15 OCTOBER 2013
Relaxing in Samoa
Samoa. The name alone conjures up images of tropical sunsets, fragrant frangipanis, glistening blue waters and the sounds of island drums. Samoa is a tropical destination that remains un-touristy and largely unexplored by the masses.
Kiwis have long had a love affair with a ‘fly and flop’ holiday. With the luxury of the South Pacific on our doorstep, islands such as Fiji and Rarotonga have been the staple holiday getaway for generations.
Samoa is a relative newcomer to the game of tourism. In fact, back when I made my first visit to this Island Paradise in 1989, the main places to stay were Aggie Greys in Apia or the Tusitala which at that time was a businessman’s hotels.
Nowadays, of course, Samoa is all grown up and can offer a range of accommodations to suit all needs, but still remains largely unspoilt and offers a unique and unjaded holiday to those who are over the more travelled alternatives.
Of course Aggies is still there, an institution in Apia, along with its sister resort by the airport. The Tusitala is still there also, but has morphed from a motel type option into a delightful resort with a lovely pool and bar/lobby area just perfect for a few nights in the town.
My two girlfriends and I were treating ourselves. We wanted pampering, top quality, a great beach, good food and wine – and were prepared to pay for the privilege, provided it was reasonable.
What I was interested to find out was if it was possible to get a real 4 or 5 star experience in Samoa and still get to appreciate the ‘Samoan’ way of life – can the combination be achieved without one being sacrificed for the other?
We settled on Sinalei; a high-end, luxury retreat which has a spa and specialises in honeymoons, weddings and relaxing getaways.
One thing always stands out for me when I’m in Samoa – the friendly nature of the people. You will not meet nicer locals anywhere on the planet. Friendly, smiling and always seeming to enjoy your company; I love holidaying here.
The drive to Sinalei from the airport is around 45 minutes and goes the ‘back way’ over the hills so doesn’t pass through the capital of Apia.
On arrival I could see immediately that the facilities at Sinalei were not disappointing. The main lobby, restaurant and pool area were just as I had remembered, and the waterfront bar and restaurant was rebuilt to be a new and improved version of the old.
The addition that I immediately noticed was the spa that had previously been perched at the back of the resort was now broken into individual massage treatment rooms with no windows, built right on the edge of the water – bliss.
After our lovely lunch and cold beer, we were shown to our rooms. And OH what rooms they were. We were lucky enough to have been upgraded to a suite on the water – two rooms which interconnected with a lounge/kitchenette area.
All three rooms had French doors which rolled open to expose a private deck which stepped straight down onto the sand at the waterfront.
The furnishings were amazing – definitely top quality, and the presentation and cleanliness couldn’t be faulted. We also had a bottle of bubbly wine and fruit platter to welcome us, which didn’t go wanting.
The next day dawned bright and sunny and decided to have a morning by the pool then head around the coast to Tafua Beachfront Fales for lunch.
Tafua are some amazing beachfront fale (traditional Samoan housing, which is really just a floor and roof held up by poles, located on Lalomanu beach - the best beach on the island.
Not having a rental car and with limited bus service we decided to catch a taxi. We asked reception to book for us and when we arrived in reception for our pickup there was our taxi waiting. Of course no seat belts, and the door handles didn’t work, but it seemed to drive so in we piled.
It’s about 40 minutes to Lalomanu, and 2 minutes into the trip our driver advised that he had to ‘stop at his mates’ in the next village to get petrol.
We detoured off the main road and into a small village where his mate ran out of his house with a few gallons of petrol and a rubber hose which they proceeded to siphon up and into the car. Hmmmm... in fairness we had noticed that we didn’t pass any gas stations on this side of the island!
All fuelled up and off we set – next stop Lalomanu. The restaurant at Tafua is a very casual cafe style with a menu consisting of fresh fish burgers, hamburgers, sandwiches etc.
The pricing is extremely reasonable, the food fresh and we unanimously agreed at the end of the holiday that this was the best meal of our entire trip. It goes to show that you don’t always need all the fancy trimmings to enjoy an amazing meal.
After our lunch we retired to the beach, which truly is one of the best beaches I’ve ever had the pleasure of swimming in. Crystal clear water, white, white sand speckled with bright blue star fish – it was exactly what my imagination had always pictured that a perfect tropical beach would be like.
Dinner and a quiet night, the next morning in came the rain. And more rain. And more rain. In fact until the day we left, it continued to rain.
We chose to stay close to home for the remainder of the weekend and split our dining options between Sinalei for breakfast and some local cafes or nearby Coconuts for lunch and dinner. The home made muesli with fresh Pawpaw at Sinalei became our fast favourite, with repeat order each and every day!
Nearby resort Coconuts has been through a complete rebuild and seems to be looking to challenge Sinalei for the quality of accommodations. They are priced at around the same level for meals and the food was very nice, but they have a way to go to meet the service standards and immaculate decor of our home resort!
We discovered a local restaurant/cafe at the backpackers in between Sinalei and Coconuts. For less than $10 you could get a great Samoa curry, burger and fries or similar type budget meal. It was really great quality food and filled up with English and Scottish backpackers most evenings for a fun night of dancing, singing and playing pool.
With the weekend over and our flights tomorrow in the early afternoon, our last night involved a bit of dancing on our deck and a soak in our inside ‘plunge pool’ (yes, we had one in our suite!). We all agreed that this was the most luxurious accommodations we’d ever stayed in and we couldn’t fault our room, the view and we just wouldn’t mention the weather!
Samoa seems to have that perfect combination of character, authenticity and yes, they sure know how to bring it in style.
by Jo Wedlock - Content provided by House of Travel
29 SEPTEMBER 2013
Sensational Samoa: Off the beaten track
Are you looking for a holiday with a difference? Somewhere that offers a unique experience but is light on the pocket? Samoa is a destination that is brimming with culture and an authentic, untouched feel. The best part, it’s only a four hour flight time from New Zealand and you feel like you’re in another world.
To help you on your way, the team at Student Flights have put together some top tips for holidaying in Samoa on a budget.
Camping, Samoan Style
For a culturally enriching experience, make the most of your holiday and stay in a few different places while you’re in Samoa. For an authentic stay that is easy on the pocket, spend a few nights in a Fale - these are very traditional and similar to camping, with a mattress, blanket and mosquito net in your own little bungalow.
Hire a Car
Samoa is quite large and while there is public transport, it’s not always reliable. Hire a car to save yourself some time and frustration - you can organise this before you depart and just collect it at the airport when you arrive. If you decide to stay in Savaii, you can also just take the car over with you on the ferry. A word of warning, if you’re travelling in a ute, don’t sit on the sides of the tray. While you may see some locals doing it, you can be fined.
Stock Up on Essentials
Take advantage of the larger supermarkets when you get a chance. Pre-purchasing things like snacks and large bottles of water will save you money, particularly if you’re staying somewhere remote. If you’re really organised, you could even pack some goodies from home to take with you.
Traditional Food, Yes Please
While there isn’t a huge range of accommodation options available in Upolu and Savaii, if you work with your Student Flights consultant, you can find some real bargains. A lot of the local accommodation providers include breakfast and dinner in your room rate - a great way to front foot your costs and keep your pockets full for activities. Not to mention, it’s often delicious.
