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.

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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.

Dec­o­ra­tive an­i­mals?

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

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