09 May, 2011

Samoa Natural High in Savaii

by Cassandra Murnieks

Most people head to Samoa for the white sandy beaches and crystal waters.  But if you’re willing to strap on your climbing boots you’ll find a surreal new world in a volcanic crater on Savaii.

The van spits and spatters as we make our way up the side of Mount Matavanu, before it groans and decides that it can’t go any further.  It’s time to continue on foot.

Mount Matavanu is situated on the picturesque island of Savaii in Samoa.  It now sits dormant, but from 1905 to 1911 it erupted for six years, spewing lava down the steep hills, causing locals to flee their villages and move to the main island of Upolu.  All that remains is a beautiful crater of great width and depth, and a reminder of nature’s volatile ways.  We strap on our backpacks and make our way up the steep hill. Sticking to the grass pathways, splendid shades of green leafy jungle sits on both sides with huge yam and taro plants scattered throughout.

A bloke walks onto the pathway and grins at us, introducing himself as ‘the world’s most famous crater man’. He was given the nickname by a Western Australian couple on a visit to the mountain.

Living in a small shack half way up the top, he’s looked after the area for the past ten years. While our group is wearing sturdy walking shoes, Crater Man makes the journey in a pair of thongs.

He walks with us, a journey that he’s no doubt done countless times. The cleared and mowed pathway makes the arduous walk a little easier. Crater Man proceeds to tell us that it takes about a week to mow the pathway, which starts at the foot of the mountain up to the mouth of the crater.

To make the walk go a little quicker (and to take any excuse for a breather), we look at wooden signs weaved sporadically along the path. The signs are made by Crater Man with notes of inspiration and words of encouragement. Bless.

As I start to puff and pant, Crater Man advises we aren’t far. Then he points to a track off his neatly mowed path into a wild mess of a jungle. Steep hills, muddy patches and thick, heavy tree roots make me think twice about this climb. As we straighten up on the track and feel the temperature dip, we climb up the last hill, both relieved and tired.  The crater is massive and filled with thousands of trees, like a carefully pieced puzzle. I call out and hear my voice vibrating across the valley.

Walking around the mouth of the crater, a sign sits near the edge: ‘Attention fall down, sorry no rescue’, which makes me acutely aware of my right foot, hanging over the edge. Continuing around the crater carefully, the track eventually comes to an end.

Being over 180m off the ground, we look out over Savaii — the ocean laps white sands and the grey road that runs around the outskirts of the island is shielded by thick green jungle. It’s eerily quiet up here — it’s just you and your thoughts and a surreal spot indeed.

We farewell Mount Matavanu and make our way down the hill where the heat steamrolls us. We decide to drive to a couple of nearby freshwater pools. The group splits into two with the males walking to the pool furthest away and us girls taking the rocky footpath into blinding cold water in the closer pool. It’s so cold; it’s like a shot of pure adrenalin. While we squeal, children from a nearby village have their daily bath.  A bar of soap is passed around with the children of various ages washing their bodies and their hair, dunking themselves into the cool water to rinse off afterwards. Once they’re done washing, they dive and jump into the water playfully.

That’s the thing about Samoa — everyone seems so free of drama and sincerely happy.

We climb back into the van and retreat back to Stevenson’s at Manase, which is nearby. The resort’s waterfront rooms and traditional fales offer some of the best views of the island.  And it just helps that the beach is at your doorstep.

From the kaleidoscope of blues in the ocean though to the corn yellow sunsets laced with orange, Samoa comes to life at happy hour; sunsets turn into a heavy kohl black — the best time to go for a swim. Expect to see local fisherman with torches wading through the water looking for a catch, and an unfathomable amount of stars above. And it’s also around then that I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

SOURCE: http://travel.ninemsn.com.au/holidaytype/adventure/8244202/samoa-natural-high-in-savaii