Samoa - Sensational as ever

By Gayle Dickson

As the aircraft’s doors were flung open, I removed the cardigan I’d been wearing to compensate for the air conditioned coolness of the cabin. Ah, there it was … the warm breeze slowly penetrated the interior of the plane, followed soon after by the feint strains of a ukulele strumming merrily from within the terminal. ??Welcome to Samoa – one of my all time favourite locations.

Customs and immigration processes are an uncomplicated procedure here; everyone smiles and is extremely helpful. Once through the official red tape, I stood mesmerised by the fountain in the public car park – music, lights, spray, all timed perfectly to create a magical spectacle.

I was spending my first night at Aggie Grey’s Lagoon, Beach Resort & Spa– a familiar friend. A speedy check-in and rummage through the bags for my togs and I was off to the pool for a refreshing dip and tall, chilled cocktail.

The next morning I set off for Savai’i on the ferry. There was so much to see and do there that I’ll tell you all about that next issue. On my return to Upolu, the second largest and most populated island, I checked back into Aggie Grey’s, had a quick shower and then headed off in my trusty Rav4 to discover Apia.

A word of advice here … while Samoa has now changed from driving on the right hand side of the road, there are still left hand drive vehicles galore. When booking your rental vehicle, do ask about this. It’s not the most pleasant sensation sitting on the left side of the car on the left side of the road – and it makes overtaking anything larger than a sedan rather harrowing! Mind you, I’d still opt for my own vehicle over the local buses – they’re old fashioned and have no air conditioning – even if it means keeping a very open eye out for dogs, pigs and people. If you can’t be bothered driving yourself, check out the services of Samoa Scenic Tours – Shado and her team are efficient, friendly and provide an excellent service.

I headed for the markets first to get my gift requirements ticked off the list, then the supermarket for a few essentials, the gas station to top up the petrol tank and then back out of town along the Main East Coast Road. My first stop was Piula, a freshwater cave pool located in the grounds of the Theological College. Here I joined a coach load of local school kids in a very refreshing dip. Continuing on in the heat of the midday sun, I stopped at Falefa Waterfall before heading inland along La Mafa Pass, one of the few routes that take you across the island, rather than around it.

Fuipisia Waterfall, just a short walk from the roadway, is a veritable jungle waterfall tumbling some 55m and creating a beautiful spectacle. Samoa is laden with waterfalls, and I wasn’t disappointed when stopping a little further along the road at Sopoaga Waterfall. The gardens at Sopoaga were a treat unto themselves, with many of the plants labelled. It was lunch time.

The local family brought out what the son called a “traditional Samoan lunch” … chunks of taro, a tin of corned beef that he sliced up, and slices of tomatoes and cucumbers fresh from the garden. One of the youngsters entertained a group of us to some talented beating on his drums while mum, very obviously in charge of all the proceedings, relaxed on the verandah surveying her kingdom.

What I had noticed while traversing the route over the interior was that the higher the road climbed, the cooler the temperature became. However, being this high up, I found myself turning on the car wipers in what started as mist and ended up as a fairly torrential tropical downpour which, although short-lived, left the roads steaming, adding a touch of mystique to the day.

Back on the coast road and Lalomanu Beach summoned – a pristine spot that screams South Pacific Paradise. The protected marine reserve here teems with tropical life. If you’re into hiking, which I wasn’t on that particular day, a guided walk will lead you to the extinct volcano crater where you’ll discover a colony of flying foxes. Or, if you prefer the watery side of life, you should consider heading over to Namua Island just off the coast where you’ll enjoy the privilege of swimming amongst endangered green turtles – a rare and wonderful treat.

I continued my trip around the island and spotted the first signs of the recent Tsunami destruction – a harrowing experience; villages and resorts that I’d previously visited now in complete disarray, some completely wiped out. My heart went out to the locals. The odd television sitting atop rocks, the wreckage of a fridge looking out of place on the white sandy beach, clothes and possessions stewed haphazardly here, there and everywhere. I shed tears at the number of fresh white crosses dotted throughout the landscape, and felt complete shattered on seeing a graffiti’d “Love you mum, miss you mum” on the ruins of one residence. Locals and quite a few international volunteers were hard at work clearing, and starting the long process of rebuilding.

Coconuts Beach Club had a mass of workers and machinery on site and it’s slated they’re aiming to be partially opened early 2010. I caught up with Sose at Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa briefly, and she tells me that they’re working on a full re-opening in April.

Feeling a little more somber, I headed to Return to Paradise beach, made famous by the 1952 movie of the same name where I collected my thoughts and paid homage to those who had passed on so tragically and suddenly.
Le Vasa Resort, looking out towards Savai’i, is in full operation and, apart from Aggie Grey’s Lagoon, Beach Resort & Spa, would be the best spot on Upolu to see those famed pacific sunsets. The ocean view restaurant, private lagoon and secluded setting make for a romantic resort with accommodation in traditional fales (bungalows) or premium villas.

After a good meal and restful night’s sleep, I headed back towards Apia, this time stopping at the village of Malua where the turtle pool is. For a small entry fee, you are given chunks of papaya to feed the turtles and, if you have suitable foot attire on, you are welcome to hop right into the water. Lunch at Roko’s was a real treat and Rosa, the host, is a real character who knows everyone who’s anyone in Samoa. Fine dining isn’t something you equate to many establishments in Samoa, but it is exemplary in her kitchen! Rosa’s entertained and catered to the crème-dela- crème of international visitors, including our very own John Key.

Your kids will love you for taking them to Papaseea Sliding Rocks, while you might prefer the serenity of a visit to Robert Louis Stevenson’s residence in the village of Vailima (yes, it’s where the beer is brewed!). Then, of course, there are the game fishing trips for dad and the boys, the spa treatments for mum and the girls, and let’s not forget the warm, balmy weather and the friendly Samoan smiles – they’re a given. There’s surfing, snorkelling, diving and golf … and the island of Savai’i which I’ll tell you all about next time around.

PLACES TO SAY ON UPOLU:
Aggie Grey’s Hotel & Bungalows, t: (685) 22880, w: http://www.aggiegreys.com
Aggie Grey’s Lagoon, Beach Resort & Spa, t: (685) 45611, w: http://www.aggiegreys.com
Le Vasa Resort, t: (685) 46028, w: http://www.levasaresort.com
Sinalei Reef Resort (re-opening april), t: (685)25191, w: http://www.sinalei.ws
Insel Fehmarn Hotel, t: (685) 23301, w: http://www.inselfehmarnsamoa.com
Manumea Resort, t: (685)27755, w: http://www.manumearesort.com

THINGS TO DO:
Roko’s Restaurant, t: (685) 20992
Janet’s, boutique style clothing and jewellery, t: (685) 23371, w: http://www.janetshandicrafts.ws
Samoa Scenic Tours, t: (685) 26981,w: http://www.samoascenictours.ws
Aquasamoa Watersports, t: (685) 45662, w: http://www.aquasamoa.com
Yellowfin Charters, t: (685) 32032
Talofa Cruises, t: (685) 26695, w: http://www.talofacruises.com
Le Spa, t: (685) 38601

General Info: w: http://www.samoa.travel

Samoan Tourism Authority, auckland – t: (09) 3796138, w: http://www.visitsamoa.ws