Fill ‘er Up
In Samoa, all of the natural attractions come with a price tag for entry. It’s vastly different to the land of the long white cloud and even a quick dip at an attractive looking lagoon could set you back a few Tala. Many of the sights charge either per person, or per car load which often works out to be cheaper if you’re travelling with more people.
Student Flights is on sale with Samoa holidays including return airfares flying Air New Zealand, four nights accommodation with tropical breakfast daily and return airport transfers from $669- ex Auckland, per person, twin share. Add on a four-day car hire from $99- per person.
-Price subject to availability. Valid for sales until 30 September 2013, unless sold out prior. Travel from 16 Oct - 25 Nov 13, 08 Feb - 31 Mar 14. Airfares based on Air New Zealand Seat + Bag.
For more information and great deals for Samoa, contact the team at Student Flights on 0800 255 995 or visit www.studentflights.co.nz
18 AUGUST 2013
Life's just a sea breeze
It has a lower profile than many tropical getaway destinations, but this really is the original treasure island, writes Karen Halabi.
It was less than two years after Australians Chris Booth and his wife Wendy built their coastal resort on Samoa's main island of Upolu - in the spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson who built a home and settled here - that the 2009 tsunami hit. Chris recounts how he clung on to a door jamb as waves of water and mud washed over him, and Wendy held on desperately around his waist.
After it was all over they walked uphill, over broken glass and debris, to join incredulous guests. Staff who washed their feet found them totally unscathed. Now it's as if they can walk on water. Their survival, while the resort around them was destroyed, has given them "miracle" status on this religious island. Samoa has an abundance of waterfalls.
Samoa has an abundance of waterfalls.
That door jamb was virtually the only thing left standing, but they started rebuilding almost immediately, and the new Seabreeze Resort opened in 2011. The point where the door jamb stood is now the exquisite honeymoon villa and, with two other beachfront villas, the most deluxe accommodation in Samoa.
Seabreeze, in the horseshoe-shape Paradise Bay, in Upolu's south-east, has just won two 2013 TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice awards, as a top romance and bargain destination in the south Pacific.
I am staying in the honeymoon villa, a private gated villa with glorious deck and 280-degree unimpeded ocean views from the bed. The bathroom has louvred windows opening out on both sides to the ocean so you can take a fresh sea-breezy shower starkers and not worry about the neighbours. Two huge day beds strewn with hibiscus petals, robes, slippers, his and hers walk-ins, an outdoor shower, and I'm on holiday.
Smiling children in Upolu
Samoa means "sacred centre" and the Samoan people are deeply religious. Churches are outnumbered only by the ubiquitous fales that line every beachfront and sit in front of every home as a kind of outdoor open-air living room. Often they are bigger than the houses.
There's a saying that explains why the weather doesn't bother the Samoans: "The rain is God watering his children." There's a sign on the back of the brightly painted buses: "Welcome to heaven." And there's a slogan (that even makes an appearance on bottles of the local beer, Sama): "God's best kept secret." The national motto is "Samoa is founded on God" and signs painted on walls tell me "Jesus is the King of Samoa". Everything here has religious significance.
One Sunday we attend church to watch the singing, which is reminiscent of a gospel gathering in the US's bible belt.
Village women leave their coconut stalls and discard their lava lava (sarongs) for fine white dresses with wide-brimmed hats. They walk miles with brightly coloured umbrellas along country roads to get to church.
Afterwards, there's an umu feast where meat and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves are cooked over coals in the earth.
God's Samoan children certainly are well-watered. The islands are lush, green and cornucopian, with swaying palms and swathes of green jungle interspersed with coconut, cacao, yam, taro and banana plantations.
Survivor: South Pacific was filmed here in this soft adventurer and surfer's paradise. Amazing Race wants to do the same, but flight schedules aren't regular enough to make it work.
Samoa's natural beauty is of the tropical volcanic kind. There are volcanic lava fields, amazing blowholes and waterfalls, stunning beaches and clear, tranquil, turquoise waters ringed by coral reefs. With its white sandy beaches and blue water, Lalomanu, on the south-east coast of Upolu, takes my breath away. Regularly rated among the best in the world, it's listed No.7 on Lonely Planet's top-10 paradises on Earth.
At To Sua Trench, I muster the courage to climb down a 30-metre ladder, a vertical drop into a crystal-clear blue ocean-water swimming hole formed by this gaping volcanic hole in the earth. Even if you're not game, the trench is worth visiting for its jaw-dropping ocean-side setting.
Daredevils used to dive off the ladder, but I choose a safer option and swim at low tide through a lava tube out to sea. Later we swim in a waterfall. They're everywhere, but the best are Papapapaitai and Togitogiga on Upolu and Afu Aau on Savai'i.
They say you haven't seen Samoa until you've seen Savai'i, Samoa's second, and biggest, island. Here we swim with turtles at the wetlands sanctuary in Satoalepai village. They are so friendly that they nudge us into the crystal-clear water for a frolic.
At Taga, on Savai'i's south coast, we watch the leathery old "coconut man" throw coconuts into the Alofaaga Blowholes that hurtle them up to 40 metres into the air.
On the western coast at Falealupo, and also at Le Lagoto Resort, we swim among the coral that comes up almost to the beach. Within metres we discover all kinds of tropical fish. Savai'i has many stunning beaches like this - shallow, calm, wave-less inside-reef white-sand beaches fringed by palm trees - as well as beaches with dark sand and volcanic rock.
Back on Upolu, we hire a car but we also take a ride on a colourful, wooden, open-sided local bus (buses stop anywhere you want and the driver will tell you how much when you get off).
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of his love for the tropics and island life in Treasure Island and Kidnapped, but the inveterate traveller and travel writer chose Samoa to settle and build a home in 1890 after sailing through the south Pacific for three years. To him, these "treasured islands" were the unspoilt paradise he'd been writing about and searching for.
At the author's gracious colonial-style family home, Villa Vailima, I see his writing desk, library, first editions of his classics - even his medicine chest. This is where he died and it is now a museum. It is set atop a breezy hill in botanic gardens.
Samoa has no relentless hawkers, no cities, no built-up areas, and no hard "Where are we going to eat tonight?" decisions to make. There are no "restaurant strips" - you eat at your resort or fale, where breakfast and dinner are included, and until last week when global hotel operator Starwood announced it had signed a deal with Apia's historic Aggie Grey's hotel, Samoa had no chain resorts. (The new Apia Sheraton is expected to open in August 2014.)
Better still for visitors, Samoa represents value for money. Most quoted rates include breakfast, dinner and taxes. An eco "sustainable" destination, most properties have their own water supply. Sinalei Reef Resort, for instance, pumps its supply from an undersea freshwater spring (you can jump off the end of their pier and swim in it).
And, apart from the markets in Apia and Salelologa, there's no real shopping.
The Samoans make great big, beefy, strong footballers but you won't meet a gentler race of people.
Samoa may not have the high profile and the tourist numbers that lure people to other island destinations such as Bali or Fiji, but that may be about to change. Surfers already know about its surf breaks, divers and snorkellers about its underwater wonderland, and backpackers know how cheap a beachfront fale stay can be.
