A Puzzling Christmas in Middle Earth

Apologies for the delay between blogs. Both New Zealand and Australia have very limited (and expensive!) internet and wi-fi access, so although this entry has been written since just after Christmas, we’ve been unable to upload pictures and videos or to post it until now. I hope it’s worth the wait..!

The Mauri (pronounced Mowdi here) story of where New Zealand came from is rather odd… Maui (a demi-god who started life as a miscarried foetus that was cared for by the sun, winds and guardian of the sea), was the youngest and most mischievous of 5 brothers. One day the brothers decided to go fishing, but they didn’t want to take Maui because he liked to play tricks on them, so Maui hid in the bottom of their canoe until the brothers were out at sea. When he revealed himself, the brothers wanted to go back, but Maui chanted a magical prayer to stop the boat from reaching shore.

Maui’s brothers began to catch fish, but refused to give Maui a hook, so he took the sacred jawbone of his grandmother and hit his own nose to use the blood as bait by smearing it on the jawbone. He threw this into the water and began to chant again. The sea rocked the boat violently and a huge fish came to the surface of the water, rising, stretching and expanding until the canoe was high and dry on its back.

Maui returned home to give thanks to the gods, leaving his brothers with strict instructions not to touch the fish, but as soon as he had left, the greedy brothers began to hack away at the fish, which, according to the legend is the reason that New Zealand is covered with so many mountains, cliffs, valleys and gorges.

The North Island does look a bit like a stingray, now that they mention it…


We heard this story at the National Maritime museum in Auckland, which had free entry in honour of the opening of a fascinating tribute exhibition for legendary yachtsman Sir Peter Blake, who died in 2001 when he was shot by intruders aboard his boat on the Amazon while defending his crew.

At the National Wartime museum, we saw a Mauri cultural performance, which included the famous (and rather intimidating) haka ‘Ka Mate’, as performed by the All Blacks.

There were also some songs and demonstrations of Mauri weapons. My favourite was this enormous tattooed fellow, who was really friendly, but also the scariest guy in the haka!


We took a guided tour around the museum, because it was a little overwhelming and we really wanted to get the most out of our visit. One of my favourite stories was of the Huia birds (sadly now thought to be extinct), who worked as a team in order to find food. The male has a shorter, hard beak, which he used to make a hole in tree bark and the female has a long thin beak, which she used to pull juicy grubs from the hole that the male had made – clever birdies…


After a few days in Auckland, we set off on our road trip South to meet up with Jay and Tina in Christchurch, where we visited the beautiful botanical gardens and played the best “adventure” crazy golf course I have ever seen. It had the full 18 holes with all kinds of flashing lights, smoke and sound effects and miniature obstacles including mountains, rivers, buildings, tubes, a roller coaster and even a gondola (cable car) to negotiate! I was pretty abysmal, ending well over par, but had a great time anyway (the Gool won on the last hole, just beating Jay by a single stroke). Here’s Tina demonstrating the gondola.


On the way to Wanaka for Christmas, we met this friendly Kea (native giant parrot) at a roadside café. I went to say hello and he decided that my finger might be worth a chew. Luckily it didn’t really hurt and he was so cute that I forgave him…


We stopped off at Franz Josef and Fox to see the glaciers, which were pretty amazing and really look like they shouldn’t be possible, especially when the sun is shining and it’s rather warm…


In Queenstown we tried the famous ‘Fergburger’, which is both enormous and delicious. Here’s The Gool demonstrating how to eat one…


We arrived in Wanaka the day before Christmas Eve and were joined the next day by Mat, who quickly joined us in the hot tub, overlooking the lake and mountains. Despite being as far from home as we could possibly get, we were able to celebrate with traditional Christmas turkey dinner, along with a delicious ham (free with the house hire) and Ise did a sterling job carving up our enormous 5.25kg bird.

2pm Christmas Day


6pm Boxing Day


Here we all are tucking into our Christmas day lunch (not sure why the gravy got pole position)…


After lunch it was time for Secret Santa’s pressies to be opened. Jay was pleased with his ‘Jay Guevara’ mug, though whoever got Mat his 3D TetrisTM cube puzzle has been dubbed Fiendish Santa, because not one of us could complete it in 2 days!


