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

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