Sarah Ell finds the bits, connects the dots, and unlocks the locks.

It's a Monday night and I am locked in a room in Takapuna with my sister. No, this is not a flashback to our childhood in the 1980s; we are doing this for fun.

We are attempting to break out of one of the rooms at Escape Hunt Auckland in Takapuna, the latest venue to offer a variation on the new escape-rooms craze, and have to rely solely on our own wits. We could be here for some time.

Logic is not my strong suit but I figure that with the help of my super-smart sister, Fiona, who has a PhD in mathematics education, we should be able to free ourselves. Either that, or surely they'll let us out when it's time to lock up and go home?

Before starting the challenge, we are talked through the basics by owner Gina Todd,who will be our gamemaster for the evening. The rooms have been designed by Escape Hunt's international team at the Bangkok-based Escape Hunt Operations Game Design Academy, but with input from Gina and her husband, David, to "Kiwify" them. The games can be played at a variety of levels, from beginner to advanced; the basic scenario remains the same, but you get fewer clues and hints if you're really good at this kind of thing.


We choose the Lost in the Forest theme (there is also The Great Trophy Heist, which is the first escape game in the world to have a rugby theme, and Island Shipwreck.) The basic premise is that we are lost on the Milford Track, with an injured companion, and need to seek food, shelter and a way of communicating with the outside world to request a rescue. Sounds pretty straightforward? Gina assures us that she is going to be monitoring our progress via CCTV, and we can contact her via walkie-talkie if we need extra help, clues or moral support. Then she locks us in and sets the timer for one hour.

Fiona takes a highly pragmatic approach, reading the instructions carefully and thoroughly investigating what tools we have available to us. I run around like a headless chicken. I honestly don't have the first idea where to start, and it is only after Gina has patiently repeated the first clue about three times over the walkie-talkie that we are finally on to something.

From there things start to fall into place (sometimes literally). I can't tell you the details, but suffice it to say that the various challenges involve codes, puzzles, pattern recognition, counting, hand-eye co-ordination, figuring out lock combinations, map reading ... and, of course, teamwork. One of the most fun parts of the evening is working with my big sis to solve the puzzles, and the rush we get when we figure them out together.

We only need a few hints from the ever-patient Gina to find all the bits, unlock all the locks, connect all the dots and finally work out how to unlock the door. We are still incarcerated when the one-hour alarm goes off, but we are so close that Gina allows us an extra 30 seconds to perform the final act and release the door ourselves.

Back in the real world, we are buzzing about our success - so excited and proud, in fact, that we agree to dress up in Sherlock Holmes-style capes and deerstalker hats and allow ourselves to be photographed for posterity and posted on Facebook.

Escape Hunt was a) not at all what I expected, b) a huge amount of fun, c) a satisfying challenge which pushed us just enough without being frustrating, and d) an entertaining and different way to spend time with my sister. I can understand why it's become a worldwide leisure craze - a kind of indoor, intellectual alternative to mini-golf, which would be great with pre-teen kids - and a popular team-building or corporate activity.

My two top tips? Choose you escape teammates carefully, and take your reading glasses.


Escape Hunt Auckland


495 Lake Rd, Takapuna

Book online at

Enter the promo code HERALD20 for 20 per cent off the full price (not to be used in conjunction with another offer).

The code is valid until March 3 (inclusive).