However, until recently, mainstream Australian travellers have largely overlooked Samoa. They eschew this part of Polynesia in favour of the some of the more glamorous, highly promoted, big-budget destinations, parts of which are becoming so overdeveloped and Westernised that sometimes it feels as if you haven't left home. You find yourself yearning for the good old days before shopping malls, bitumen roads and staged cultural shows arrived.
By contrast, on the Samoan islands, there are almost no foreign properties. Land is tightly held by families and considered a part of the village, and development is tightly controlled.
However, Samoa has a whole range of resorts, covering the gamut from budget to luxury, and can be the perfect family, honeymoon or couples' destination. Some (such as Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa) cater exclusively to couples (children under 12 aren't allowed); others cater to families and children (such as Le Lagoto).
There are a few luxury villa properties (such as the boutique Seabreeze and the newly opened 18-room Aga Reef Resort) and for the quintessential Samoan experience, I would highly recommend staying in a fale for at least a night or two and listening to the waves crashing on the reef.
The writer travelled as a guest of the Samoa Tourism Authority.
FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO IN SAMOA
VISIT AN ISLAND
Take a day trip to Namu'a. A 10-minute trip by boat off the coast of the south-eastern most point of Upolu Island, this Robinson Crusoe-style island is uninhabited except for 11 traditional beach fales. There's no power, but you get a bed and a mosquito net, breakfast, dinner and the boat transfer.
Eat umu-style (meat and vegetables are wrapped in banana leaves then cooked over coals in the earth) or revel in the bounty of fresh seafood — often caught just hours before you eat it. Try fresh tuna, mahi-mahi and lobster. Samoa's three most popular dishes are oka (raw fish marinated in lime and coconut milk), palusami (taro leaves baked in coconut milk) and the umu feast.
WATCH AND LEARN
Witness a traditional tattooing ceremony called the Pe'a. Horrifically painful, it can take months to do — intricate geometrical patterns go from the knees to the ribs. Girls have it done from the knees to upper thighs.
CATCH YOUR LUNCH
Go game fishing. Catch your own lunch and have it cooked for you at your fale. Fish available all year round include marlin, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, giant trevally and masi masi.
MEET THE WILDLIFE
Swim with turtles at the wetlands sanctuary in Satoalepai village on Savai'i — so friendly they'll nudge you into the crystal-clear water, where they'll frolic with you.
Virgin Samoa has direct overnight flights to Samoa three times a week (less than six hours) getting you there in time for a day of fun. 13 67 89,virginaustralia.com
Seabreeze Resort, +685 41 391, seabreezesamoa.com; Sinalei Reef Resort and Spa, +685 25 191, sinalei.com; Le Lagoto Beach Resort, +685 58 189, lelagoto.ws. Stay in a breezy beachfront open-air fale. Open-sided with mosquito nets, some have electricity and ceiling fans; rates from 70 tale (about $32) a night, with breakfast and dinner. Litia Sini and Taufua Beach Fales on Lalomanu Beach, samoabeach fales.com. On Savai'i, Vacations Beach Fales at Manase Beach and Falealupo Beach Fales. For an island escape, take a day trip to Namu'a. Just a 10-minute trip by boat off the main island, it is uninhabited, except for the 11 traditional beach fales, which don't have any power.
Check out the fusion cuisine at Seabreeze or dive into seafood often caught just hours before you eat it.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald
17 AUGUST 2013
Samoa resorts and hotels bounce back
IT'S been a tough few years for tourism in Samoa.
Just as the island nation was starting to get back on its feet after the devastating 2009 tsunami, it was hit by tropical Cyclone Evan last December.
Many resorts, which were nearing completion, were badly damaged in the cyclone and work had to start afresh. But with the fourth anniversary of the tsunami next month, Samoa has plenty to look forward to with several new resorts and refurbishments planned.
Last week Starwood Hotels and Resorts signed a deal to rebrand the iconic Aggie Grey's Hotel in the capital, Apia, and Aggie Grey's Beach Resort and Spa, near the airport. The properties will be renamed Sheraton and upgraded to bring them in line with the hotel group's standards.
"It's big news and everyone is very excited about it," Samoa Tourism Authority spokesman Peter Sereno says. "For us it shows that these guys have got their eyes on Samoa as an emerging destination."
Much of the original Aggie Grey's, which was the first hotel in Samoa, was bulldozed after the river burst its banks during the cyclone. It is being rebuilt in a similar colonial style and due to reopen in August next year.
As well as plans for the $60 million Taumeasina Island Resort, which is being built on a man-made island near Apia, several resorts are in the pipeline for the south coast of the largest island, Upolu.
Aga Reef Resort, which caters mostly to couples, opened in July and the family- friendly Saletoga Sands Resort is scheduled to open in April. The latter is a 30-minute drive from the beautiful Lalomanu Beach (often voted one of the world's best) which was one of the worst-hit areas in the tsunami.
Another resort is set to open at Lefaga next year on the site where the 1953 Gary Cooper film Return to Paradise was filmed. It will, naturally, be called Return to Paradise Resort and Spa.
"Nothing has been built on that beach for generations," Mr Sereno says. "It will be one of the biggest resorts on that side of the island with 60 to 70 rooms."
The popular Coconuts Beach Club Resort and Spa also reopened in July, seven months late due to the cyclone.
Mr Sereno says Samoa is a great destination for travellers who want a quieter alternative to Fiji with pristine beaches, rock waterslides, swimming holes, great surfing, Polynesian culture and history.
"There are some really good deals out there in the market at the moment," he says. "You can get seven-day land and flight packages for as low as $1100.
"If people want to try a traditional Samoan experience, they can stay at a fale and pay as little as $35 a night for a bed with dinner and breakfast included."
By Angela Saurine
11 AUGUST 2013
Seeking Savai'i's sunsets
Savai'i is not only Samoa's largest island, it's one of the biggest in all Polynesia. Densely clad in impenetrable jungle, it boasts the highest peak, (Mt Silisili at 1866m), spectacularly rugged beaches and plenty of sheltered sandy coves. Being a volcanic creation, the island is pockmarked with close to 450 volcanic cones, a testament to its many baptisms by fire.
These days, you'll find Savai'i a peaceful place. There's only one set of traffic lights and loads of places to kick back and unwind. If you prefer a more active holiday this popular patch of paradise offers excellent hiking, cycling, fishing and diving.
Getting there is easy. Either fly from Upolu or take the ferry. It's said the bus service on Savai'i is erratic, although the buses themselves, with names like Bon Jovi, Queen Maggie or In Jesus I Trust, are gorgeous. But if you're here for only a short time and don't have all day to sit waiting for a bus that may never come, rent a car.
Straight off the ferry, we nipped into Salelologa Market where you can buy fruit and veges, snacks, toothpaste, enamel mugs, undies, souvenirs, toys and much more. You can never have too many sarongs.
All shopped out, our next port of call was one of the island's best-known attractions, the Alofaaga Blowholes at Taga.
Follow the signposts from Main South Rd, pay the small fee and continue along the rutted track. This natural wonder, created by holes in hardened lava, sees water shoot 60m into the air. If you pay a little extra, the nice man will toss a coconut into the mouth of the hole. Next thing you know the coconut shoots into the sky like a cannonball.
With the mercury at 33C we needed to chill out before calling it a day so took a detour to the Afu Aau Waterfall, a swimming spot with cool water and movie-set surrounds.
