27 June, 2012     

Coconuts bring back overwater fales

Coconuts Beach Club Resort and Spa Samoa are proud to announce the return of the overwater fale.

Considered the jewel of the resort’s crown, Coconuts was the only property in the South Coast of Upolu to offer this ultimate in luxury accommodation, overlooking the beautiful turquoise waters of the South Pacific.

The original overwater fales were destroyed by the tsunami of 2009.

Designs of the six bigger and better fales have been approved and construction is expected to begin September 1 with a completion date of December 31, 2012 in time to greet the new year.

Richard Skewes from Coconuts Beach Club Resort and Spa says that the construction of the overwater fales is the final and perhaps most exciting chapter of the Coconuts rebuild.

“These new fales will be bigger and better than the originals.   We expect to complete all six fales over a four month period with our in-house guests comfort in mind. Most of the construction work will be done off-site with little to no impact on in-house guests.”

“However, as you would expect, the raising of the fales to their new apartment homes will involve quite a bit of work but the results will definitely be worth it. We will be offering some amazing stay/pay and resort credit specials during the building process,” says Richard.

Samoa Tourism Authority says the time is perfect for the return of the overwater fale offering to Samoa.
“With tourist numbers to Samoa increasing we are excited to have the overwater fales back,” says Samoa Tourism Authority.

“The waters of Samoa is one of our treasures and nothing beats sleeping over the gentle waters of the South Pacific and the billion stars of the Milky Way above you,” says STA.

  26 June, 2012     

Samoa Air Takes to the Skies

Thanks to inbound growth and the rise of interisland travel within Samoa, domestic air services have re-launched and will now be serviced by Samoa Air – Samoa’s official National Carrier.

100% locally owned and operated, Samoa Air operates a fleet of BN2A Islanders – one of the best selling commercial aircraft produced in Europe and is known for its STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) which is ideal for the Samoan air strips.

A route once served only by ferries, Samoa Air will have 5 return daily services between the Upolu and Savaii and will operate out of the re-opened air strips of Fagalii on Upolu and Maota and Asau in Savai’i.

The newly re-opened domestic air strips offers a convenient option for travelers who are located on different parts of the island.  

Fagalii Airport (FGI) is located approximately 5km South-East of Apia, Maota Airport (MXS) on the island of Savai’i, is a 10 minute drive from the business hub of Salelologa, while Asau Airport (AAU) is located on the North Western side of Savaii, allowing passengers to avoid the 3 hour carriage time if travelling from the wharf.

Samoa Air will also have facilities to provide charter flights.

“We are very excited to be offering our people and our guests this new travel option – encouraging greater travel between the islands and allowing visitors to our country the option to see more of the Treasured Islands,” says the Samoa Tourism Authority.

The airline will also service flights to destinations in American Samoa, Tonga, Wallis Island and Niue.

See www.samoaair.ws for more information on schedules and destinations.

  22 June, 2012     

Samoan charter fleet developing rapidly

By Grant Dixon

My first visit to Samoa, before NZ Fishing News days, was in the early 1990s – part of a NZ Community Newspapers Association’s exchange programme.

Apia, Samoa’s charter fleet and marina facilities has expanded rapidly in recent years. I spent three weeks in Apia attached to the Samoa Observer, one of the few independent publications at the time, where I helped advise their newsroom.

During my stay I was keen to do a little fishing, but there was nothing obviously available. None of the hotels had any fishing brochures on their tours desk and the Visitors Bureau couldn’t help. I asked around about game fishing, and always drew a blank from the locals or was pointed towards the small commercial fleet of drop-lining boats that supplied the domestic market with albacore and skipjack.

Since that first trip and my secondment to this magazine more years ago than I care to remember, I have enjoyed 18 trips to Samoa and have seen the recreational sport fishery grow to be a good as any of its Pacific island neighbours.

Samoa has many fond memories for me. It was where I caught my first marlin, a 149kg blue from one of the first ‘official’ charter boats Ole Pea, a 7.6m Ramco Sportsman operated by Samoa Marine. Later trips produced my first decent yellowfin, a 68kg specimen, which was the Samoa International Game Fishing Association’s 37kg record for a while, as well as my first-ever sailfish.

