The Secret Diary of Adrian Petford Aged 39¾

Heavenly Christchurch – the house at Ilam

Posted in Christchurch,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 28th, 2009

Christchurch is one of my favourite cities in New Zealand and was the first place I ever visited in the South Island on my trip here six years ago. Known as “the garden city” and deliberately conceived as a little corner of England in the South Pacific, the city centre has a grand cathedral, public school, beautiful botanic gardens, lots of old historical buildings, trams and even punting on the River Avon! As I was on foot last time I was here I spent the whole time in the city centre, so for this visit Christchurch was more a base for doing things in the wider area. I didn’t actually get back into the city centre at all but if you like places with an interesting historical background and unusual atmosphere, Christchurch is highly recommended.

306 on Riccarton Motel, Christchurch – 17-Aug-2009
306 on Riccarton Motel, Christchurch – 17-Aug-2009

This time I was staying in the well to do suburb of Upper Riccarton at a really nice motel, the 306 on Riccarton. The hosts, Lynne and Robert were immediately very welcoming, helpful and friendly and my unit was amazing. It had a full kitchen, flat screen TV with Sky, wardrobes, double bed, writing desk and bathroom with a huge spa bath. Definitely the best, most comfortable unit I’ve stayed in so far this time. It suited me very well for the few days I was there.

One of Christchurch’s less savoury historical events was the infamous Parker-Hulme murder case, which shocked polite Christchurch society to its core in the 1950s. Two apparently normal schoolgirls, Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, murdered Parker’s mother who was trying to break up their intense friendship. The story was dramatised by The Lord of the Rings’ Peter Jackson in his film Heavenly Creatures, starring then-newcomers Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as the girls and shot at the real locations where the events actually took place. Since I am a fan of the film and have an interest in the real life case, I’d picked this motel partially because it was very close to Ilam, the grand house in the grounds of the university where Juliet Hulme had lived with her father while he was rector there. Last time I was here Ilam was too far out for a visit so I was determined to make use of my unexpected opportunity this time to have a look. It’s a beautiful house in its own right and the picturesque gardens are famous.

As I’d arrived in Christchurch after lunch on the Monday, I didn’t want to waste the rest of the day so it seemed like an ideal chance to go around the corner up Ilam Road and see the house. Sounds easy? Think again. Off I went through the university campus, with cars right behind me so I couldn’t drive slowly to look properly. I took a left turn too early and had to go around the block; on the next time around I couldn’t even see any sign of an entrance. Third time around I turned off the main road and into Homestead Lane hoping for a side entrance but nothing was obvious. The university students gave me bemused looks as my car kangarooed over the speed bumps too fast because I was trying to look! I had to go back to the motel and check some online reference material to confirm exactly where the house was in relation to other buildings and then it was time for another attempt. Going past, I actually caught a glimpse of Ilam up the driveway this time, but as usual traffic was busy so there was no chance to slow down or stop. Next time around I saw it was now a very private looking “Staff Club” that I wasn’t sure would welcome members of the public wandering around the grounds. By this point the light was going so I thought it would be better to try again during the day when there would be more to see and the traffic was quieter. So I didn’t manage a look at the house but got very used to driving around that block by the end of the afternoon!

I tried again on Wednesday but once again the road was too busy and crammed with parked cars to stop anywhere. Foiled again! As I was en route somewhere else and didn’t really have time to mess about I just carried on to my destination.

The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009

By Thursday I had become absolutely determined to see that house before I left! The now familiar ritual of going around and around the block with nowhere to stop continued, but this time I changed my plan of attack. I parked at the other side of the university campus and walked through to Ilam Road. There isn’t much to see from Homestead Lane but on foot I was able to walk right up the long, sweeping driveway to Ilam, take lots of close up photos of the house and walk around the grounds and gardens at my leisure. I was a bit worried about this at first given it’s a private staff club, but as students were wandering about all over the place it was clear that only the house itself was off limits. I imagine the gardens must be really nice in summer and even without the historical significance, Ilam is a very interesting house, very much an example of trying to recreate a traditional part of England here on the other side of the world.

The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
Ilam gardens, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
Ilam gardens, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
Ilam gardens, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
Ilam gardens, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009

So success finally! It was definitely the best idea to visit the house on foot as I actually got to spend some time looking around which was well worth it.

One Response to 'Heavenly Christchurch – the house at Ilam'

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  1. Ian Warren said, on January 7th, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    This world simply get smaller and smaller all the time , Ilam , Upper Riccarton , a fair bit has changed over the last year and a bit , Ilam only a hop skip and a jump and your home at my place .

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