Heading along the coastal road to Lagoto Resort, the sky was the most extreme blue. It's a cliche, but I'll call it azure, and the sea looked as if it had been through Photoshop.
Arriving at our digs we were told Lagoto is Samoan for sunset and sure enough we were treated to a spectacular twilight sky of crazy colours. Our room was a treat, with a balcony on the water and, beyond that, a little jetty we could swim off if we wanted a break from the pool.
That first night, all cosy in our fale, we were roused by booming thunder and lightening. The next day we woke to a very different palette - the sky a gunmetal gray, the sea cut from RAF cloth. Undaunted, we struck out for the westernmost village in the island to the Canopy Walkway, which is part of the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve. Assuming you have a head for heights, pay the modest entrance fee and head into the jungle to a sturdy 9m spiral steel stairway. The atmosphere at the top was uplifting, compromised only when we realised we had to cross a rickety 24m swing bridge, one at a time.
Safely on the other side, we climbed even higher into an ancient banyan tree. This is the tree house a giant might build.
What is it about fear that stimulates the appetite? Happily the Va-i-moana Seaside Lodge was open for lunch - a heavenly spot on the beach. You'd be silly not to have fish so fresh that it may as well have been flapping. Our appetites were whetted to do some angling of our own.
It was easy to organise a fishing charter through Va-i-moana Lodge. You can go out all day or just for a few hours, and we were quickly hooked up with a boat and skipper. For the first hour I was sure we'd return empty-handed, but no, we caught a couple of decent barracuda, but the one that got away had to have been the biggest beast of all time.
Talking of beasts, I am so glad we made time to visit the turtles at Saleapaga Village. Lured with the promise of pawpaw, they arrived snorting water from their nostrils. They were at least 1m long, with beaks like parrots. Their flippers were silky and leathery, reptilian and meaty - although don't go there, to ensure their survival these creatures are off the menu for good.
Savai'i is heaven on Earth and I appreciate its charms all the more, writing this at home amid a polar blast, hail peppering the roof.
The Lagoto Resort is for families, couples or independent travellers. Be sure to have a massage, they are seriously amazing.
Va-i-moana Seaside Lodge offers food, fishing trips, snorkelling and accommodation.
Elisabeth Easther and her son were guests of the Samoa Tourism Authority.
- Herald on Sunday
By Elisabeth Easther
08 AUGUST 2013
First global chain arrives in Samoa
Starwood Hotels and Resorts will become the first major global hotel chain to enter the Samoan accommodation market after it was revealed the country’s most iconic hotel brand, Aggie Grey’s, would be rebranding its two properties as Sheraton hotels.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Starwood and Aggie Grey’s in Apia on Wednesday, will see both properties – Aggie Grey’s Hotel and Aggie Grey’s Beach Resort and Spa – become part of the world’s largest luxury hotel family from next year.
Speaking at the gathering, Samoan Prime Minister Honorable Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Dr Sailele Malielegaoi said the arrangement marked “a milestone in the journey of Samoa’s tourism industry”.
“Having the presence of a luxury hotel chain will make a vast difference to the development of the tourism industry,” he remarked.
As well as gaining from Starwood’s extensive marketing networks, highly developed reservation systems and a loyalty program which would drive return visits and greater spending, the PM said the new deal would have “significant spin-off benefits through improved status in the hospitality and service sectors”.
But perhaps most importantly, the move represented “a clear demonstration of foreign investment and confidence in Samoa”.
Signing the MoU for Aggie Grey’s Beach Resort and Spa, chief executive Lupesina Frederick Grey said the deal would take Samoan tourism to “a whole new level”.
“Samoa is at that stage now where it needs a lift in terms of its next growth area in tourism,” he told reporters after the announcement, which was made at the Samoa Conference Centre.
“We believe that having a global chain partner with us in Samoa will take the destination to that level.”
Representing Starwood at the event was Starwood chief executive North America Robert Hermany and Vice President North America Global Acquisitions and Development Siddharth Narang.
Stay tuned for more news from Samoa, where e-Travel Blackboard was on location.
Source = ETB News: Mark Harada
30 JULY 2013
Taumeasina Island resort being built in Samoa
An artist impression of Taumeasina Resort which is being built on a man-made island in Samoa. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied
A $60 million resort is being built on a man-made island in Samoa.
When complete, Taumeasina Island will have 80 rooms and 25 villas, shops, restaurants, a bar, water sports pavilion, day spa, gym, beach and wedding chapel.
Construction on the island resort, near the capital Apia, began last month and the resort is expected to open in early 2016.
The project is being funded by Papua New Guinea company The Lamana Group, which also operates the Heritage Park Hotel in the Solomon Islands and is renovating the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji, and designed by architectural firm Thomson Adsett.
It will be a huge drawcard for the South Pacific nation, which was devastated by a tsunami in 2009 and a cyclone in December.
Source: The Australian
10 JULY 2013
Samoa: Aggie's ready to spoil you
A mix of comfort and adventure awaits you, writes Elisabeth Easther.
Image: To Sua Ocean Trench at Lotofaga village on Upolu, Samoa.
My first trip to Samoa was all about romance, so I didn't do the sort of things you could write about, at least not in a family paper. The second trip was about 20 months later and involved a 1-year old who was on his first legs - so not much time on that trip for anything but vigilance.
However, the most recent expedition, with a 7-year old in tow, was all about action and, oh boy, who knew there was so much to do?
Arriving at Aggie Grey's Lagoon Beach Resort and Spa on Upolu Island - unused to sweltering, coming from the chill of a Kiwi winter - we immediately hit the water.
The pool, right by the beach, contained an interesting mix of well-known rugby players, Peace Corps volunteers, Americans, Australians and Brits.
Some played water polo, some sat at the swim-up bar.
While we frolicked the clouds rolled in and, the next thing we knew, it was pouring - which for some reason gave us the giggles and certainly wasn't a reason to get out.
On Sunday evenings, Aggie's puts on a buffet, where we developed our fondness for oka (raw fish salad), and the benchmark was set pretty high.
For the next week we tried it as often as we could.
Even though it was tempting to test the limits of our capacity for doing absolutely nothing, there is so much to do on Samoa's main island of Upolu it would've been criminal not to check out the attractions.
So the the next day we ignored the pool, the pristine beach, the kids' club (sorry, Theo) and all-day eating options and set off along the south coast in search of adventure.
Driving through village after village I began to suspect there was a competition for best-tended garden.
We pointed at every runaway pig, every pecking chicken and soaked up the tropical sights of jungles, beaches and fales. As for the plentiful, magnificent churches, they told us, in no uncertain terms, who the boss is around these parts.
Our first stop was Togitogiga Waterfall, where hardy souls can launch themselves into the water from great heights while less-confident swimmers bathe in the cool waters below.
We'd happily have spent the day paddling there but another swim beckoned, at To Sua Ocean Trench at Lotofaga village.
Translating as "big hole", locals believe this to be the place the spirits of the recently departed take their final leap, and the villagers will tell you how sometimes, in the dark of night, they hear people crying and calling out.
During the day it's not spooky, although the long wooden ladder you have to climb down to enter the water is pretty spine-tingling.
Lashed to the wall of this steep-sided swimming hole, it took every ounce of courage not only to descend the 30-plus rungs, but to trust my son to come too.
