23 October, 2012 permalink
Angling in Paradise
By Al McGlashan
AT this time of year, as the seasons change over, we often suffer green water along the NSW coastline. Winter refuses to let go and summer can’t quite get a grip and take over.
As a consequence, fishing at the moment has been very up and down.
That is frustrating enough but for someone who works in the water it is not good for business.
The solution was simple hop on a plane and head to Samoa.
Found some five hours flying time east of Sydney, it has some of the best underwater visibility on the planet.
Unlike so many other tropical islands that have been smothered with fancy resorts, Samoa is largely unexploited and unspoilt by commercial overkill.
Surrounded by coral reefs that plunge down into the depths, it is
the waters along the remote southern side of the island, just where the water drops down several kilometres into the Tongan Trench.
The place was alive with sea birds, whales and an amazing array of sportfish.
Trolling a spread of lures barely a few kilometres offshore we enjoyed constant action on all types of tropical delights from wahoo to blue marlin.
However it was the mahi that simply an angler’s paradise.
Teaming up with the guys from Troppo Fishing, we probed However it was the mahi that were the star of the show.
With a cobalt blue backdrop, their brilliant golden-green flanks stood out so vividly that they almost made the images appear 3D.
Even better, on one particular day the mahi went crazy and we caught fish almost non-stop.
What was really interesting was that the mahi were always accompanied by white terns.
Check out the bird hovering and a hook-up is guaranteed.
It was exciting fishing but by the end of the day I was the end of the day I was completely exhausted, having spent half the day in the water swimming with the mahi.
While mahi aren’t dangerous, I did have a close call at one stage.
With two big fish hooked up simultaneously I jumped in and immediately started filming the closest fish.
I was so focused on my subject that I completely forgot about the other fish. That was until it suddenly crashed into me.
The collision was of such force that the impact ripped the snorkel out of my mouth and left me gasping for air.
Mind you, I was lucky I didn’t end up with some huge hooks in the back of the head. And would you believe it the shots of the original fish turned out to be some of the best of the trip, making all the effort worthwhile.
AL’S MAHI TIPS 1 23 Watch the birds Use smaller lures and single hooks Photograph them as soon as possible to get their best side Don’t forget Al’s new series Big Fish Small Boats resumes on Sunday October 28 at 6pm on One.
Source: Daily Telegraph, Sydney
Image: Al McGlashan
22 October, 2012 permalink
Escape the tourist trap in Samoa
By Michael Wright
Samoa's international airport looks like a community centre. If you picked it up and plonked it in say, Ashburton, it would serve as an excellent place to host rugby club prizegivings, fundraising quiz nights and pot-luck dinners.
The Pacific nation boasts many great treasures the world wants to see, but has spent no time trying to make its airport one of them.
Situated in the northeastern corner of the main island of Upolu, the airport is about a half-hour drive to the capital, Apia. The journey to the south side of the island, where I am staying, takes almost as long again. There really isn't anything in Samoa that's more than a couple of hours away.
Any drive of length reveals the homogeneity of Samoan society. That might sound bad, but it's not. Aside from Apia (population 37,000), the entire country is made up of villages, none of which has more than about 50 houses.
These villages appear all the same. Of course, they are not, but to the untrained tourist eye, they blend easily into one another.
They all have fales - wall-less buildings of varying size that serve as a family's social centre or meeting areas for an entire village - windowless houses, the odd shop and at least one enormous, magnificent church. Many houses have graves in front of them.
Within an hour we are at Sinalei Reef Resort. Its name meant nothing to me until about a week earlier, but that's the case with almost everywhere on the island. There is no Samoa Hilton. No Four Seasons, no Sheraton and no Hyatt. If you want resorts where westerners can experience a tropical island's climate and little else, you have about three choices. Sinalei is one of them and, yes, it's fantastic.
My room has a veranda out over the beach, so I can slip under the rail and go for a swim if I feel the pool is too far away.
The hut is new. Its predecessor was wiped out in the devastating 2009 tsunami. No-one died here, but put that down to good luck as much as anything.
