Saturday, December 30, 2006

Christchurch: Summers B&B at Knowles Court

Our cab pulled into an empty gravel driveway surrounded by a nondescript brick wall. There was no one in sight, although I’d briefly caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure through the old house’s windows.

"Are you sure this is the place?" John asked. We could see lights in the living room, so we walked cautiously through the garden to what looked like the front door. Knock, knock.

Summers B&B at Knowles Court in Christchurch
A few minutes later our host appeared in the doorway. He was large, imposing, and the very picture of a proprietor of a grand old Christchurch manor home. He gave us a hearty welcome, and on finding out we lived in Singapore, regaled us with stories of his excellent Chinese cooking. Yes, multi-course Chinese dinners complete with proper rice vinegar. No wonder Summers B&B is popular with Asian students and teachers.

Knowles Court is a registered Heritage Home. Sounds good, right? It was built in 1910, and if you wander around I suspect you can still see some of the original plumbing. Clawfoot tubs may look luxurious in pictures, but ancient showers and toilets are certainly something else.

We entered our apartment just as darkness started to fall. Our host gave us a short tour and turned on the heat. Then he left, shutting the door with an ominous thud. We were on our own.

The bed was simple and somewhat old, clearly not the luxurious queen bed with fluffy down pillows and sumptuous duvet that I’d conjured up in my imagination when making our booking. There was a huge closet in the bedroom. It was large enough to hold a person and I was afraid to open it for fear that it did.

Scary closet at Summers B&B
The living room was sparsely furnished and had a small TV. An empty candlestick stood on the windowsill, instantly transporting us onto a real-life set for Cluedo. "Colonel Mustard in the living room with the candlestick!" We looked at each other and laughed nervously.

We explored the dining nook, where we found a length of twisted curtain tie on the shelf. "Mrs. Peacock in the dining room with the rope!" Our overactive imaginations manufactured an atmosphere of general creepiness and we scared ourselves silly.

We stayed awake for as long as we could watching TV, and then gingerly crawled into bed. We pulled out one of the headlamps we’d brought to Nepal, pulled the chain to turn off the room light, and slept with 4 bright white LED lights keeping us company.

The one redeeming factor of our stay was the delicious cooked breakfast, served to us in our private dining room by our host’s wife.

Breakfast at Summers Bed & Breakfast
The apartment lost most of its sinister atmosphere in the bright morning sunlight. "You have no power over me!" I crowed happily, feeling triumphant until I opened the bathroom door and gazed sadly at the sub-par shower. As you can imagine, I am not generally keen on bathroom fittings that may be twice as old as I am.

As we left, John looked back at the house and quipped, "We never did find out what was in the cellar..."

Candlestick at Summers B&B
Lessons I've learned on how to choose a bed and breakfast:
  1. If you are booking in a home built at the turn of the last century, check to make sure the plumbing isn’t as historic as the house’s foundations.
  2. Don’t get carried away by good-looking websites. Be wary if photos focus on details like lampshades and table corners instead of showing the entire room.
  3. Always check reviews. I got lucky with Ropatini’s, but I’ll be a lot more cautious booking unreviewed B&B’s in the future.
Summers B&B may well be a terrific choice for New Zealand breakfasts and Chinese dinners, and I understand the house is being steadily though slowly fixed up. Until our favorite creature comforts are in place, though, I think we’ll stay somewhere else next time...

For the less-easily scared, here is their contact information:
  • Summers B&B is at Knowles Court, 274 Papanui Road, Merivale, Christchurch; a few minutes by car from the airport.
  • Web site:www.summers.net.nz
  • E-mail: stay@summers.net.nz
  • Phone: +64 3 355 1145
  • Rates range from NZ$60 to 120 per double per night with breakfast
Bloggers tell tales of scary stays in other places:
  • “We were both awaken (sic) by a thrashing sound of something flying." - Iloilo City Boy, in Iloilo
  • “I kept visualizing this enormous spider (the size of a grown man's hand) crawling out from behind the mattress and on to my pillow." - dcb, in Cairns
  • A Haunting in Hugo: Old Johnson House Inn, also built in 1910 (Coincidence? Ha, I think not) - Open Magazine

Summers B&B at Knowles Court in ChristchurchRead the previous entry or check out the rest of this New Zealand trip series.

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