What Are the Ilam Apartments Like? + Tips for Living in Ilam, Christchurch (with photos!)

Headshot of Anna Marie Riner.
Anna Marie Riner
July 11, 2023
Pink and purple sunset over a road stretching into the distance, with trees on either side

Even when attending school in your home country, housing is a big deal. Good (or bad) roommates and housing amenities can significantly affect your semester experience. Thankfully, I thought the IES Abroad housing in Christchurch (called Ilam Apartments, located in the Ilam district) was a lot nicer than any college housing I’ve experienced in the US. (See for yourself in the photos below!) I shared the flat with four other people (who all happened to be women but I knew people with co-ed flats too) and we all had our own room. This felt like a luxury after attending school at US universities, but I learned having your own room is typical in Kiwi university housing. Most Kiwis I talked to were rather horrified and astounded that it's common for US universities to cram two or more people into a single room for sleeping, studying, and socializing, often without them ever having met before. 

Each of the bedrooms in my flat had a comfy bed, a desk and chair, a good sized window, and a large open closet with a few built in drawers/compartments. Our flat also included a kitchen, a dining table and chairs, and a living room area with a TV and two couches, as well as two bathrooms. Big things like a microwave, a vacuum, and a set of pans were already in the flat, but we had to buy all our own utensils, bowls, plates, etc. which was a bit of a bummer. Definitely go to the thrift stores or the Warehouse/Kmart early on before other UC students wipe out the kitchen supplies at the start of term. However, how well your flat is supplied can depend on which semester you arrive and who lived there before you, so don’t bother bringing a bunch of things with you or spending a lot of money until you know for sure how well your flat is stocked. It’s also common for students who are only there a semester (such as IES Abroad people) to leave stuff behind with their flatmates after they move out, like blankets, lamps, hangers, etc. so depending on who you befriend or which flat you move into, there might be items up for grabs. 

Another nice thing about Ilam Apartments is that someone comes to clean the bathrooms and the kitchen/living room area (within reason) about once a week. This also felt super luxurious! Keeping your room clean is up to you though. I was also lucky in that I had really great flatmates, two of whom were also American study abroad students (including one who was also from IES Abroad), one of whom was from the US but had gone to Australia for high school and was staying all three years at UC, and one Kiwi. It seemed pretty typical for IES Abroad people to have at least one other IES Abroad flatmate, but not always. Overall it seemed like there were a ton of Americans in Ilam Apartments, which was cool because you got to meet people from all over the US, but it also made it a little harder to bond with Kiwis. If you want to meet Kiwis, engage with them in your classes and/or join extracurriculars like the Tramping Club, the Student Volunteer Army, or one of the many other orgs on campus. 

Lastly, here are a few tips for living in Ilam:

  • Saving Money:
    • Zyka, a delicious Indian restaurant super close to the apartments and campus has 2 for 1 curry nights on Monday and Tuesday, and student deals all week long. 
    • The Intercity bus system has student fares that often end up being even cheaper than buying a Flexipass. You just have to check under the "more fares" drop down menu when you search for a ticket
    • Lots of places have student discounts, especially cultural centers like museums, concert halls, etc. 
    • UC orientation (and re-orientation which happens during semester two) will have several events running that require tickets, mostly concerts. When I saw these go on sale, I had the impression that these were concerts everyone would be going to and that if I didn't get a ticket I would be left out. Once I arrived in NZ I found out they were smaller scale concerts that were mostly catered to first year students. An IES Abroad friend of mine and I went to one together since we had already bought tickets in the US and quickly realized it wasn’t really our scene. It was a lot of 18 year olds listening to dnb (drum and bass music) and drinking heavily. If possible, spend your money on a better lineup, like Electric Ave, a music festival that happened in Christchurch during February this year, and featured Lorde and Flume.
  • Biking:
    • Biking infrastructure is fairly strong around Ilam, and there’s even a major bike route that can take you from campus all the way to Hagley Park (if you start at the intersection of Clyde Road and University Drive). It goes through the Riccarton House and Bush on the way, which is a beautiful little section and is where the Saturday morning farmer’s market happens. 
    • As I’ve mentioned before, I think buying a bike from Around Again Cycles is a great way to get around many areas of Christchurch. Just make sure you wear your helmet and consider a high-vis vest and/or bike lights, which sounds kind of dorky looking but is actually really common to see around Christchurch. The UC student association also offers free bike rentals, but only during business hours (M-F, 8:00-4:00 ish). If you don’t want the commitment of buying a bike though, the UC bikes might be the way to go during the week. 
    • If you do get a bike, make sure you also have a sturdy lock. Christchurch generally feels safe, but bike theft is really common around the University because so many people cycle there. 
  • Feeding Yourself:
    • I was a little nervous about being entirely self-catered (ie no meal plan) but I actually really enjoyed cooking for myself. (Check out Part 1 of my Christchurch Kiwi Crash Course post for specific grocery recommendations.) I found the key was to make enough dinner that I could eat the leftovers for lunch the next day, and to make enough of certain base foods to last for several meals. For example, whenever I made rice I would make a TON of rice, and then I would use it one night for stir fry, the next night for curry, and the next night for California rolls or soup etc. There’s also no shame in just making some ramen or instant soup, as there is plenty of that available in Kiwi grocery stores. I also made baked potatoes with frozen veggies and cheese whenever I needed a quick meal. 
    • For breakfast I usually had muesli (similar to granola) with almond milk or yogurt. New Zealand also has amaaaazing peanut butter if you’re a peanut butter person like me. Pic’s Peanut Butter (made up north in Nelson, NZ) was my favorite but Fix & Fog is also great and has lots of fun flavors. My flatmates couldn’t believe how much peanut butter I went through in a week.

I know before I left for NZ I wanted to know as much as possible about the housing and the Ilam area, so I hope this is helpful to future IES Abroad Christchurch students! If you have any questions about any aspect of my experience, please feel free to reach out, at my designated IES Abroad email, amriner2023@outlook.com.

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs
Headshot of Anna Marie Riner.

Anna Marie Riner

Kia ora! My name is Anna Marie, and I am a creative, outdoorsy individual from the Black Hills in South Dakota. This semester, I'm excited to be crossing the globe to New Zealand for some studying, tramping (hiking), eating, birding, interning, exploring and much more.

Home University:
Gustavus Adolphus College
Explore Blogs