The resort was fully booked two days before the earthquake hit and was only half full on the fateful day. Staff and guests had about eight minutes to get to higher ground.
On the southeastern corner of the island, villages such as Aufaga, Lepa, Saleapaga and Lalomanu tell their story.
Nearly three years after the tsunami, the skeletal remains of already fragile fales serve as reminder of what happened. Sixty per cent of the tsunami's victims came from this area, and its geography tells you why. From the golden beaches, flat terrain stretches about 100 metres inland before jutting into a steep, insurmountable hillside. Those who fled had no chance of getting past this point. A half-built escape track now zigzags its way up the hill, in case there is a next time.
If the south coast of Upolu bears the scars of the 2010 tsunami, the north side of Savai'i has the effects of devastating cyclones and volcanic eruptions etched into it.
Bigger and with fewer people that its neighbour Upolu to the south,
One of the bigger ones, Mt Matavanu, erupted on and off for six years between 1905 and 1911. Lava flowed above ground from mountain top to foreshore for 18 straight months and is still there today - in the form of a 100sqkm expanse of black basalt rock.
The sight of anything as far as the eye can see will usually command one's attention. In the case of the Saleaula lava fields it's what you feel as much as what you see. The oppressive heat that beats off it like a giant radiator enters your body through every pore, rendering you powerless to do anything except stand and take in the sight.
Beneath our feet are tubes, some hundreds of metres long, marking the path underground that lava flows took to the ocean once those on top had solidified. These dank cylinders, many easily big enough to walk through, are now home to peapea - tiny birds fast enough through the air to beat your torchlight. Only when they whizz past your ears do they betray their presence.
The Peapea Cave entrance is near the village of Letui, on Savai'i's north coast. Drive west from there and things get quiet. Villages, sparsely populated, are infrequent. The odd fale, decaying and half hidden from view in roadside forest, hints at settlements that once were.
In 1990, cyclone Ofa ripped this section of Savai'i apart; in 1991, Cyclone Val followed suit. Two of the strongest cyclones ever recorded, their dual force has had a permanent effect, reducing some villages to dots on outdated maps.
Near the western tip of the island all that remains in one village is a house and a giant, brand-new church. A bare-chested man stands outside the house, doing nothing in particular and unwilling to talk.
There are two other structures nearby. One is an old church; unusable for more than two decades but still standing. The other is an ossuary. A kind of open sarcophagus which holds, in plain view, once-buried bones of villagers, brought to the surface and exposed when the cyclones tore through.
Back on Upolu and at a new hotel, the excellent Coconuts Beach Resort this time, I recharge for a night of independence celebrations. After a bout of pre-Independence Day partying in Apia's few but fun nightspots the previous evening, the day-time formalities to mark 50 years of self-rule prove hard work. Tonight is different. UB40 are here, and everyone is heading to Apia Park for the highlight of the weekend.
I'll be honest. I don't like UB40. They have, like, two good songs. They play their best one first (Take Me By The Hand, since you're asking) and the crowd is enraptured.
Half a bar into each new song and they unleash another roar of appreciation. Their enthusiasm is infectious. I like UB40 a bit more now.
Fiafia nights, a staple of a Samoan resort holiday, are a contrivance designed to hit tourists square between the eyes, but a good one.
It is a mixture of traditional Samoan singing, dancing and the crowd pleaser - fire dancing. Boys and girls with sticks about four feet long, alight at each end, spin them around at a frenetic speed. The singing and dancing is sedate by comparison - a sea of rhythmic arms and legs.
As a Pacific island holiday spot, Samoa has a point of difference from more established destinations like Fiji and Rarotonga that it is only now coming to terms with.
It has escaped the tourist trap. Apia has a gritty edge to it, and places such as Sinalei and Coconuts, while resorts, are surrounded by a community you cannot help but take in. Hospitality and the indefatigable friendliness is inescapable.
The sign over the road that bids you farewell at the airport captures their nature best:
"Good luck, God bless and goodbye."
Michael Wright travelled to Samoa with Virgin Samoa and was a guest of the Samoan Tourism Authority, staying at Sinalei Reef Resort and Coconuts Beach Resort.
