07 January, 2011

Treasure this tropical home

Samoa is the place to take it easy, writes Cassandra Murniek.

Arriving at Samoan hotel Le Manumea, the owner, Luna, rolls out the welcome mat and takes me in as one of her own.

From the continental breakfast to the barbecue dinners, Le Manumea feels like home.

The hotel is a short distance from downtown Apia, with views of the Pacific and Mt Vaea.

I'm not the first to have fallen for this place.

Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson and his family sailed to Samoa and made it their home in 1889.

Stevenson liked the warm climate and lived here for four years before his death.

He was buried at the foot of Mt Vaea, to be joined by his wife in 1914.

The Stevensons bought 127ha of land below Mt Vaea and named the property Vailima ("Five Waters") in honour of the streams on their land.

The large house was opulent. Most of the furniture came from England and pieces remain today.

Leaders and society elite were entertained in the grand mansion, and it is still used by the government.

It was damaged by a hurricane in 1990 but restored to its original state by an American and now acts as a museum.

The house is simply stunning.

For a small entry fee you can wander around the house or take a tour.

The latter is recommended, as it provides a real insight into the life of Robert Louis Stevenson.

The library houses first editions of Stevenson's books and his writing desk. Take the nearby track to Stevenson's grave and a pool which was once the main water supply.

It doesn't take long to work up an appetite in Samoa. I head to the Fugalei Food Market, through surrounding streets chaotic with buses, taxis and cars all jostling for somewhere to park.

A coconut costs about 60 cents, served up just like a barman would with a cocktail.

Local fresh fruit and vegies are lined up for sale, as are bouquets of island flowers.

Taro and barbecued banana, staples of the Samoan diet, are available from stalls.

The Savalalo Flea Market is close by and a good stop for gifts, including handmade jewellery, clothes and bags.

Sunday is a day of rest in Samoa. With at least one church in each village, religion plays a big part in their lives.

I wake on the Sunday morning and, looking towards Apia, spot smoke billowing in all directions: Sunday is about church and barbecues.

My temporary family at Le Manumea invite me to lunch. A fresh-caught fish takes pride of place on the table alongside salads and barbecued taro.

The day is spent eating, lazing by the pool and sleeping.

The best way to see Samoa is by car, but there are plenty of buses, and travelling on them is quite an experience.

A brightly coloured Queen Poto bus draws to a stop.

We are heading to the south side of Apia, through mountainside that reminds me of Jurassic Park.

The blue and green hued ocean laps the creamy white sand; palm trees rustle in the breeze and families frolic in the water.

From about $30 a night, this is paradise without the price tag.

Source: Herald Sun,  January 07 2011