Happily, we made it safely to the little wooden stage and jumped into the deep blue water.
A woman sitting on the side warned us about the current and, once we were in, we immediately understood why she was compelled to say something.
There is a considerable swell.
First, we were washed one way, there was no fighting it, then we'd be becalmed for a short time, before being swooshed back the other way. Back and forth, we let it carry us, like a fairground ride, Theo dubbing it the Great Current Road.
Starving by now, lunch long overdue, we'd been told Seabreeze was the place to go; talk about an excellent call.
Chris and Wendy, formerly from Australia, have turned a picture-perfect bay into a boutique resort.
The cove is a cliche of prettiness, little islands dotting the water, one with an unusual egg-shaped tomb on it, another with three palm trees placed just so by nature's art department.
The pool and rooms looked so cosy and, as for the honeymoon suite, which juts out over the water, it would almost be worth getting married if it meant spending time there.
Lunch was equally swish, in the beautiful breezy dining room over the sea. And it's not just me giving the chef two thumbs up, Seabreeze was the overall winner in last year's Friendship Week Food and Wine Challenge.
The prawns, the tuna steak and the pasta were all amazing.
We continued around the coast to Lalomanu, one of Upolu's most famous beaches, to take a satisfying battering in the tide.
Usually it's much calmer but the wind direction made for an invigorating post-lunch dip. The rustic beach fales here would be lovely to stay in, but it had been a big day and Aggie's was calling
The food on this trip was a highlight.
Aggie's daily breakfast buffet could sustain a person all day, or at least till mid-afternoon.
Tropical fruit, pancakes, omelettes, pretty much anything you might fancy, mountains of baked and fried goods.
In fact you could easily not leave the grounds of the resort with its spa, the pool, beach, tennis courts, kids' club, restaurants and bars.
The lovingly tended gardens were pretty neat too.
My favourites were the frangipani trees, their branches like antlers. Another day, we explored in the other direction, heading towards Apia where we fed the turtles in their pool at Le Vasa Resort, wandered around the Beach Rd markets, ate pork buns and chop suey, and swam in the Piula Cave Pool, a crystal-clear freshwater swim in the grounds of the Piula Methodist Theological College, east of Apia.
You'll want to bring your snorkel to explore the underwater caves and goggle at the big fat fish.
As for dinner at Paddles in Apia, wow - harbour views, Pacific Italian fusion cuisine, great service - this place really floated our boat.
And I haven't even got to the Papase'ea Sliding Rocks (like nature's hydroslide), or Manono Island (charming, no cars or dogs), or the cycle tour (if you have the energy) or the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.
And to think I'd optimistically brought Treasure Island along for the ride.
But reading had to take a back seat on this jaunt, there was just too much to do.
GETTING THERE: Air New Zealand flies between Auckland and Apia about six times a week, depending on the season.
ACCOMMODATION: Aggie Grey's Lagoon Resort and Spa, everything you'd want a resort to be.
SEABREEZE RESORT: For lunch or longer seabreezesamoa.com Paddles, Beach Rd, Apia. On Facebook
Source: The New Zealand Herald
10 JULY 2013
Warm hearted Samoa
By Matt Nippert
There's only one traffic light in the Samoan port of Salelologa, and it's often on the blink.
If island time is traditionally an hour or two late, in Savai'i - home to 44,000 souls and countless free-roaming domestic pigs - the clock's wound back another decade.
The only games of chance played here appear to be bingo tournaments raising funds for churches that dot the coastline.
Samoa is no Sin City, and for family travelling - and I'm here with my wife and 2-year-old son - Samoa's a happy tropical medium between the first-world expense and comfort of the Gold Coast and the cheap-but-challenging Southeast Asia.
If your child can manage the flight - and fellow passengers will be praying they can - Samoa is a dream respite from winter with almost every attraction and landmark only a few hours' drive away. And the biggest danger is seemingly wandering livestock on the road.
Arriving at Faleolo Airport on Upolu, the main island, you immediately know you're not in Changi.
Having flown direct from wintry New Zealand, the airport's open-air design makes queuing for customs akin to standing in front of a wall of hair dryers as fans recirculate the 30-degree afternoon.
And once processed and acclimatised, it quickly becomes apparent that the temperature isn't the only thing to have risen in the four hours flying across the Pacific Ocean.
Wireless access seems to start at $10 an hour.
Allied to brutal international roaming rates, there's no better excuse to disconnect from home and work - and 2013 - and drop off grid.
But Samoa is clearly on the way up.
The United Nations has flagged the island - free of political instabilities seen in other parts of the Pacific - as a candidate to graduate from Less Developed Country status.
Tourism's been a big driver of this imminent transformation as the industry is the country's second-biggest export earner, only behind remittances from Samoans who are seeking their living offshore.
Savai'i has less a national roading network than a circulation of rough roads skirting around volcanic rocks.
None of the geothermal activity is active, but past explosions and eruptions have left their mark with black-rock cliffs, lava fields and seaside blowholes that channel waves into explosive geysers.
One practical side-effect of this busy geology are endless swimming holes and waterfalls. With an aquatic wife, and a tadpole-like 2-year-old, every swimming opportunity demands to be taken.
Changing sheds, along with fences and barriers, are non-existent at these informal pools. On occasion, ladders climbing down to swimming spots are covered in moss - Osh would have a field day - but managing minor risks is worthwhile as a respite from the heat.
Togitogiga, on Upolu, and the Afu Aau Waterfall, on Savai'i, are the pick of the bunch but locals can point to dozens more if resort pools and beaches become boring.
And some of the glorious beaches may become boring just because they're empty.
At Savai'i's Falealupo Beach Fales, a picturesque beach is entirely deserted; bicycle tracks in the white sand from a tour group earlier in the day are the only evidence of human activity.
Away from the water and back to the dining table, Samoa's foodie culture is also moving rapidly from less developed to budding culinary hotspot.
For New Zealand-born international chef Robert Oliver, bringing the foods of the South Pacific to the world has turned into a crusade.
His recent book, Me'a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific, picked up the top gong at 2010's Best Cookbook in the World competition, and his follow-up - including a television series provisionally titled Real Pasifik - will focus on the kitchens of Samoa.
There's more to the local diet than starchy taro, with Apia featuring a number of Ponsonby-quality restaurants and tourist spots around both main islands catering to travellers wanting more than fish and chips.
Well, some are still after the old favourites. My son is pleased to find that using one of his few words - "chips"- results in consistent delivery of fried potatoes.
Fish, pulled straight from the sea, is uniformly good even without batter.
Slabs of tuna or diced mahi-mahi marinated in citrus as oka almost compare with free-range pork that could well have walked off the road and into the kitchen.
There's good swimming and good eating, but the pinnacle of Samoa for my son sees him add to his vocabulary: "Turtle."
The green turtles of the ocean were historically hunted for food in Samoa but, with numbers dwindling, efforts have been made to protect a now-endangered species.
At Satoalepai village in Savai'i, a sanctuary has been set up to nurse injured turtles, mostly those caught in fishing nets, back to health.
Their recuperation is the tourists' gain, as dozens of the giant-shelled creatures are only too happy to share their pools with the curious.
These turtles aren't your small home aquarium variety either, being up to 10 times heavier than my 18-kilogram son.
