The idea of creating a labyrinth or maze out of stones or plants (or whatever else is on hand) goes back thousands of years – some say as many as 5 000BC.
The Egyptian Labyrinth was visited by Herodotus in 5BC and he reported it as having consisted of 3 000 chambers. 6 000 years later, Pliny too wrote of its magnificence. Daedelus also built a labyrinth to hold the Minotaur, near Knossos in Crete.
Maze vs labyrinth
It would seem though that the words ‘maze’ and ‘labyrinth’ meant the same thing in the past and only more recently do they differ. The word ‘labyrinth’ is from a pre-Greek language and comes from ‘labrys’ meaning a double-headed axe, which was a symbol of royal power. This fits more with the meaning of the Minoan palace and labyrinth on Crete. Only much later in the 1300s and deriving from the word ‘amazed,’ did the word ‘maze’ appear meaning “a maze of paths bordered by high hedges, as in a park or garden, for the amusement of those who search for a way out.”
Much fun can be had finding your way out of a maze. Here’s a list of some around you:
Public mazes to visit
- Wander through The Village Grill & Butcher’s plant maze. Find it at 191 Main Road, Franschhoek. Contact [email protected] for more info.
- Head to Imhoff Farm on Kommetjie Road and stop in at the Milkwood Maze and explore the double-storey wooden interactive 3D structure – a challenge for kids and adults alike. Find out more by calling Colin on 084 880 8564 or you can email [email protected]
- Babylonstoren on Klapmuts Simondium Road in Simondium has one of the most carefully crafted garden in the country and it includes a prickly pear maze! Bookings for the garden tour are essential, so beside to phone 021 863 3852 or email [email protected].
Blanco (near George)
- You can find the largest permanent hedge maze in the southern hemisphere at Redberry Farm on Geelhoutboom Road (off the R404). To find out more, phone 044 870 7123 or email [email protected].
- While Redberry can claim the title of the largest permanent hedge maze in the southern hemisphere, Sun City hosts the largest permanent maze in the southern hemisphere. Be sure to drop by The Maze of the Lost City the next time you’re bobbing in the Valley of the Waves. For more info, contact 0
- Get lost in the Honeydew Mazes at 82 Boland Street, Johannesburg. There are five secret gardens and a five-circuit labyrinth. Looking for more info? Phone 073 795 2174 or email
- If you enjoy a challenge then be sure to visit the Plett Puzzle Park.
- The 3D MAZE is a 40x40m (1600m2) timber planked maze, comprising ground level passages, as well as upper level bridges, which span over the passages below. The challenge is to find all four corners in a certain sequence, and then your way out. To find out more, contact Steve on 044 534 8853 or on 072 785 8007. You can also email [email protected].
These once popular mazes have closed: Serendipty maze at Mouille Point and the maze at Backsberg Wine Estate.
Public labyrinths to visit
- St George’s Cathedral, corner Adderley and Wale Streets – 11-circuit Chartres
- Cape Town City Centre, Hertzog Boulevard, centre of traffic island – 11-circuit Chartres; grass and brick
- Platbos Forest in the Baviaanspoort Hills on the Grootbos Road between Stanford and Gansbaai. Tel: +27 (0)82 4110448 General Enquiries: [email protected]
- Babylonstoren, Klapmuts Simondium Road, Simondium. Garden: Monday–Sunday: 8h00–17h00 021 863 3852 [email protected] Two labyrinths. One from stones and the other from Spekboom, not a classical laybrith as such, as it spells out the name ‘Babylonstoren’ from the air.
- Jan Marais Nature Reserve. 7-circuit Chartres-style – gravel and river stones
- Rustenberg Wine Farm. 11-circuit Chartres-style – brick and river stones
7 Riverside Lane, (next to the Greek Chapel), very small, 7-circuit Classical – brick and stones.
- Temenos: Bree St, Mcgregor, McGregor, 6708. Classic 7-circuit maze, stones. Tel: 023 625 1871 https://www.temenos.org.za/
- In Long Street Park, Medieval Chartres-style design, gravel, slate and quartz. It’s a 728m track which takes approximately 8 minutes to walk to the middle.
- Obesa Nursery, 7-circuit Classical, cacti. Tel: Anton Bouwer +27 (0) 834468687; obesanursery.com
- The Edge Mountain Retreat and Restaurant, 11-circuit Medieval Chartres, 29m diameter, walk to the centre and out is 1.4 kilometres, cement slabs. +27 45 962 1159 Email:[email protected]
- St Francis Health Centre and Spa, 11-circuit Chartres-style, brick. Tel: +27 (046) 625 0927.
These once popular labyrinths have closed: Calvinia: (Carmel Guest House) closed. Robertson: Soekershof. Barrydale: Lemoenskloof Crystal Labyrinth. Midlands: Piggly Wiggly maze.
But what is the difference between a labyrinth and a maze?
What is it about these strange patterns that has survived so many years and has us still pacing them? And what do we understand today as being the difference?
- Labyrinths, in today’s understanding, refer to a usually circular walk, where the entrance and exit are the same, whereas mazes typically have different entrances and exits (sometimes several).
- Labyrinths are used typically for contemplation, whereas mazes are puzzles to be solved.
- As such, labyrinths tend to be right-brained thinking as opposed to the left-brained thinking required to solve a maze.
- Labyrinths are usually flat or have very low walls, as the path walked is predetermined. Mazes, on the other hand, benefit from high walls or hedges so you can’t see where you are going or what the path ahead holds in terms of dead-ends etc.
- While some mazes are circular, many are square or rectangular in shape, whereas a typical labyrinth is more circular in design.
Words and photography Ann Gadd