- © Fairfax NZ News
21 October, 2012 permalink
Open for Business
Jon Underwood was invited to attend the 2012 Samoan Open to see how the country is hoping to attract more golfers.
Imagine playing St Andrews alongside Tiger Woods as he shoots for his fourth British Open title. Or trying to tame “Amen Corner” with Rory McIlroy during the final round at Augusta.
Of course, these scenarios are never going to happen so you’re probably wondering what’s the point of my hypothesising. I’ll admit it’s a bit of a stretch to compare Scotland or Georgia with Samoa but there is a tournament where the amateurs can play right next to the pros as they do what they do for a living.
The 2012 SIFA Samoan Open saw 41 professionals battle for a first prize of AU$15,000 and they did it with amateurs right beside them every step of the way.
“You don’t get to play in the Australian Open with the pros,” commented David Barker, Executive Officer of the PGA Australia. “This is an event where you get to play alongside them on a level playing field. They are trying as hard as they can and if you beat them you can brag about it for the rest of your life.”
This was the incentive for three-marker Ross Rees, who played in the event as part of a fact-finding mission for a group of travelling golfers in Canberra. It was the first time Rees had been to Samoa in 35 years and he liked what he saw.
“I was looking for somewhere different to play golf,” he told me. “It’s in a remarkable condition for an island course and I can’t believe how good the fairways are. I haven’t had a bad lie yet. It’s a course where you have to hit it left to right and right to left, and the elevation change on some holes is amazing.”
The three-round, AU$80,000 tournament was played at the Royal Samoa Country Club and has been sanctioned for the past decade by the Australian PGA as part of their ongoing campaign to help Samoa promote the game.
“Last year we brought over two professionals and they spent a week coaching their elite squad,” said Barker. “This year, we arranged for an Australian superintendent to come over and give them tips on how they should present the course.”
That work certainly paid off with most of the players genuinely impressed with the overall state of the course. The only Achilles heel in Samoa golf is the state of the greens on its three 18-holes courses (Royal Samoa, Penina and Faleata) but the locals are aware of the problem and are taking steps to fix it.
While the greens may need a little work, there is nothing wrong with the layout or challenge presented by Royal Samoa, the oldest course in the country. Several holes offer cracking views of Fagali`i Bay and there’s enough variety to keep you guessing as to what comes next, especially if the tuaoloa (south-east wind) is blowing.
The prettiest stretch of the course begins at the sixth – a par-three where the green is some 50 metres below the tee and from the back tees you can’t actually see the dance floor below. The seventh is a cute par four where a medium iron off the tee will leave you a wedge played between trees and over a stream, and the eighth is a par-four with a massive elevation change up to a tight, narrow green.
But with eminently reachable par-fives and even some driveable par fours, this is a course where you can bring your B game and still walk away with a smile, which, let’s face it, is the main purpose of being on holiday in the first place.
Of the other courses in Samoa, Penina is definitely the toughest and was originally going to host the Open but was undone by the state of its greens. It’s a shame the pros didn’t get to tackle this layout because it’s a totally different kind of challenge to Royal Samoa, with tighter fairways and plenty of trouble. Indeed, the fourth hole wouldn’t look out of place on a list of the worlds greatest with the entire right hand side flanked by ocean and a green that sticks out into it.
Faleata is the most Australian-looking course and also has the distinction of having a decent driving range. It’s colourful, undulating and with the best bunker complexes I saw during my time there but again the greens are in desperate need of some TLC. As golf continues to develop in Samoa, it has to be hoped that they will continue to get the help they need to address these problems.
As far as location goes, Aggie Grey’s Hotel & Bungalows is perfectly placed, right in the heart of Apia. A short stroll takes you to the city centre and its various shops, restaurants and bars or you can head down to the harbour and watch the sunset over a cold beer and a snack.
Not that you need to step out the front door to find fine dining or a place to relax. The hotel is framed around a large pool surrounded by tropical gardens and is the perfect place to while away a few hours. And if haute cuisine is a must on your holiday agenda drop into Le Tamarina, where you can sample such dishes as cilantro-lemongrass crusted fish in a Thai coconut basil sauce or Asian spiced pepper chicken. The hotel can also organise deep-sea diving tours or pampering at the Le Spa Lalelei.
