30 July, 2013     

Taumeasina Island resort being built in Samoa

An artist impression of Taumeasina Resort which is being built on a man-made island in Samoa. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

A $60 million resort is being built on a man-made island in Samoa.

When complete, Taumeasina Island will have 80 rooms and 25 villas, shops, restaurants, a bar, water sports pavilion, day spa, gym, beach and wedding chapel.

Construction on the island resort, near the capital Apia, began last month and the resort is expected to open in early 2016.

The project is being funded by Papua New Guinea company The Lamana Group, which also operates the Heritage Park Hotel in the Solomon Islands and is renovating the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji, and designed by architectural firm Thomson Adsett.

It will be a huge drawcard for the South Pacific nation, which was devastated by a tsunami in 2009 and a cyclone in December.

Source: The Australian

  10 July, 2013     

Samoa: Aggie's ready to spoil you

A mix of comfort and adventure awaits you, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Image: To Sua Ocean Trench at Lotofaga village on Upolu, Samoa.

My first trip to Samoa was all about romance, so I didn't do the sort of things you could write about, at least not in a family paper. The second trip was about 20 months later and involved a 1-year old who was on his first legs - so not much time on that trip for anything but vigilance.

However, the most recent expedition, with a 7-year old in tow, was all about action and, oh boy, who knew there was so much to do?

Arriving at Aggie Grey's Lagoon Beach Resort and Spa on Upolu Island - unused to sweltering, coming from the chill of a Kiwi winter - we immediately hit the water.

The pool, right by the beach, contained an interesting mix of well-known rugby players, Peace Corps volunteers, Americans, Australians and Brits.

Some played water polo, some sat at the swim-up bar.

While we frolicked the clouds rolled in and, the next thing we knew, it was pouring - which for some reason gave us the giggles and certainly wasn't a reason to get out.

On Sunday evenings, Aggie's puts on a buffet, where we developed our fondness for oka (raw fish salad), and the benchmark was set pretty high.

For the next week we tried it as often as we could.

Even though it was tempting to test the limits of our capacity for doing absolutely nothing, there is so much to do on Samoa's main island of Upolu it would've been criminal not to check out the attractions.

So the the next day we ignored the pool, the pristine beach, the kids' club (sorry, Theo) and all-day eating options and set off along the south coast in search of adventure.

Driving through village after village I began to suspect there was a competition for best-tended garden.

We pointed at every runaway pig, every pecking chicken and soaked up the tropical sights of jungles, beaches and fales. As for the plentiful, magnificent churches, they told us, in no uncertain terms, who the boss is around these parts.

Our first stop was Togitogiga Waterfall, where hardy souls can launch themselves into the water from great heights while less-confident swimmers bathe in the cool waters below.

We'd happily have spent the day paddling there but another swim beckoned, at To Sua Ocean Trench at Lotofaga village.

Translating as "big hole", locals believe this to be the place the spirits of the recently departed take their final leap, and the villagers will tell you how sometimes, in the dark of night, they hear people crying and calling out.

During the day it's not spooky, although the long wooden ladder you have to climb down to enter the water is pretty spine-tingling.

Lashed to the wall of this steep-sided swimming hole, it took every ounce of courage not only to descend the 30-plus rungs, but to trust my son to come too.

Happily, we made it safely to the little wooden stage and jumped into the deep blue water.

A woman sitting on the side warned us about the current and, once we were in, we immediately understood why she was compelled to say something.

There is a considerable swell.

First, we were washed one way, there was no fighting it, then we'd be becalmed for a short time, before being swooshed back the other way. Back and forth, we let it carry us, like a fairground ride, Theo dubbing it the Great Current Road.

Starving by now, lunch long overdue, we'd been told Seabreeze was the place to go; talk about an excellent call.

Chris and Wendy, formerly from Australia, have turned a picture-perfect bay into a boutique resort.

The cove is a cliche of prettiness, little islands dotting the water, one with an unusual egg-shaped tomb on it, another with three palm trees placed just so by nature's art department.

The pool and rooms looked so cosy and, as for the honeymoon suite, which juts out over the water, it would almost be worth getting married if it meant spending time there.

Lunch was equally swish, in the beautiful breezy dining room over the sea. And it's not just me giving the chef two thumbs up, Seabreeze was the overall winner in last year's Friendship Week Food and Wine Challenge.

The prawns, the tuna steak and the pasta were all amazing.

We continued around the coast to Lalomanu, one of Upolu's most famous beaches, to take a satisfying battering in the tide.

Usually it's much calmer but the wind direction made for an invigorating post-lunch dip. The rustic beach fales here would be lovely to stay in, but it had been a big day and Aggie's was calling

The food on this trip was a highlight.

Aggie's daily breakfast buffet could sustain a person all day, or at least till mid-afternoon.

Tropical fruit, pancakes, omelettes, pretty much anything you might fancy, mountains of baked and fried goods.

In fact you could easily not leave the grounds of the resort with its spa, the pool, beach, tennis courts, kids' club, restaurants and bars.

The lovingly tended gardens were pretty neat too.

My favourites were the frangipani trees, their branches like antlers. Another day, we explored in the other direction, heading towards Apia where we fed the turtles in their pool at Le Vasa Resort, wandered around the Beach Rd markets, ate pork buns and chop suey, and swam in the Piula Cave Pool, a crystal-clear freshwater swim in the grounds of the Piula Methodist Theological College, east of Apia.

You'll want to bring your snorkel to explore the underwater caves and goggle at the big fat fish.

