It was cold and raining the night I arrived in Christchurch in New Zealand. At around midnight I broke into jail. I was about to spend the night in a cell: the Christchurch Jailhouse hostel.
The Jailhouse Accommodation used to be Addington Prison. From 1874 to 1999, it housed sentenced and remand prisoners from the Christchurch area. After then, it was used as a women-only prison and a military camp. Since being bought and renovated by a local couple in 2006, it is now an award-winning hostel.
Built under the guidance of Benjamin W Mountfort, who also designed the Christchurch Cathedral, Addington Prison was constructed from concrete – a relatively new material at the time – in the Gothic Revival style.
With its colourful former inhabitants, it may not be surprising to learn that rumours of paranormal activity have echoed through the walls over the years. Christchurch Paranormal Investigators NZ have received reports of “sounds of screams coming from cells, full apparitions being seen in the once prison kitchen, the punishment area and many of the corridors… Strange lights being seen and electrical equipment being tampered with…” A taxi driver, who claims to also be a psychic medium, told me he visited the site a year ago and sensed a number of spirits roaming the place. He was surprised to hear what a peaceful night’s sleep I enjoyed here.
When you walk into Christchurch Jailhouse building, you are met with a friendly reception area. It’s light and airy, with replica features, including an old-fashioned phone box and jail-themed artwork. A mannequin is delightfully attired in a black and white striped prison uniform, next to a height chart where you can have your photo taken and pretend you are being incarcerated.
Then, when you step through the double doors, you experience the full, white-walled, high-ceilinged beauty of this unique accommodation. Stairs ascend to a first floor where the dorm rooms and bathrooms are located, in the original cells. Even the toilet door has bars across it.
The dorm rooms are clean and stylish, with comfortable, non-squeaky, non-wobbly bunk beds (seriously a bonus in hostel living), topped by sheets that smell freshly-washed and are properly made the old-fashioned way. Despite every tiny little sound being easily echoed through the cavernous central hall, the place is silent and I slept better than I had in a week.
Through word of mouth and recommendations, the Christchurch Jailhouse accommodation continues to attract plenty of guests. If you are intrigued by the idea of staying in a former prison, or simply seeking clean, friendly and affordable city accommodation, I would certainly recommend spending the night in a cell.
For my article on Christchurch’s street art, click here.
Now, discover my guide to the best New Zealand South Island adventures.