Every evening there’s a theme night that can vary from Asian to Mongolian to barbecue but without a doubt Wednesday is the pick of the bunch. The FiaFia is a traditional Samoan floorshow and a great spectacle that the guests seem to enjoy almost as much as the performers. And take the time to check out the bures with a touch of Hollywood. The rich and famous have all stayed here and you’ll spot bures named after Marlon Brando and William Holden, to name but a few.
WHAT ELSE TO DO
No trip to Samoa would be complete without a visit to the house that Robert Louis Stevenson built. The famed novelist, who penned Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, to name but a few, worked feverishly for the Samoan people and was mourned by the locals when he died.
It took him two years to build Vailima and sadly the health issues that forced him to Samoa in the first place finally claimed his life after he’d lived there for little more than two. But unlike some famous homes that are little more than shells this one is crammed full of Stevenson’s goods and chattels, including first editions of his three most famous books.
Beach lovers will make a beeline for the golden sand and surf around Siumu that was devastated by the 2009 tsunami, which the locals called the “Dark Devil”. But with their usual resilience and customary perspicacity, they have built luxury resorts where the waves came crashing ashore and now there’s nowhere better to chill out than at Lupe’s Bar while sipping a cold Kopo’s Wallbanger (vodka, orangue juice and Galliano vanilla.
TERRY’S GOOD CALL
A last-minute decision to enter the Samoan Open paid handsome dividends for Australian Terry Pilkadaris, who walked off with the AU$15,000 first prize.
“Up until about eight days ago I wasn’t playing this tournament but was lucky enough to get a late entry. I had missed the cut at the OneAsia event in Korea and thought I needed to play and make some money. It was a very good decision.”
The 39-year-old stormed out of the blocks with a nine-under par 63 and subsequent rounds of 66 and 70 were enough for him to win by five from fellow Victorian and reigning champion Peter Wilson. Despite his blistering start, Pilkadaris said he never felt the title was his until the final day.
“You just don’t know what can happen on the course. There are no leader boards so you don’t know what everyone else is doing and whether to play conservatively or aggressively. That’s the hardest thing. If you’ve got leader boards, you know where you stand and what you have to do.”
Pilkadaris, who last played in Samoa 12 years ago, finished at seventeen under par and is a fan of the laidback nature of the island.
“You certainly can’t get an ulcer, it’s very relaxing. The course is in a lot better shape than it was when we first played. The weather is great and everyone is very relaxed and easy going. I made the right decision to come.”
Will he return to defend his title?
“It all depends on my schedule but if I am available I will definitely come back.”
18 October, 2012 permalink
A Samoan Experience
By Scott McLennan
Breathing heavily as we ascend Samoa’s leafy Mt Vaea in the middle of a typically tropical afternoon, our guide Anthony offers up a homespun Samoan gem to effectively push us to the scenic summit. When he opines “Paradise is sometimes hard to get to”, he could well be talking about the Samoan experience as a whole.
Inexpensive and untainted, Samoa is free of Fiji’s desperate consumerist lunge or Hawaii’s American cultural sway, thus emerging as a pristine précis of Polynesia’s glories. Known as Western Samoa until 1997, the country was a burgeoning tourist destination until 2009’s deadly tsunami claimed almost 100 lives on the main island of Upolu. The proud nation has comprehensively rebounded, with September’s 20th annual Teuila Festival a robust showcase of the country’s culture. The vibrant week-long celebrations in the capital Apia promotes national customs and events in front of crowds of locals and international travellers, but beyond the city perimeter lies opportunities perhaps even more unique than witnessing age-old rites, canoe races and ceremonial dances.
Finally arriving at Mt Vaea’s peak, we take in the view of Apia and its harbour as we rest beside the tomb of Samoan resident Robert Louis Stevenson. Searching for a climate that would arrest his chronic health issues, the Treasure Island author moved his family to Samoa in 1890 and was warmly welcomed by the locals. Stevenson’s benevolence towards the villagers of Upolu ensures he’s still a revered figure of Samoa, despite dying within four years of his arrival. Dubbed Tusitala (‘The Teller Of Tales’) by the locals he’d regularly invite for meals at his stately colonial home, the Samoans fulfilled Stevenson’s dying wish to be buried on this picturesque mount. The Scottish author now has the best view in town.
