The tsunami took a terrible toll but Samoa is returning to its laid-back, blissful best, writes Peter Gearin.
SOMETHING caught my companion's eye as we walked along the edge of the soft, sandy beach. He reached between the smooth rocks and coconut husks in the clear tepid water and carefully picked it up. It shimmered in the afternoon sun.
It was a shard of glass, longer than my longest finger, and at least a centimetre thick. Jagged to a point, it was a sharp reminder of what happened in Samoa last September.
The tsunami that slammed into the South Pacific islands claimed 176 lives, most of them on the south coast of Upolu, Samoa's main island. The three- to four-metre waves wiped concrete buildings from their foundations.
Sinalei Reef Resort and Spa, regarded as Samoa's most luxurious resort, was directly in the tsunami's path. Five beachside fales, the spa complex, water sports building, presidential suite, honeymoon villa and overwater restaurant were all lost when the ocean reared.
No one died at Sinalei because of the quick thinking of the resort's general manager, Sose Annandale, and her son, Nelson. Before an official warning came, they sounded the resort's tsunami alert and guests were shifted to higher ground. The siren saved lives in nearby properties, too, although one woman was killed at the neighbouring Coconuts resort.
Sinalei, however, wasn't saved from tragedy. Co-owner Tui Annandale, Sose's sister in-law, was killed in the village as well as Tui's mother, Anna.
Tui's husband, Joe, immediately closed the resort but was determined to rebuild. The Samoan government and banks helped with finance, friends flew in to provide support and volunteers appeared from around the world to help with the reconstruction.
The pace of Samoan life is famously slow but progress at Sinalei was rapid. Incredibly, the resort was ready to take guests in April and the new presidential suite and water-sports building were soon reopened. The overwater restaurant, Ava i Toga, and three new spa treatment fales followed in May, and a new gym and sauna will be launched soon. Five new beachside fales opened in June and another five will soon follow.
Visitors to the resort need to look hard to see evidence of the tsunami's destruction. There are bare patches of beach where vegetation was uprooted and pieces of glass and wood will probably wash up on the shore for some time; however, the transformation from battered wreck to luxury resort has been stunning.
In many ways, Samoa is the "untouched paradise" that has launched a thousand Pacific cliches; Sinalei is its apogee. Coconut trees sway in the breeze. The sea comes in a range of blues and seems set at the perfect temperature. The brilliant surf break beyond the reef is within view. Samoans are engaging and warm hosts.
Nothing is rushed at Sinalei these days, of course. Breakfast is available between 8am and 10am, if taken at all. A bowl of cereal with a side of fruit is all that's needed in the hot climate, although a cooked breakfast seems to be a popular choice for many, presumably energetic, honeymooners.
The rest of the day just melts away. As you linger, it's easy to think that staff outnumber guests 10 to one. Even with Sinalei at 90 per cent capacity, you can spend hours around the resort pool, or reading a book on your fale, and not be aware that anyone else is there.
There are things to do. Guests can play tennis or golf on a small course with coconut tree-lined fairways, or explore the inner reef with a snorkel or in a kayak. But this is a gentle, relaxing place best suited to those looking for ways to be indulged.
The ultimate expression of this is a two-hour "serenity" spa treatment. In a bright, louvred fale overlooking the Pacific, you are massaged from head to toe by two Samoan women and your skin is caressed with ti leaves dipped in coconut. After a hot shower, your body is rubbed with sea salt and moisturiser.
Other spa treatments are available, though I can't see why you'd want anything else. Paradise, indeed.
There are four levels of accommodation: fales that have garden views, ocean views or are beside the beach. And the presidential suite. This "suite" is actually made up of a huge bedroom, sitting area and bathroom, plus a separate lounge room and its own beachside fale.
The more typical fales are also light and comfortable, with simple and elegant furniture, large, soft beds and airconditioning.
The restaurant is still finding its feet and offers a good range of steady lunch and dinner options. It's at its finest on Wednesdays - fiafia night - when guests are entertained by local musicians and fire dancers and can try food prepared in traditional ways, such as oka (raw fish) and palusami (taro leaves, coconut cream and onions).
The best thing is seeing smiles return to Samoan faces. It shows that time has passed since the dark days of last September and that Samoa and its best resort can once again shine in the afternoon sun.
The writer was a guest of World Resorts of Distinction.
Where Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa in the south of Upolu, Samoa. +685 25191
Getting there Pacific Blue has direct flights from Sydney to Apia on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Sinalei is a 40-minute bus transfer. 13 16 45, flypacificblue.com.
How much Airfares to Apia start from $322 one way. Fales from $US245 ($272) a night.
Top marks This is a place for consenting adults - definitely no kids under 12.
Black mark Goldilocks might find something to whinge about - the beds are too soft.
Don't miss A stroll through friendly local villages to see their brightly painted fales. No colour has been invented that a Samoan doesn't like.
The 6 millionth visitor to the Samoa Both at the World expo will win a return trip to Samoa, said Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa L. Sailele Malielegaoi at a press conference held at the Expo Site yesterday.
Only 3,000-plus Chinese visit Samoa each year due to a lack of direct flight between the two countries. Chinese tourists have to transfer at airports in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Malielegaoi said he believed the figure would gradually rise with joint efforts by the two governments in boosting cooperation in tourism.
Samoa is a beautiful archipelago republic in the Pacific and a popular tourist destination. Its people are known for their hospitality, said the prime minister.
