11 August, 2013

Seeking Savai'i's sunsets

Savai'i is not only Samoa's largest island, it's one of the biggest in all Polynesia. Densely clad in impenetrable jungle, it boasts the highest peak, (Mt Silisili at 1866m), spectacularly rugged beaches and plenty of sheltered sandy coves. Being a volcanic creation, the island is pockmarked with close to 450 volcanic cones, a testament to its many baptisms by fire.

These days, you'll find Savai'i a peaceful place. There's only one set of traffic lights and loads of places to kick back and unwind. If you prefer a more active holiday this popular patch of paradise offers excellent hiking, cycling, fishing and diving.

Getting there is easy. Either fly from Upolu or take the ferry. It's said the bus service on Savai'i is erratic, although the buses themselves, with names like Bon Jovi, Queen Maggie or In Jesus I Trust, are gorgeous. But if you're here for only a short time and don't have all day to sit waiting for a bus that may never come, rent a car.

Straight off the ferry, we nipped into Salelologa Market where you can buy fruit and veges, snacks, toothpaste, enamel mugs, undies, souvenirs, toys and much more. You can never have too many sarongs.

All shopped out, our next port of call was one of the island's best-known attractions, the Alofaaga Blowholes at Taga.

Follow the signposts from Main South Rd, pay the small fee and continue along the rutted track. This natural wonder, created by holes in hardened lava, sees water shoot 60m into the air. If you pay a little extra, the nice man will toss a coconut into the mouth of the hole. Next thing you know the coconut shoots into the sky like a cannonball.

With the mercury at 33C we needed to chill out before calling it a day so took a detour to the Afu Aau Waterfall, a swimming spot with cool water and movie-set surrounds.

Heading along the coastal road to Lagoto Resort, the sky was the most extreme blue. It's a cliche, but I'll call it azure, and the sea looked as if it had been through Photoshop.

Arriving at our digs we were told Lagoto is Samoan for sunset and sure enough we were treated to a spectacular twilight sky of crazy colours. Our room was a treat, with a balcony on the water and, beyond that, a little jetty we could swim off if we wanted a break from the pool.

That first night, all cosy in our fale, we were roused by booming thunder and lightening. The next day we woke to a very different palette - the sky a gunmetal gray, the sea cut from RAF cloth. Undaunted, we struck out for the westernmost village in the island to the Canopy Walkway, which is part of the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve. Assuming you have a head for heights, pay the modest entrance fee and head into the jungle to a sturdy 9m spiral steel stairway. The atmosphere at the top was uplifting, compromised only when we realised we had to cross a rickety 24m swing bridge, one at a time.

Safely on the other side, we climbed even higher into an ancient banyan tree. This is the tree house a giant might build.

What is it about fear that stimulates the appetite? Happily the Va-i-moana Seaside Lodge was open for lunch - a heavenly spot on the beach. You'd be silly not to have fish so fresh that it may as well have been flapping. Our appetites were whetted to do some angling of our own.

It was easy to organise a fishing charter through Va-i-moana Lodge. You can go out all day or just for a few hours, and we were quickly hooked up with a boat and skipper. For the first hour I was sure we'd return empty-handed, but no, we caught a couple of decent barracuda, but the one that got away had to have been the biggest beast of all time.

Talking of beasts, I am so glad we made time to visit the turtles at Saleapaga Village. Lured with the promise of pawpaw, they arrived snorting water from their nostrils. They were at least 1m long, with beaks like parrots. Their flippers were silky and leathery, reptilian and meaty - although don't go there, to ensure their survival these creatures are off the menu for good.

Savai'i is heaven on Earth and I appreciate its charms all the more, writing this at home amid a polar blast, hail peppering the roof.

The Lagoto Resort is for families, couples or independent travellers. Be sure to have a massage, they are seriously amazing.

Va-i-moana Seaside Lodge offers food, fishing trips, snorkelling and accommodation.

Elisabeth Easther and her son were guests of the Samoa Tourism Authority.

- Herald on Sunday
By Elisabeth Easther

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