After witnessing a hard-fought fautasi canoe marathon back down in Apia harbour, which sees villagers from across Samoa arriving to cheer on their hydraulically-armed brethren, we watch the Samoa Tourism Authority’s presentation on the local art of tattooing. Athletically-built guide Chris Solomona proudly displays his hip-to-knee tribal markings, but 10 years on from submitting himself to a 2000-year-old ritual his description of the tradition remains graphic. With a sharpened pig tooth, the blue ink is scratched into the flesh during 12 eight-hour sittings of intense pain. The bleeding skin is a hub for flies, while a post-session bathing in the sea to prevent the wounds from becoming septic brings hungry fish to feast on the lesions. “The pain is agonising, it’s pure hell,” Chris remarks. “When I was young my grandfather had the tattoos and I saw the way he carried himself: a good speaker, a humble person, a good leader and someone who had the ultimate respect of the village. I told him one day that when I grew up I wanted the full tattoos and he sat me down and said, ‘Don’t you ever, ever let those words come out of your mouth again’. He told me about the agonising pain and the consequences, but I wasn’t listening. One day I packed my bags and went to the south coast where the artist lived. He tried to talk me out of it, asking me if I was mentally and physically prepared for it. I said yes, but boy was I wrong.”
There’s not a tattoo to be seen when we witness the demure contestants of Miss Samoa fight it out for the 2012 title later that evening. A throwback to an earlier age of entertainment, the Miss Samoa competition is a quaint, sometimes hilarious affair. Watched on by a crowd of 4000 and broadcast live on local television, it accidentally offers tourists accustomed to finesse and gloss all sorts of farcical fun. The bafflingly askew answers the Miss Samoa hopefuls offer in their interview round ensure it’s a delirious highlight of the Teuila Festival – imagine a 1959 Eurovision with more coconut husk dresses, lower production values and intriguing definitions of ‘talent’ and you’re almost there.
Travelling across Samoa, it’s hard to tell which is more prevalent – the makeshift DIY shanty delis offering cheap hits of junk food or the immaculate presented churches with impressive architecture and ornate embellishments. These houses of the holy are everything the average humble villager’s abode isn’t. Even in the most frugal communities, large amounts of money are poured into churches – a more ornate church is seen as indicating a better unity with ‘Iesu Keriso’, Jesus Christ. Given Samoa lacked a pervading faith system prior to the arrival of missionaries in 1830, Christianity was embraced absolutely. The common Samoan funereal practice of dispensing with the dead via canoes sent out to sea was banished as Christian burials were introduced. Maintaining the strong familial bond in death, Samoans now bury the majority of their dead on their own land. Raised grave cairns in front gardens are used as seats to laze upon or as prime positions to dry clothes on – it’s good to know grandma is still helping with the washing even after death.
While the intrinsic Christian social structure of Samoa might seem unusual to westerners used to multiple – or lapsed – faiths, it seems the influence on the political, cultural and social spheres ensure strong moral values; name another country where 18-year-old boys sitting at their parked cars outside clubs late at night would offer an innocuous ‘Good evening - have a nice night’ to visiting young female travellers rather than drunkenly leering.
Upolu’s south coast proves to be even more surprising than Apia’s well-mannered youth. While one of Samoa’s key selling points is that it isn’t clambering to erect sprawling, homogenous resorts on every sandy shore, majestic accommodation does exist. Rebuilt in the wake of the tsunami devastation, Seabreeze Resort looks south onto an ocean that doesn’t hit another land mass until it reaches Antarctica’s ice floes 8000km away. An idyllic cove that acts as a holiday spot perfect for honeymooners or those with a love of boutique lodgings, it’s a fairytale setting. Cheaper – but no less memorable - accommodation options along the coast include thatched beach huts known as fales, where visitors can bed down on modest, traditionally woven mats and fall asleep as the waves lap like a comforting marine metronome mere metres away.