Initially my visits involved assisting with the running and promotion of the first SIGFA tournaments, which saw many of the visitors fishing aboard the local aleas – the twin-hulled commercial fishing boats then involved with a fledgling commercial long-lining industry.

What the Samoans lacked in fishing expertise, craft and gear was made up for by their legendary hospitality, a feature that has remained right through to today’s tournaments.

Getting enough boats of a suitable quality was a serious issue though, and the local crews struggled to come to grips with the IGFA rules on which the tournament – but not their day-to-day fishing – was based.

Fortunately, over time the spirit of IGFA rules was appreciated and understood, and sponsorship remained strong. The outstanding issue was therefore the number of suitable charter craft available,and as a consequence the ‘bring your own boat’ regime was instituted.

This got off to a bit of a shaky start. Not all the government departments were singing from the same song sheet, resulting in the odd hidden cost or two, and one of the boats rolled off a ship while in transit in Fiji, the stern leg getting damaged when it crashed onto the wharf.

I am pleased to report the whole process has been tidied up and the Samoan Government has done a fantastic job of making it as easy as possible for Kiwi crews to bring out their own boats (thanks also to Pacific Forum Line, who played a major part, too).

When the original committee first dreamt up the SIGFA tournament, few could have envisaged the large number of boats and international anglers contesting the event today. I am unaware of another Pacific destination, other than Hawaii, that has a gamefishing contest of such significance, especially as it now combines with neighbours American Samoa to bring two good contests back-to-back (see Sam Mossman’s report of the Pago Pago leg elsewhere in this edition).

Just as the tournament has grown, so too have the facilities and charter fleet. From those early days of Samoa Marine on Ole Pea, along with a handful of locals such as Alfred Schwalger, Max Rassmussen, Peter Meredith, Roy Lee and Seb Kolhase successfully operating smaller charter boats, there is now a good number of choices offering both half and full days, as well as live-aboard charters.

This latter option has come as ex-pats arrived and brought bigger boats. Australian Greg Hopping was one of the first, shipping out a 35ft Bertram Reel Indulgence after being a frequent visitor to the SIGFA tournament and seeing the island nation’s sportfishing potential. Also, Steve Campbell, how based out of Tonga’s Ika Lahi Gamefishing Lodge, spent a winter in Apia with Reel Passion before moving on.

American Chris Donato arrived on the scene too, operating a 9.75m centre-console sportfisher Black Pearl out of the island’s south side in conjunction with Salani Surf  Resort. This boat was subsequently sold to Roy Lee, who until then had been running charters out of his catamaran Great White. Chris invested in a 13.1m Luhrs Southern Destiny, from which he caught Samoa’s first ever ‘grander’ blue marlin last year. Both he and Greg operate out of the relatively new Apia Marina, offering both day and live-aboard charters on good quality larger craft, complementing the smaller boats in the fleet.

The latter have been scaled up. Alfred now operates an eight-metre Kingfisher alloy boat and both Seb Kolhase and son Kevin also charter fish from Kingfisher boats, with Kevin’s being a nine-metre catamaran. The south side is the intended home for another Kiwi boat, Extreme Measures, operated by Johnathon Barlow. The big Bladerunner catamaran will be based at the Sinalei Resort, where another, smaller Bladerunner Fish the Dream arrived several years ago.

While the above is a thumbnail sketch of the development of gamefishing and the charter fleet in Samoa over the last two decades, it is by no means a comprehensive list. It covers the main players based Upolo. There are other options available, mainly with smaller local village-based boats, on the island of Savaii.