Not that it stops him try to ride on their backs.
Fortunately, these are not the carnivorous snapping variety, and these gentle giants will only ponderously lunge for papaya.
With new words, full bellies and a welcome touch of sun, it is a shame to come home.
On the flight back, where the only noise out of my son is the repeated chanting of "turtle", I already begin to miss a place where the only chance of a polar blast comes with the spilling of a blended margarita.
Matt Nippert travelled to Samoa courtesy of the Samoa Tourism Authority.
24 JUNE 2013
Siva Afi Festival, Samoa Half Iron and Teuila Festival: Roam the globe
By Lisa Scott
Siva Afi festival
Samoa, formed of ten tropical islands scattered in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, has a busy schedule of traditional and modern events taking place this summer. The first is a centuries-old fire knife festival that warriors once used to showcase their skills. Today, you can watch competitors swinging a flamed knife from the corners of their mouths. The initial stages start on June 27 and 28, with the final taking place on June 29.
Tickets £20 (including dinner)
Samoa Half Iron
Samoans have a reputation for their resilience and love of competitive sports, so it was only a matter of time before they got involved in the world’s current love affair with triathlons. The first long-distance triathlon takes place on August 10 on the main island of Upolu, the last home of Robert Louis Stevenson. It starts with a 2km swim course in the warm waters of Apia Harbour, followed by a 90km ride passing through villages from east to north Upolu, finally finishing with a 21km run through capital city Apia.
Entrance fee £127. For tour packages, visit www.samoahalfironman.com
Samoan’s annual seven-day festival is an authentic one-stop shop for any tourist who wants to learn about Samoan culture. Watch the art of Samoan tattooing, a Miss Samoa contest, a fautasi race on longboats, once used as a means of transportations across the islands of Samoa, all while snacking on local specialities such as okra, fish marinated in lemon juice or Lu’au, made from the leaves of the taro plant and coconut cream.
20 JUNE 2013
Samoa: Aggie gets in another round
Guests around the pool, pre-Cyclone Evan, at Aggie Grey's in Apia. Photo / Greg Bowker
Evan had Aggie on her knees. But, that grand lady of the South Pacific is on her way back and will soon dance again on Apia's waterfront.Evan had Aggie on her knees. But, that grand lady of the South Pacific is on her way back and will soon dance again on Apia's waterfront.
Samoa's iconic hotel, Aggie Grey's, was badly damaged by Cyclone Evan last December, but Marina Grey (daughter-in-law of the late Aggie Grey) claims the formidable dame is now well on her way to re-opening.
During the cyclone, the Vaisigano River bordering the hotel, swept in destroying much of its famed fale restaurant and the premier fale rooms. The water was up to the third floor of the hotel and many guests who had been huddling in the upper rooms had to be rescued from the roof.
As I drove east along Apia's Beach Rd in late May, the legendary hotel - built during World War II - looked pretty much the same as it had before the cyclone's devastation. But, it was when I got out of the car and actually tried the main door that the full impact of its current closure struck me.
It was a Mary Celeste moment. The lobby was still beautifully decorated with fresh flowers. Red serviettes were placed artistically on the fully set dining room tables, but the front door was firmly closed with heavy-duty chains.
Fortunately, business was in full swing at the neighbouring Aggie Grey's Gift Shop and Marina Grey was happy to leave her work there to take me on a tour of the refurbishments. She was charming and helpful.
"There has been so much interest in the work going on, I have been taking many people around," she said.
The daughter of a Samoan mother and Danish father, she is married to Aggie Grey's son, Alan. They run the business (Aggie Grey's Group now also includes Aggie Grey's Beach Resort & Spa, Le Meridien in Tahiti and Samoa Scenic Tours) with their son, Fred (who is the managing director), and daughter, Tanya. They also have a daughter called Aggie who closely resembles her famous grandmother.
"Oh my God, it was so shocking. There was a roar and it was like a tsunami wave when the water came rushing through from the river. It was so high, we couldn't believe it and it was blocked up with logs and debris, while the stench left was horrific," Marina said, recalling the day Cyclone Evan struck.
Ironically, a major refurbishment had just been completed. "It was all looking absolutely beautiful." But, Marina is determined the hotel will be operational for a conference booked for August this year.
In late May, staff were busy working on the final stages of tiding the extensive tropical gardens, which had been buried in 2m of silt. The vibrant plants had returned to rampant splendour and the fragrance of the frangipani was breathtaking.
The huge restoration is expected to cost about $5.5 million. While some reports put completion in 2014, Marina has her own eyes set on August.
When the upgraded Aggie Grey's is reopened it will include about 177 hotel rooms and Samoan-style bungalows or fales. And the renowned Fia Fia (cultural entertainment) nights will resume.
"Yes, Aggie's has been crawling, but she'll soon be walking and then dancing again," Marina smiles with all the charm and character that made her legendary mother-in-law so well loved.
GETTING THERE: Air New Zealand usually flies between Auckland and Apia six times a week, depending on the season.
Article: Robyn Yousef
Source: The New Zealand Herald
31 MAY 2013
Samoa enjoys boost in visitor numbers
Samoa has enjoyed a healthy year with a record number of overseas guests visiting the Treasured Islands in 2012.
Based on arrival cards for the year, an increase in overall travel to Samoa of 5.5% have been recorded, with Holiday travel up by 20.4% and Business travel clocking in at 24.2% respectively.
Australia continues to play a major role in increasing travelers with strong growth from both markets, with an increase of over 25% in Holiday travel and 29% for Business.
Overall growth ex Australia was recorded at a growth of almost 12% YOY.
Adele Leathan, from Samoa Tourism Authority Australia says that Samoa is in the cusp of incredible growth with more and more Australians discovering Samoa as anemerging destination and all the unique experiences it has to offer.
“Australia’s holiday and leisure numbers are up 25.2%, an overall increase of 11.7% YOY. December holiday/leisure market reflected an increase of nearly 38%, so it’s exciting for us to see that despite working within a challenging environment, that Aussies are appreciating what Samoa has to offer”.
“Our Aussie visitors continue to be mesmerized by our pristine uncrowded beaches, gorgeous waterfalls and natural attractions such as To Sua Ocean Trench andPapaseea Sliding Rocks. They love swimming with the sea turtles either at their natural habitat at Namua Island or the sanctuary in Savaii and of course, no trip is complete without a visit to Robert Louis Stevenson’s House in Vailima! Aussies go back home raving about their experiences which makes Samoa the hottest emerging destination in theSouth Pacific” says Adele.
The growth has sparked new developments in Samoa especially on the south side of the island with plans of a new wharf and possibly an airport on the pipeline.
New resorts are popping up on scenic spots along the coast to take advantage of the spectacular scenery such as the 4.5 star Aga Reef Resort, Saletoga Sands Resort and Spa as well as the much anticipated opening of of Return to Paradise Beach Resort set to open its doors in late2013.
Established resorts are also upgrading facilities, most exciting of all being the return of surf icon Sa’Moana Surf Resort and of course, Coconuts Resort and Spa’s overwater fales to Samoa. These rooms will offer a spectacular view of the Pacific and are set to open in time for Samoa’s 2013 Independence Day celebrations.