We wake at 5am, with our meticulous guide Anthony shoehorning a trip to the blissful island of Savai’i into our schedule. Speeding down Upolu’s winding roads peppered with obstacles such as pigs, chickens and blasé pedestrians, our morning race to a far-flung ferry is soundtracked on the car stereo by adopted Samoan favourites including Akon, Flo Rida and Rihanna. The car horn is also particularly musical this morning, with Samoans fond of beeping to say hello, cut through traffic, move errant livestock or basically as a means of living life via a cheery, single-tone existence.
We arrive on Savai’i to find the crystal waters and sandy beaches postcard perfect, with Tuasivi’s waterfront scene straight out of a Bounty chocolate bar commercial. Offsetting the majestic calm of this scene are the angry Alofaaga blowholes located just 30 minutes down the coast, where crashing waves are violently forced through black tubes of petrified lava. Locals showcase the astonishing ocean power via coconuts thrown into the blowholes, with the coconuts exploding in a shower of husk as the pressurised seawater is spurted 20 metres into the air. It’s an awesome way to break up any sedate and scenic days, albeit something of a waste of delicious local coconuts.
We stop at Afu Auu Falls – a beautiful lagoon where small forest streams cascade into a waterhole. A dam upstream has recently changed Afu Auu’s water flow, but for the time being these pools remain filled by pure mountain streams. With the local village earning the majority of its cash from the tourists who stumble upon this undervalued site, the local tribal council sit in a fale at the entrance like weathered Jedis, collecting entrance fees and watching over proceedings with sage-like eyes.
Although natural wonders such as Alofaaga and Afu Auu inject cash into villages, an abundance of fresh fruits and fish ensure some areas of Savai’i are basically cashless and self-sufficient. Locals are unapologetically relaxed and appear free of nine-to-five expectations, with shirtless groups lazing at beach-side bus stops in the shade of beach palms, seemingly unconcerned if their bus never arrives. “Why work?” Anthony laughs rhetorically as we drive past a large, impromptu Thursday afternoon cricket game that sees fielders drawn from all over the village and amusingly sprawled out across the road.
Another ferry ride later and we’ve arrived at Manono Island, an even smaller scenic escape with few amenities or luxuries. This is genuine island culture rather than a feeble re-creation to snare the tourist dollar; despite our Spartan accommodation, the islanders are friendly and our hosts’ hearts are as big as the centipedes in the bathroom. Big. A circumnavigation of the island on foot takes around 90 minutes, with local children cheerily coaxing us to to photograph them with a shout of “Pue-Ata”, which translates to ‘take my picture’ or, more directly, ‘capture my smile’. After yielding to their beaming charms in the shade of the breadfruit trees, we return to our village and feast on fresh crayfish, tuna and rice in the communal fale while watching the sun set over the Pacific.
It is true that paradise is sometimes hard to get to, but when the results are as rich as these, a journey to Samoa is emphatically worth the extra effort. Before reflexively booking your next holiday to an overcrowded, horrifically westernised island, instead seek out this natural jewel in Polynesia’s crown.
Photo Credit: Scott McLennan
10 October, 2012 permalink
Tuna and billfish arrive
By Chris Donato
The tuna are finally starting to show up.
Massive schools of very big skipjack and a few isolated yellowfin schools are feeding offshore. The marlin have started to arrive as well; we have seen four in the last two trips. One particularly hungry, fat blue marlin snatched a 24kg yellowfin right off the lure's hook just three metres from our transom! We also spent some time fighting a big blue marlin on 37kg line, so the big girls are starting to show as well.
This arrival of bait and billfish is great to see and should make for some exciting months ahead. Inshore, some big GTs have been caught by some of the local trailerboat fishermen, and Captain Ian on Pure Indulgence has been racking up numbers of spanish mackerel and barracuda.
All and all, things are shaping up to be a good season ahead!
Cheap flights from New Zealand and big blue marlin are just two of the many reasons to come and check Samoa out!
Facebook: Oceanic Sportfishing