Like to fish Samoa with NZ Fishing News?
In September, 2013, the magazine will be hosting a week-long trip to Samoa to sample a wide range of fishing for pelagics such as marlin, tuna, sailfish, mahimahi and wahoo, as well as exciting inshore species that include dogtooth tuna, giant trevally, coral trout and the like. While the final details have yet to be organised, the trip will involve five days of fishing on the best charter boats available while staying at a quality resort. Only 20 fishing spots are available, but there will also be a partner’s programme. If this sounds like a bit of you, contact Grant Dixon to register your interest: Grant.dixon@fishnz (09) 634 9851 or grant.dixon@fishnz.co.nz

Source: NZ Fishing News

  14 June, 2012     

Swapping city grind for some island time

By Wynne Gray

Despite it being the rainy season, Wynne Gray got the most out his beachfront escape.

My breakfast order was an omelette - it seemed the ideal start to my first day in Samoa.

We had jetted in after midnight and were driven across the island of Upolu to our resort by a couple of staff, who kept up the chatter.

Progress was slow because of the lack of road lighting, and the dogs and other wildlife basking in the residual warmth of the pot-holed tarseal.

On arrival, a huge man with a torch guided us to our fale at Sinalei Beach Resort. It was clean and air-conditioned, with an outside shower and toilet annexe housing geckos, sizeable ants and other insect life - and, fortunately, no sign of mozzies.

When we rose a few hours later, we discovered the thatched fale had a terrific view of the nearby beach. It was supposed to be the rainy season but we were blessed with 32C temperatures, so the child bride was in her element. Sun, reading books and swimming - just the therapy needed after a busy year.

So off to the restaurant and my omelette. Or so I thought.

We were on island time so the wait was anticipated. But when the breakfast arrived it looked more like scrambled eggs. No worries: I was not going to endure another wait and, besides, it looked appetising. It was - and so apparently was my omelette, which we later discovered had been delivered to one of the few other restaurant diners.

The waitress was new and had been too shy to change the meals when she realised her mistake.

Lunch took a similar tack. I thought I'd give the fish, chips and salad a run. The problem was, the mixed salad did not make an appearance. Now, I'm not a foodie - nothing like some of my colleagues, the real tooth men in the Herald sports department - but it seemed like I'd offended someone.

Dinner was a fiafia night, an island banquet, and nothing was missing this time. There was raw fish before the mains of pork, fish, beef curry and chicken with potato salad, steamed vegetables and palusami before baked papaya, breadfruit in chocolate sauce and mango salad. The lubrication came from a Vailima or two - not bad for day one.

The resort could hold 80 guests, but there were only a dozen of us there because the school term had not yet ended in New Zealand and Australia. This was the resort hit hard by the tsunami two years ago, but much of it had been rebuilt within six months.

There is nothing quite like relaxing by the ocean and listening to local music. My only curiosity was how the restaurant coped in peak season.

The blokes from Brisbane, staying nearby in huts on the beachfront, had it sussed. They were avid spearfishermen and every morning set out for a dive outside the reef. They were back by lunch with their tuna and saltwater trout catch.

They gave the tuna to our restaurant in exchange for the chefs whipping up a sashimi dish for them each night. It was a good deal as meals were not cheap, and the wine was expensive enough to persuade most guests to drink beer or cocktails.

Prices were not as inflated when we ventured into Apia. The half-hour taxi ride took us over the hilly divide in the middle of the island into the waterfront capital. There were the obligatory markets, a visit to Aggie Greys, and local meal before the steamy conditions forced us under cover.

Back at our beachfront headquarters, we decided to take in a Sunday church service as the rain broke on our final day. It is not my normal practice but we wanted to digest the scene which is so much a part of island life. The first small church was not ready, so we carried on to the bigger service in the next village.

We eased ourselves into the back pew as the congregation drifted in and out, seemingly depending on the feeding times for the many babies. The numbers swelled to about 200 in the church, which had whitewashed walls, decorative artwork and sculptures, and corridors to allow easy entrance and exit.

Everyone wore their Sunday best. Lavalavas were ironed, hair combed, voices tuned. The choir was magnificent, but some of the kids got a bit twitchy.

Eventually one got a clip from grandma's fan for acting up, while I got the hairy eyeball for inciting trouble.

It was not the first time that had occurred, and that would not be my last visit to the languid isles.