28 MAY 2013
Pacific Islands: Sizzling in Samoa
By Chloe Johnson
Five men dressed in brightly coloured flower-patterned shirts and lava-lava skirts squish on to a tiny stage with their instruments. Their pearly-white teeth sparkle through large smiles as they sing to the tourists and returning locals filing off a plane.
The sound of ukuleles is a refreshing welcome to Samoa's main island, Upolu, and a fitting start to a week in the Pacific Island where singing, dancing and performance is embedded in the culture.
It's also the start of the Teuila Festival, an annual celebration of Samoan cultural activities ranging from traditional tattooing to longboat racing, dancing and singing.
This year is Teuila's 21st birthday, and hundreds of people are on the island to celebrate. Teuila is also the name of the national red ginger flower, and a popular name for Samoan women, our guide says.
He beeps at children walking on the side of the road, making them jump out of danger's way. The kids stare curiously at the van-load of palagi (white folk), before smiling and waving. They chase after us, giggling and screaming until their little legs and lungs run out of steam. The sound of their laughter is like music to my ears.
In the morning, a loud gong wakes me from a deep sleep. It's 7.30am on a Sunday, the country's most significant day of the week, which starts at church and ends at church.
There are three main religious denominations in Samoa - Congregational, Catholic and Methodist. At least 95 per cent of the population attend Sunday church services.
The large church is cream and blue with stained-glass windows, and towers above the community's small fale (houses). Inside, women are dressed in white gowns and large white-brimmed hats. They sit on one side of the room cooling themselves with weaved fans. Men wear crisp, tidy white suits or cream lava-lava and shirts. They sit on the other side of the room while the restless children play.
The sermon and songs are all in Samoan so, unfortunately, I don't understand a word. But the passion in the congregation's voices and the expression on their faces almost brings a tear to my eyes.
That night, we experience a different kind of singing at the Coconuts Resort's fiafia ceremony, a traditional celebration of dancing and singing followed by an ava ceremony and fire dance.
A fa'afafine with long black curly hair and a red flower pinned behind her ear welcomes guests in a shy, sweet voice. Women glide on to the sand stage in front of five musicians playing plastic buckets, guitars and ukuleles. The women move their hands delicately, swaying their hips, smiling elegantly at the captivated audience.
The music quickens as men in grass skirts and leaf necklaces bounce on to the stage with a haka-like performance. The girls make their way to the back while the men jump up and down, slapping themselves in sync with each other. Our guide says the Fa'ataupati dance, or slap dance, mimics the slapping of mosquitoes and was developed in the 19th century when the pests invaded the land.
The next morning, the local newspaper leads with a story about how Samoans are bored with the festival, moaning that it is only for tourists. I think the moaners have got it wrong.
Our entertainment continues with a drive across the island into Apia, the capital, where people have commenced inter-village championships for games including volleyball and kilikiti, the Samoan version of cricket. As is always the case in Samoa, it isn't a true event without singing and dancing on the sidelines.
One of the most popular festival events is the long boat race. These boats are called fautasi and are similar to Maori waka. Fautasi were the main transport between the Samoan islands Upolu and Savaii but, with modern ferries now in use, the boats are used only for racing. Made out of hollowed trees, it takes 40 strong rowers to carve along them the water as they chant.
The race is usually for men only but this year Samoa had its first female crew. Unfortunately, they didn't manage to complete the route.
Although the Samoans are highly competitive, there are no real losers and everyone is in high spirits for the night's entertainment on the Teuila stage, outside Government House. Hip-hop dance crews, funny fa'afafines and contestants from a local TV show similar to New Zealand's Got Talent are just a few of the acts. The festival is wrapped up the following day with a Raggamuffin concert in 38C heat.
The set-up is simple: stalls sell food and drinks as the grass area turns into a sea of red, green and yellow as people dressed in Rastafarian colours form an intimate crowd drinking Vailima - Samoa's best beer. When Monsta G takes the stage the crowd goes wild. The California-based rapper kicks off an eight-hour show that includes Savage, Swiss, Spawnbreezie and New Zealand-based singer Joe Coffee.
It is the perfect end to a music-filled week. Happy 21st, Teuila.
Source: The New Zealand Herald
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
The writer: Chloe Johnson travelled courtesy of Samoa Tourism Authority on Virgin Samoa.
30 APRIL 2013
Fishing for compliments on the South Pacific outpost of Samoa
Samoans are a tough bunch. So how will Adrian Phillips fare on a visit to the islands?
Anthony, my guide, was like a chunk of granite in flip-flops. There seemed to be a great many chunks of granite flip-flopping their way through the streets of the capital, Apia. I could have thrown a rope with my eyes shut and lassoed somebody more than capable of pushing a grand piano up a flight of stairs. Yes, if there's a certainty in life, it's that a Samoan won't blow away in a gale. And that's no bad thing when you live on a palm-fringed island in the South Pacific because occasionally nature packs up the sun, stirs up the sea and points its attack dogs at paradise.
A month before our arrival, Cyclone Evan had hit Upolu, one of the two main islands in the Independent State of Samoa (formerly known as Western Samoa). It was the worst tropical storm the people had faced in over 20 years, a vast plughole swirl that snapped banana trees like toothpicks and sucked roofs from their houses. Part of the airport collapsed, power was lost and surging floodwater flipped cars upside down. But these islanders are as big in spirit as they are in body.
"The day afterwards, I saw a house that was leaning right over but hadn't quite collapsed," Anthony chuckled. "The owner had painted a message outside: 'Down but not out!'"
That's Samoan spirit writ large: uncompromising, steadfast, even a touch masochistic in its relish for life's bumps and bruises. It feeds the implacable commitment of the national rugby team, whose most famous player was called "the Chiropractor" because the blind ferocity of his tackling rearranged opponents' bones. It steels the nerve of those who choose to display the pe'a, a traditional tattoo that reaches from the ribs to the knees and is scored into the skin with a hammer and sharpened pieces of boar tusk. But Anthony had declared that nobody personifies such iron resolve more keenly than a lady called Zita Martel – that to know Zita was to understand Samoa – and he was taking me to see her.
Anthropologists aren't sure whether the ancestors of today's Samoans came from South-east Asia or South America, but either way they made a heck of a sea trip to get here. The islands are dust-specks on a mass of blue, almost 2,000 miles from Auckland. Each year the villages celebrate their seafaring heritage with a lung-burstingly competitive longboat fautasi race. There are two things to note about longboat racing. First, the longboats really are long. Forget those dainty slivers you see sliding along the Thames: these measure 100ft in length and hold a burly crew of 50. It takes supreme teamwork to propel such a behemoth through the waves. Second, this is a sport for men – conservatively, doggedly, won't-hear-it-any-other-way insistently male-only. Or at least it was until Zita came along.
Zita greeted us with a gentle smile and a flower in her hair. You'd struggle to find anyone who looked less likely to say boo to a goose. But as she spoke, it became clear she was a goose-booer through and through. Her story began in 2000 with a meeting of her local church committee to elect a skipper for their longboat. Zita was serving tea when someone proposed that, because she was an expert canoeist, she should be given the captain's role. Before she'd even downed her teapot in protest, the motion had been carried. "I refused, flat out. 'In case you haven't noticed, I'm a woman,' I said to them. But the chairman replied: 'Do women from the village of Aleipata have no guts?' My blood boiled. Nobody says I've got no guts. And so I took it on."