SOURCE – Expo 2010 Shanghai China Official Website, Editor: Hu Min
Participation in the upcoming Festival’s Cultural Events and Variety Show are still open to the interested public, however time is running out to register.
Registrations for involvement in this year’s Teuila Festival 2010 will close on Monday 16th August 2010 at 4pm.
The upcoming 19th Annual Teuila Festival 2010 boasts many of the same categories that have made it popular to tourists and locals alike in the past years, such as the Traditional Songs and Taupou & Aiuli Competitions; the Mauluulu and Faataupati Competitions; the Folafolaava & Sulatoga Competitions; the Carving Competition and Expressive Arts Display; Traditional and Fun games; as well as the Ailao Competition in the Junior & Senior Categories. Another popular aspect of the Teuila 2010 that will be highlighted is the Variety Show which will take place on Wednesday 08th and Thursday 09th of the Teuila week.
An appealing addition to this year’s festivities will be the ‘Wellness to Beauty’ Fitness program that will be administered by the Ministry of Health throughout this exciting week. Other activities will also take place in conjunction with the Teuila Festival 2010 week and is supposed to add to the excitement of the week that is not so far ahead now.
The Teuila Festival will run from 05-10th Sept 2010
The Ausiva Samoana Trip to China was a great success. The Ausiva had the pleasure and honor of dancing for thousands of people at the Pacific Pavilion as well as for millions of television viewers worldwide over a period of 10 days.
The World Expo 2010 spectators were able to watch the Ausiva Samoana perform daily at 11am, 6pm, 7pm and 8pm. The shows consisted of powerful and fast faataupati and mauluulu by the alii o le ausiva, balanced by the slow graceful siva by the tamaitai and also combined items such as the siva ofe, sasa, siva ipu popo and ava ceremony. The Final show of each evening was ended with the Taualuga completed by the Miss Samoa, during which the aiuli would invite the Chinese audience to join in with the siva. It was an utmost joy to perform for the Chinese viewers.
The Samoa National Day was also a tremendous occasion where the Ausiva was fortunate to perform for the Hon. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoli’ai Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and his good lady as well as other Samoan and Chinese dignitaries.
The Ausiva Samoana had a wonderful time in China, seeing the World Expo 2010 and experiencing its magnitude was amazing. The ausiva would like to thank Mr Ricky Wong for his kind donation of $2000 RMB towards the celebratory dinner and also all the Chinese people. To the Samoan delegation in China, a big Faamalo, you are doing a great job. I am sure Samoa is very proud of the work that you have done to portray Samoa to the world. Last but not the least, a big Faafetai tele to the Government and People of Samoa for the support given to Ausiva Samoana. To God be the Glory. (Miss Samoa, Tavalea Nilon)
Samoan traditional tattooing has taken centre stage at the Samoan booth here at the 2010 World Expo.
Personalities such as Vaimasenu'u Zita Martel and Manu Samoa flyhalf Roger Warren capped of the campaign this week when their pe'a and malu were completed and given the traditional "samaga" ceremony in the presence of master tattoo artist Suluape Petelo, the Samoan Ambassador to China Tapusalaia Terry Toomata, CEO of the Samoa Tourism Authority Matatamalii Sonja Hunter and the Samoan group here for the Expo.
Tattooing is one of the major elements of Samoa's promotional campaign together with a push for its peoples living culture and lush and peaceful environment in a bid to attract Chinese tourists.
Roger is the second rugby star to have the pe'a completed at the Expo. Legendary rugby star Muliagataele Brian Lima completed his pe'a infront of thousands of visitors to the Samoan booth last month. Roger took a week to complete his tatau.
Vaimasenu'u is well know in the sporting circles as the most successful female captain of the champion longboat Segavao rowed by students of the Don Bosco Vocational College at Alafua. She braved the pain for about seven hours on 1 August during the Samoa National Day.
The pair celebrated their achievement with the Samoan siva that drew in hundreds more visitors to the Samoan booth.
Story and Photo by Angela Kronfeld-Polu (Talamua)
In comparing June 2010 to June 2009, a 3.4% increase was noted after a decrease of 6.6% that was seen in the May comparison. Although tourism has suffered severely from the global recession and the 29 September 2009 tsunami, this month’s modest expansion saw signs of better times to come. Whilst this increase is seen for the month of June, still a slight decrease of 1.9% is the overall result for the first six months comparison (Jan-Jun).
The share of visitors from New Zealand continued to strengthen in June, slightly up from its 42% share in May to 43% with a rise in total arrivals of 12.4%. Australia maintained its share of 16% in June and American Samoa made up 21% of the total market share (a 1% increase compared to the previous month).
Sports category came up strong in June with a 124.6% increase as a direct result of the sporting events that Samoa hosted during the month under review, such as the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup, Oceania Swimming Championships, International Netball Series and the Oceania Shooting competition.
Holiday was the main prupose of travel with a 41% share. This is an improvement of 4.5% after a decline of 18.1% recorded in May.
Topping the visitor traffic for Samoa - NZ 43%, Australia 16% and American Samoa 20%, all contributed to 79% share altogether.
VFR and Holiday remained as main reasons for traveling making up a combined 75%.
Private facilities topped the figures with 52%, hotels 38% and 10% did not state their place of stay
Polynesian Blue and Air New Zealand contributed carried 67% of the total visitor traffic.
June achieved a growth of 3.4%.
First six months (Jan-Jun) fell by 1.9% compared to the same period of last year.