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies directly daily from Auckland to Apia.
Where to stay: Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa is on the south coast of Upolu island in Samoa.
Wynne Gray paid for his own travel in Samoa.

Source: New Zealand Herald
Photo Credit: Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa
  02 June, 2012     

Fine threads of tradition woven to life

By Dan Ahwa

Taumuli Salu's fingers manipulate the fine strips of pandamus leaf, weaving them into a traditional Samoan fine mat with an expertise born of decades of experience.

So fine are the fibres going into this mat, and so painstaking is her weaving, that she has been working on it for two months and it is only three-quarters finished.

That's because such mats - known as ie toga or Tongan mats - which are finely woven and decorated with a fringe of dyed chicken feathers and sometimes shells, play a hugely important role in Samoan culture, particularly in situations of customary gift-giving.

The ie toga are used as mats in the usual way, but they also represent wealth and prestige.

At funerals, for instance, fine mats are gifted to the family of the person who died. At weddings, fine mats are gifted to the groom's family for distribution to family members.

In Apia last year I had the opportunity to accept a title as matai (or chief) on my father's side of the family and, again, fine mats played an important role.

Much like a family heirloom, the fine mat signifies tradition and family in Samoa, and because of this they are highly valued. Some of the oldest fine mats have even been given their own names.

These days in Samoa, the art of producing a fine mat has become something of a lost skill. Which is why I was so eager to see Taumuli, an elderly woman who lives in the village of Palauli on the island of Savaii, who is keeping the mat-making tradition alive.

Mat-makers like her hold highly respected positions in their community, not only for their knowledge but also for the vital part they play in passing their skills on to the next generation.

I heard of Taumuli from the hotel manager at Le Lagoto Beach Resort, and decided to take the 40-minute bus trip to her village to get a rare glimpse into the making of an ie toga.

When I reached Palauli, it didn't take long to locate Taumuli's home. There was a sign that read "Siapo Making", directing visitors to Taumuli's open-style Samoan fale (hut).

Siapo (tapa cloth) is another key handicraft in Pacific culture, with distinctive brown patterns painted with bark dye, which vary from island to island. Just another trick up Taumuli's sleeve, giving her the added bonus of showing visitors how to produce two distinct pieces of handicraft.

When I arrived at her fale, a younger woman, most likely a daughter or family member, ushered me in with a smile and apologised - Taumuli had just put her siapo-making tools away for the day. But as she told me this, Taumuli sat inside the fale shouting, "Afio mai! Afio mai!" (Welcome! Welcome!)

I got the feeling that Taumuli never missed an opportunity.

Gratefully, I took off my shoes and entered the fale, and sat facing Taumuli and her daughter.

"She can show you some of the ie toga she is working on at the moment," said the girl, who proceeded to set up the weaving board and a partially completed fine mat.

Taumuli quickly began weaving the thin strips of dried pandanus leaf. While working, she explained that she had help with this mat from a couple of other women who dropped in from time to time to assist with the weaving - and catch up on village gossip.

"She needs to finish this in about two weeks as it is for a wedding in New Zealand," explained the girl, who watched Taumuli and occasionally helped straighten up the lines of the mat.

Taumuli, a bit of a celebrity in these parts, is in particular demand at the moment as the time approaches for giving out matai titles, resulting in several orders for mats.

I stayed watching the weaving for about half an hour, then decided I better let her have a break for lunch. Although there's no fee for this sort of demonstration it's often a kind gesture to make a donation, so I handed over 20 tala.

She thanked me and apologised for not having her siapo to show, too. "It gets very busy," she said in Samoan. "So I need to drink my koko Samoa (Samoan cocoa) every morning. It makes me quick."

Well, if it helps preserve the art of the ie toga, then I'll drink to that.

Getting there: Virgin Samoa, the new national airline of Samoa, has regular flights from New Zealand.
Where to stay: Try Le Lagoto Resort.
Further information: See samoa.travel.
Dan Ahwa was assisted by Virgin Samoa and Le Lagoto Beach resort in Savaii.

Source: New Zealalnd Herald
Photo Credit: Dan Ah Wa

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