A fautasi skipper is master of his boat. He sets tactics and training, and stands proud in the stern to urge on his men. He must command complete respect. Zita had never set foot in a longboat and when she took her position at the start of the 2001 race, she did so as the only woman among 699 men manning the 14 boats. "The skipper of the team next to ours stared me in the eye and put his leg up on the side of the boat so that his lava-lava [sarong] fell open in the wind – and he wasn't wearing any undies. It was psychological warfare. His crew burst into laughter and I could see the strength leaking out of my guys. We came last by a mile – it was humiliating."
Zita's response is already the stuff of folklore. Fautasi means "build as one". From that point on, she told her crew, it was a philosophy that would guide everything they did. They would work hard together, without complaint or hierarchy. She would brook no indiscipline. But her approach was about more than huff and puff. Another word for longboat is sa, which translates as "sacred"; Zita taught her charges that their boat was a symbol of something greater, of shared history, that they rowed in the shadows of their ancestors. Her challenge to the traditionalists was rooted firmly in tradition. "I told my boys, 'You are descended from warriors. You have a fighting fierceness in you. Own the fierceness and you will fly.'" And the following year they did fly, sweeping all aside to win the race. Now that's Samoan spirit in a nutshell.
Early the next morning, I walked to Apia harbour for an ocean adventure of my own. I was greeted by a skipper with a smile as wide as Zita's, but he didn't have a flower in his hair or, indeed, many teeth in his mouth. Ian was the leather-skinned captain of the Pure Indulgence, a cruiser that takes tourists on fishing and wildlife-watching trips around the islands. "We might see a humpback or a sperm whale, touch wood on my bald spot," said Ian, tapping the crown of his head.
It was the wet season and the weather could turn on a sixpence. We left Upolu's coast beneath a band of blue and headed towards a sky growing heavy with cloud. At the back of the boat, Shae – a wiry New Zealander with gingery whiskers – had cast four fishing lines, their pink lures leaping in the frothing wake. A tern swung in behind the boat, dipping to prod at a lure before departing in search of a less rubbery meal.
I've never traced my family tree, but Phillips means "lover of horses" so seafarers probably don't feature prominently. As time passed and the wind grasped harder, my stomach became increasingly conscious of the pitching world around me. I watched the lures skip up and down, up and down. The rod tips swayed back and forth as though leading nature in a lurching dance to the throb of the engine. "Seasickness isn't nice," Shae observed, with concise accuracy. "Best to focus on the horizon." I directed a shaky gaze at the flat, dark mountains in the distance; they rose and fell like scene changes in a puppet theatre.
A moment later, one of the rod reels bursts into life, its spool becoming a screeching blur of yellow line as something dragged the lure into the depths. Shae pointed urgently to a wooden seat fixed to the middle of the deck. I wobbled queasily into position and he slotted the end of the rod into a cup between my legs. For a minute, we did nothing as the line fed out to sea, but finally it slowed and the reel went quiet. "It's over to you," said Shae, with a supportive slap on my shoulder. "Pull evenly up on the rod and then wind the line in as you lower the tip." And so the battle began.
I pulled and wound, pulled and wound, the spool gathering precious layers of yellow before the fish made a sudden dash and the line spilled back below the waves. "Start again," Shae urged. Pull, wind, pull, wind, screeeeeech. Silence. Pull, wind ... The boat continued to lift and roll. Nausea washed over me in cold and sweaty assaults. I rallied around Zita's warrior words, trying to concentrate on the fierceness inside me rather than the tropical pancake breakfast. "Don't let the line go slack or you'll lose him!" warned Shae. My arms felt filleted of their bones. "Keep going – if you rest, the fish rests!" For nearly an hour we struggled, that 8ft marlin and me, until the tug of war was won. Shae shook my cramping hand as I slumped in the chair. "Well, that was easy," teased Ian as he hoisted the boat's blue marlin flag. "We'll find you a big one before we finish, touch wood on my bald spot."
That night I stayed in a hillside hut on tiny Manono Island, ferried there in his tin boat by a rotund village chief and his sons. They cooked a meal with the mahi mahi I'd also caught that day, a pug-nosed brute of a fish that tasted delicious with warm banana and bread fruit. Next morning I woke to the throaty calls of cockerels and walked around the island's single track through trees hung with papayas and banks of orange flowers that buzzed with bees. Villagers waved from their fales, open-sided homes with roofs of thatch or iron. Sometimes children joined me, walking a few steps in front as if guarding my progress through their villages. Piglets truffled and chickens scraped. Wooden outrigger canoes lay at the shoreline. There were no cars on Manono.
In the following days, Anthony took me to Savai'i, the biggest island and the lushest, to explore its rainforest and black lava fields and to trek through the jungle-filled crater of Mount Tafua. Wherever we went, life was lived with the same Samoan spirit. You could see it in the games of kilikiti at the roadside, whole villages passionately absorbed in their peculiar form of cricket played with a three-sided bat and a ball made from leaves. You could see it in the teenagers daring each other to leap from rocky ledges and swim under waterfalls. You could see it in the way families treated the gravestones in their gardens, the tombs used as seats or tables, the dead still part of the group, the ancestors never forgotten.
And you could see it in Anthony's eyes one afternoon when our route was blocked by the waist-high flow of a flooded river. We waited an hour before he could resist the challenge no longer. "Hold on," he said, revving the engine and gritting his teeth, and we plunged forward into the foaming sweep of water.
Source: The Independent
19 APRIL 2013
Playing with fire and beauty queens in Samoa
It’s not every day you get your photo taken standing between a beauty queen and a fearsome tribal warrior. But there I was, sandwiched between the reigning Miss Samoa and a truly scary looking dude in full regalia as the photographer snapped away. Talk about beauty and the beast!
This rare photo opp came as more than 40 hotel operators and tourism related businesses gathered at the To’oa Salamasina Hall in Apia for the third Fa’a Samoa Roadshow, designed to showcase the many and varied offerings of this delightful country. The event has grown every year and the 2013 version was the biggest in its short history.
I was among a host of travel agents, buyers and sellers from Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the UK who attended the event and like my colleagues was truly impressed by the range of accommodation and activities available. Samoa has gone through some tough times in recent years but with the resilience and good humour that its people are renowned for, the country is well and truly open for business.
Once the day-long roadshow was complete, we were able to visit some of the properties that had attended and enjoy some of the local activities. I was particularly taken by the Orator Hotel in Tanumapua, just 10 minutes from the centre of Apia. Open just three years and run by a delightful couple, this hotel has magnificent gardens, a cascading, three-tier pool, spacious restaurant and superior villa accommodation.
We also got to visit the Aga Reef Resort, which had only been open for a week, the magestic Seebreeze Resort, and the always impressive Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa, all of which offer views of the ocean and stunning coastline of Samoa.
But what would a trip to Samoa be without a little adrenalin rush? So it was off to the Sua Trench and a somewhat daunting climb down a wooden ladder to the cave pool below. Gird your loins and make the effort to climb down because once you are in the water, it really is an amazing spot.
So next time you’re looking for somewhere a little different, why not consider Samoa? It’s only five hours from the east coast and just three hours ahead of Australia. The people are friendly, the weather is great and there are coastal resorts that are the match of any around the world. Wish you were there?