On Boxing Day we visited Wanaka’s famous Puzzling World (huge thanks to Steve and Lou who funded our trip as a Christmas present). We had a fantastic time pushing over the ‘leaning tower of Wanaka’ outside and spent over an hour in the maze trying to beat each other to the four corners and then back to the start. It was a great maze because the secret* doesn’t work with it (you have to find the coloured corners in a particular order) and it uses bridges and stairways over 2 levels. Once on the bridges, you can see some of the maze, but not enough to let you work it out because there are also lots of parts hidden underneath where you’re standing. It’s VERY frustrating, but lots of fun.


Puzzling World also has a room full of puzzles on tables (not as difficult as 3D Tetris!) to play with, another room of clever holograms, lots of optical illusions, including concave famous faces which look convex and seem to follow you around the room if you look at them with one eye closed. One of our favourite bits was the Ames room, which uses perspective and clever backgrounds to give the visual effect of making a person smaller or larger, depending upon where in the room they are standing. This effect was used in the Lord of the Rings sets to make Frodo and the other Hobbits appear small and Gandalf appear super tall. Here’s a picture of giant me scaring a tiny Ise.


Finally, there was a room which messes up your balance and features a constantly running tap, where the water seems to flow upwards, a pool table where the ball appears to roll uphill and a place where you can take a photo standing straight, but looking as if you are leaning (see other pics). It made our brains hurt, but we loved Puzzling World!

Unfortunately, Mat and Ise were unable to do the skydive they had planned for Boxing Day due to bad weather but Ise did manage to do the highest bungy jump in New Zealand before we caught our flight back to Auckland. Here’s a video of his lunacy…

A massive thank you to Jay, Tina and Mat for keeping me distracted from getting too homesick over Christmas and for all the fun and games we had (especially add-a-rule poo-head, which I am now going to play whenever I get the chance). We had a marvellous time with you guys.

Also a very big thank you to the Adairs, who looked after us at Clarkes Beach for the last few days before we flew to Sydney for New Year’s Eve. Heather cooked us the most amazing food, including melt in your mouth, cuts-like-butter steak and proper sausages (which we hadn’t had for 6 and a half months)! A special mention also to Mike and his friends who kept us hugely entertained, taking Tina and Mat’s poo-head game to extreme levels by introducing frat-boy-style forfeits – genius.

Happy New Year!
Love Gude x

*WARNING: don’t click on the link unless you want most mazes to be no fun ever again!

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17 Comments so far

  1. catrin on January 7th, 2010

    Totally jealous of the bungy and the Kea, my absolute favourite NZ bird is the kakapo but the kea is the worlds 2nd best and I can’t believe he ws so tame!  I hope that you were not very homesick, your blogs are fab and I don’t know what I will do for travel after your honeymoon xxx

  2. Gude on January 7th, 2010

    oooh – we saw a kakapo too – on the road behind us, but didn’t get a picture! x

  3. Mum C on January 7th, 2010

    Definitely worth the wait. Ise looks so serious before the bungy jump and so relieved after it! Bit like going to the dentist! I was amazed at how quickly they hauled him back up. Oh well. Off into the frozen wastes of Kent. xxxxxx

  4. Dad C on January 7th, 2010

    Just got up to find this. I cannot imagine jumping off that platform even now I’ve seen the video (unless there was a raging fire behind me). I love creation stories, very complicated and totally implausible. The NZ one particularly so. All the best for the rest of the trip.

  5. Claire, Adam & Izzy on January 7th, 2010

    Fab to see you back and glad you had a good Christmas. Can sympathise with the bird chomping your finger – lot of that going on here with emergence of the first tooth! Not yet watched the bungee video – I feel a bit queasy just thinking about it. I REALLY want to go to Puzzling World though! Hope to see you when you get back xx

  6. Hayley & Sam H-G on January 7th, 2010

    Hi guys, nice to have you back on the blog, it’s been a while!
    I can’t believe the bungee jump Ise did, he is off his head!  I remember doing one with Sam in Thailand and that was bad enough for me and that was nothing like the one Ise has just done!  I’m assuming you were sane enough Gude not to do it? (I can’t say I blame you).
    Well I hope you had a wonderful christmas and new year and thank you for our xmas pressie, I’m looking forward to chilling out on it, however I think I will let Sam test it out first if he is going to be the one putting it up!!

