20 June, 2013

Samoa: Aggie gets in another round

Guests around the pool, pre-Cyclone Evan, at Aggie Grey's in Apia. Photo / Greg Bowker

Evan had Aggie on her knees. But, that grand lady of the South Pacific is on her way back and will soon dance again on Apia's waterfront.Evan had Aggie on her knees. But, that grand lady of the South Pacific is on her way back and will soon dance again on Apia's waterfront.

Samoa's iconic hotel, Aggie Grey's, was badly damaged by Cyclone Evan last December, but Marina Grey (daughter-in-law of the late Aggie Grey) claims the formidable dame is now well on her way to re-opening.

During the cyclone, the Vaisigano River bordering the hotel, swept in destroying much of its famed fale restaurant and the premier fale rooms. The water was up to the third floor of the hotel and many guests who had been huddling in the upper rooms had to be rescued from the roof.

As I drove east along Apia's Beach Rd in late May, the legendary hotel - built during World War II - looked pretty much the same as it had before the cyclone's devastation. But, it was when I got out of the car and actually tried the main door that the full impact of its current closure struck me.

It was a Mary Celeste moment. The lobby was still beautifully decorated with fresh flowers. Red serviettes were placed artistically on the fully set dining room tables, but the front door was firmly closed with heavy-duty chains.

Fortunately, business was in full swing at the neighbouring Aggie Grey's Gift Shop and Marina Grey was happy to leave her work there to take me on a tour of the refurbishments. She was charming and helpful.

"There has been so much interest in the work going on, I have been taking many people around," she said.

The daughter of a Samoan mother and Danish father, she is married to Aggie Grey's son, Alan. They run the business (Aggie Grey's Group now also includes Aggie Grey's Beach Resort & Spa, Le Meridien in Tahiti and Samoa Scenic Tours) with their son, Fred (who is the managing director), and daughter, Tanya. They also have a daughter called Aggie who closely resembles her famous grandmother.

"Oh my God, it was so shocking. There was a roar and it was like a tsunami wave when the water came rushing through from the river. It was so high, we couldn't believe it and it was blocked up with logs and debris, while the stench left was horrific," Marina said, recalling the day Cyclone Evan struck.

Ironically, a major refurbishment had just been completed. "It was all looking absolutely beautiful." But, Marina is determined the hotel will be operational for a conference booked for August this year.

In late May, staff were busy working on the final stages of tiding the extensive tropical gardens, which had been buried in 2m of silt. The vibrant plants had returned to rampant splendour and the fragrance of the frangipani was breathtaking.

The huge restoration is expected to cost about $5.5 million. While some reports put completion in 2014, Marina has her own eyes set on August.

When the upgraded Aggie Grey's is reopened it will include about 177 hotel rooms and Samoan-style bungalows or fales. And the renowned Fia Fia (cultural entertainment) nights will resume.

"Yes, Aggie's has been crawling, but she'll soon be walking and then dancing again," Marina smiles with all the charm and character that made her legendary mother-in-law so well loved.

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

Article: Robyn Yousef

Source: The New Zealand Herald

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