New Zealand actor Sam Neill on travelling with two Babes
Work has taken him around the world (he has the films and fridge magnets to prove it) but the New Zealand actor is happiest at home with his “decorative” farm animals.
Where are you right now?
I’m in Sydney, probably my favourite city in the world. You can’t beat it for a mix of culture, beaches and food.
And where did you go on your last trip?
The South Pacific, with a friend. We explored Tahiti and two other islands, spending our days snorkelling, seeing ancient sites and eating local delights.
What was your typical childhood holiday?
We’d pack our tents, fishing rods and sunhats and head into the mountains [in Central Otago, on New Zealand’s South Island] on a three-week camping trip. My parents taught my brother, sister and me to fish and we’d have trout for dinner every night. We grew to love the outdoors.
Do you wander the streets or follow maps?
Some of my best holidays have involved jumping in a car, not knowing where I was heading. In places like France and Italy, you can just say, “This restaurant looks good, let’s stop here for lunch,” and more often than not you’ll have an enjoyable experience. These days, I tend to follow an assiduous plan because my time is limited.
Is there a destination you keep returning to?
My work takes me away from home so much that my idea of a great holiday is relaxing at my Red Bank Farm & Vineyard in the Earnscleugh Valley, near the mountains where I holidayed as a child. [Neill produces Two Paddocks wine, specialising in pinot noir, from his four small organic vineyards in Central Otago.] I take great pride in the wine we make and I also grow saffron and lavender. I have farm animals, too, but they’re purely decorative.
We have pigs, sheep, chickens and ducks but I won’t eat them. I name them after real friends so they don’t end up on the dinner plate. There’s Charlie the duck [as in Pickering, the Australian comedian], Imogen the pig [as in Poots, the English actress], Anjelica the sheep [as in Huston, Neill’s co-star in the 1993 TV movie Family Pictures] and a few others.
Have you ever done a really great road trip?
In 1975, I drove a Kombi around Europe for eight months with my girlfriend. We started in England, got as far as Greece then made our way back. We had no money and slept in the van but I’ll always remember it fondly. Tourism hadn’t yet gone crazy in places like Florence so we could soak it up without a crush of people.
Is there a place that was a culture shock?
Japan because everything is so extraordinarily different from anything I know – the lights, the food, the transport. When I first visited, many years ago, it was an awkward place to get around
because Google Maps didn’t exist and almost no-one spoke English so you were essentially on your own. It’s much easier to visit now.
Do you prefer resort or rustic?
Definitely rustic. I hate resorts. I don’t mind being recognised but it can be tiresome if you’re stuck in the one place. I also find beaches utterly boring and most resorts are either on or next to a beach.
What are you most likely to bring home from your travels?
Fridge magnets. I have a huge collection because I buy one everywhere I go – the daggier the better. I have some really shocking ones from Turkey.
And what do you always take with you?
Two toy pigs. They’re my constant travel companions these days. I take photos of them in different places around the world, often in perilous situations. They’ve got quite a following on Instagram and Twitter.
When you enter a hotel room, what’s the first thing you do?
Open a window. I feel terribly suffocated in hotel rooms that don’t have them so I always opt for one with a balcony or terrace if possible.
What do you most like to find in your hotel minibar?
A chocolate bar, preferably by Whittaker’s – I love the Coconut Slab.
Which destination was a surprise to you?
Last year, I visited the Aleutian Islands [a volcanic archipelago between Alaska and Siberia]. They’re very raw, very bleak, very empty. I thought I’d find the emptiness too much but it’s an incredibly soulful place. I want to return as soon as I can.
Is there a city you could have given a miss?
I probably wouldn’t go back to Manchester in North West England. I spent a couple of months there for work [filming the BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders] and I exhausted the place.
Can you share a particularly memorable dining experience from your travels?
Years ago, I came across this little joint in the basement of a Tokyo hotel and it blew me away. The dishes were simple – strips of beef cooked on hot rocks, things like that – but I’d never tasted anything like it. It was exquisite. Months later, I read in a newspaper that it had been voted the top restaurant in the world.
What’s your number-one travel bugbear?
Queuing at airports. But give me a nice lounge and a bed on a plane and I’m as happy as Larry.
If you could be anywhere else in the world right now, where would you be?
There are a few brief weeks when there’s nothing quite like the English countryside. The flowers are in bloom, the sun’s out and everyone has a smile on their face.
“TWO TOY PIGS ARE MY CONSTANT TRAVEL COMPANIONS. I TAKE PHOTOS OF THEM IN DIFFERENT PLACES AROUND THE WORLD.”
Sam Neill was taken with the Aleutian Islands (Kanaga pictured) off Alaska