    All is good here apart from the freezing cold weather and snow that doesn’t seem to be stopping but I’m sure the weather where you are is ten times better and I am so jealous!
    Baby H-G is due in 8 weeks which is pretty scary and the bump has certainly grown over the last couple of weeks but then again the chocolate probably hasn’t helped, ha ha.
    Anyway take care of yourselves and looking forward to seeing you soon.
    Loadsa Love Sam, H, bump and Murphy x x x

  7. Nunk 'n Nizar on January 8th, 2010

    Should not have watched that Bungy with a queasy tummy, could have ended up in the same state as Isaac! Great blog again. Would have loved Puzzle World, still a long way to travel – most of my time is in puzzlement and just by standing still.  Nizar wants to do a Bungy Jump it is his birthday next Tuesday 12th – Africa’s biggest Bungy Jump is nearby – may give him a surprise present!

  8. mum H-G on January 9th, 2010

    Your father watched THE video and all I could hear him say was ‘that’s my son? That’s my son!’ with a big beaming grin  –   all I could say was OMG!     You won’t recognise me when you get home: I’ll be the little old lady with WHITE hair.
     I felt much happier watching you both exploring Puzzling World.  Gude, there was a time when I was bigger than Isaac as you appeared in the photo – clever isn’t it?  What fears do you have in store for me next?
    We have quite a blizzard blowing here at the moment, the pond is frozen and Tilly absolutely refuses to go out – we couldn’t go out if we wanted to – the car is either buried in snow or someone has stolen it! keep on blogging love Mxx and Dxx H-G

  9. Gude on January 11th, 2010

    He did edit the video – it wasn’t quite that fast to bring him back up!  He had to go first as he was the heaviest of his group and they made him test the rope…  =-O

  10. Gude on January 11th, 2010

    Yep – they don’t make sense at all do they?  Who comes up with it all?!  x

  11. Gude on January 11th, 2010

    You’d LOVE puzzling world!  Izzy would too – the little kids were fascinated with the room of holograms – kept trying to touch the things that “stick out”… x

  12. Gude on January 11th, 2010

    Absolutely I was sane enough not to do it!  It’s really never appealled to me – why spend good shoe money on hurling yourself into an abyss?!  😉

    Good idea to get Sam to test the hammock – maybe get him to try it with Murphy too, just to be sure..?  Bet you are glad you’re not due at the moment eh?  Would be a bit of a nightmare having to get through all the snow.  Hopefully it will have cleared by next month…

  13. Gude on January 11th, 2010

    Eeek – he is braver (or more insane?) than me! x

  14. Gude on January 11th, 2010

    Yes the Ames room was VERY clever – especially seeing people walk across from one side to the other – I still don’t know how they do it…

    Hope you have plenty of food in the freezer?  It sounds like a nightmare at home at the moment.

    Lots of love to you both (and a warm cuddle for Tilly) x

  15. Bex on January 15th, 2010

    I love the concentration on Ike’s face before the Jump, glad he did it but gutted that he didnt get to do the SkyDive 🙁  hope you are both well, hopefully am getting a laptop tonight so I can write more xxx bigs hugs and :*  xxx

  16. David on January 15th, 2010

    Hey guys! Great pics of your ‘British Crimbo Down Under’ – Dinner looked delicious and would have been worth the flight price alone! Glad you did lots of fun things to distract you from too much home sicky feelings. Puzzling World looks a fun day out although the last thing I need is a room like Ames to make me look even smaller! Me thinks somebody will be dining out on his bungy jump story for quite some time when back in Blighty. Don’t blame him… I look forward to hearing all about it. Although we can match him with our Hang Gliding escapades 😉    Super choice of soundtrack to the jump.

    Brill blog – of course!!!



  17. catrin on January 25th, 2010

    nooooooo you lucky thing, that is my lifetime ambition!!!!! You guys look really well, enjoy the rest of your honeymoon xxxxxx