foot of Mt Iron, on which they built a home and a single-storey wooden maze.

Back then, the pioneering tourism business was simply called the Wānaka Maze, and was most popular between Christmas and New  Year.

Over the decades, as the town and tourism industry grew, the attraction was developed and the business name changed to Puzzling World.

Puzzling world marketing and operations manager Duncan Spear stands above the Wānaka Maze, the...
Puzzling world marketing and operations manager Duncan Spear stands above the Wānaka Maze, the first attraction built by Puzzling World 50 years ago. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK
An additional storey was added to the maze, and illusion rooms, a cafe and a games room have been built.

Developments continue this year with two new illusion rooms and a courtyard opening in time for the celebration.

After Mr Landsborough and his second wife Colleen retired from the attraction 20 years ago, Mr Spear’s wife, Puzzling World manager Heidi (nee Landsborough) and her sister, Kim, became second-generation owners.

Mr Spear said 150 guests would be representing those who contributed to the business from its earliest days.

The celebration was an important milestone and a triumph of survival through changing times, he told the Wānaka Sun this week.

Top Wānaka tourist attraction Puzzling World celebrates its 50th anniversary in Wānaka on...
Top Wānaka tourist attraction Puzzling World celebrates its 50th anniversary in Wānaka on December 17.
"They had zero money in those early days ... There is still a two-person manager team, which for the number of customers and volume going through here is quite remarkable," he said.

The founders initially wondered if the maze they had built in just six weeks would survive the summer school holidays to make the next one.

Fifty years later, nearly 50 million customers from around the world had enjoyed bending their minds at the attraction, which won its first national tourism award in 1981.

The business now employs between eight and 22 employees, depending on the season.

"Covid, like for everyone else in Wānaka, was really tough. Our numbers halved overnight. But we do do very well in the domestic area. The Kiwis kept us alive ... and it allowed us to learn to run the business on a shoestring ... From that, I think we have come out a smarter operation."

Puzzling World co-founder Stuart Landsborough (centre) with his daughter Heidi Landsborough and...
Puzzling World co-founder Stuart Landsborough (centre) with his daughter Heidi Landsborough and Heidi’s husband, Duncan Spear, in 2012. PHOTO: FILE
Now things were on an even keel again and Puzzling World was looking forward to the next 20 or 30 years without any macro-economic shocks, he said.

The moment that sticks out the most for Mr Spear in his 20 years at Puzzling World was winning an Ignite Wānaka Business Chamber tourism award in 2016.

"That was validation, that all the things we had done for Puzzling World had got to the point where we were reaping the rewards," he said

"You don’t really know how you are benchmarked against all the other tourism businesses around and in Wānaka — tourism businesses are pretty phenomenal."

The Wānaka Maze in 1973. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The Wānaka Maze in 1973. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Mr Spear said more developments were envisioned for the future, to stay current in the ever-evolving world of tourism.

"The last 10 years has seen an outrageous amount of franchisee copycat ‘illusion museums’ open across the world, which just means we need to keep inventing," Mr Spear said.

Mrs Spear project-managed the new illusion rooms opening this month, and collaborated with Wellington-based digital artist and designer Tim Christie on the designs. 

"Duncan and I, together with my sister, Kim, are extremely proud to take the business into the future to ensure my parents’ vision is carried through to the next generation," she said.  

 

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