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

Source: Stuff.co.nz