As for dinner at Paddles in Apia, wow - harbour views, Pacific Italian fusion cuisine, great service - this place really floated our boat.

And I haven't even got to the Papase'ea Sliding Rocks (like nature's hydroslide), or Manono Island (charming, no cars or dogs), or the cycle tour (if you have the energy) or the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.

And to think I'd optimistically brought Treasure Island along for the ride.

But reading had to take a back seat on this jaunt, there was just too much to do.

Apia Checklist:

GETTING THERE: Air New Zealand flies between Auckland and Apia about six times a week, depending on the season.

ACCOMMODATION: Aggie Grey's Lagoon Resort and Spa, everything you'd want a resort to be.

ONLINE: samoa.travel

SEABREEZE RESORT: For lunch or longer seabreezesamoa.com Paddles, Beach Rd, Apia. On Facebook

Source: The New Zealand Herald

  10 July, 2013     

Warm hearted Samoa

By Matt Nippert

There's only one traffic light in the Samoan port of Salelologa, and it's often on the blink.

If island time is traditionally an hour or two late, in Savai'i - home to 44,000 souls and countless free-roaming domestic pigs - the clock's wound back another decade.

The only games of chance played here appear to be bingo tournaments raising funds for churches that dot the coastline.

Samoa is no Sin City, and for family travelling - and I'm here with my wife and 2-year-old son - Samoa's a happy tropical medium between the first-world expense and comfort of the Gold Coast and the cheap-but-challenging Southeast Asia.

If your child can manage the flight - and fellow passengers will be praying they can - Samoa is a dream respite from winter with almost every attraction and landmark only a few hours' drive away. And the biggest danger is seemingly wandering livestock on the road.

Arriving at Faleolo Airport on Upolu, the main island, you immediately know you're not in Changi.

Having flown direct from wintry New Zealand, the airport's open-air design makes queuing for customs akin to standing in front of a wall of hair dryers as fans recirculate the 30-degree afternoon.

And once processed and acclimatised, it quickly becomes apparent that the temperature isn't the only thing to have risen in the four hours flying across the Pacific Ocean.

Wireless access seems to start at $10 an hour.

Allied to brutal international roaming rates, there's no better excuse to disconnect from home and work - and 2013 - and drop off grid.

But Samoa is clearly on the way up.

The United Nations has flagged the island - free of political instabilities seen in other parts of the Pacific - as a candidate to graduate from Less Developed Country status.

Tourism's been a big driver of this imminent transformation as the industry is the country's second-biggest export earner, only behind remittances from Samoans who are seeking their living offshore.

Savai'i has less a national roading network than a circulation of rough roads skirting around volcanic rocks.

None of the geothermal activity is active, but past explosions and eruptions have left their mark with black-rock cliffs, lava fields and seaside blowholes that channel waves into explosive geysers.

One practical side-effect of this busy geology are endless swimming holes and waterfalls. With an aquatic wife, and a tadpole-like 2-year-old, every swimming opportunity demands to be taken.

Changing sheds, along with fences and barriers, are non-existent at these informal pools. On occasion, ladders climbing down to swimming spots are covered in moss - Osh would have a field day - but managing minor risks is worthwhile as a respite from the heat.

Togitogiga, on Upolu, and the Afu Aau Waterfall, on Savai'i, are the pick of the bunch but locals can point to dozens more if resort pools and beaches become boring.

And some of the glorious beaches may become boring just because they're empty.

At Savai'i's Falealupo Beach Fales, a picturesque beach is entirely deserted; bicycle tracks in the white sand from a tour group earlier in the day are the only evidence of human activity.

Away from the water and back to the dining table, Samoa's foodie culture is also moving rapidly from less developed to budding culinary hotspot.

For New Zealand-born international chef Robert Oliver, bringing the foods of the South Pacific to the world has turned into a crusade.

His recent book, Me'a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific, picked up the top gong at 2010's Best Cookbook in the World competition, and his follow-up - including a television series provisionally titled Real Pasifik - will focus on the kitchens of Samoa.

There's more to the local diet than starchy taro, with Apia featuring a number of Ponsonby-quality restaurants and tourist spots around both main islands catering to travellers wanting more than fish and chips.

Well, some are still after the old favourites. My son is pleased to find that using one of his few words - "chips"- results in consistent delivery of fried potatoes.

Fish, pulled straight from the sea, is uniformly good even without batter.

Slabs of tuna or diced mahi-mahi marinated in citrus as oka almost compare with free-range pork that could well have walked off the road and into the kitchen.

There's good swimming and good eating, but the pinnacle of Samoa for my son sees him add to his vocabulary: "Turtle."

The green turtles of the ocean were historically hunted for food in Samoa but, with numbers dwindling, efforts have been made to protect a now-endangered species.

At Satoalepai village in Savai'i, a sanctuary has been set up to nurse injured turtles, mostly those caught in fishing nets, back to health.

Their recuperation is the tourists' gain, as dozens of the giant-shelled creatures are only too happy to share their pools with the curious.

These turtles aren't your small home aquarium variety either, being up to 10 times heavier than my 18-kilogram son.

Not that it stops him try to ride on their backs.

Fortunately, these are not the carnivorous snapping variety, and these gentle giants will only ponderously lunge for papaya.

With new words, full bellies and a welcome touch of sun, it is a shame to come home.

On the flight back, where the only noise out of my son is the repeated chanting of "turtle", I already begin to miss a place where the only chance of a polar blast comes with the spilling of a blended margarita.

Matt Nippert travelled to Samoa courtesy of the Samoa Tourism Authority.

Source: stuff.co.nz

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