By Sandy Savos
The first home of the 2013 Australian media group was the Orator Hotel in Tanumapua, Apia. This is a popular place for many Samoans who come here in the summer months because of its cooler temperature compared to the humid capital.
One of the guests at breakfast was a jovial Californian, Robert, who was representing one of the tenders (SunWize) to help Samoa become dependent on solar energy, especially in remote parts of the country.
I was impressed with the Samoans embracing modern technology and keeping up with the world. Recent achievements included Wi-Fi (introduced two years ago), driving on the right-hand side of the road and moving the International Date Line to the left (both actions to conform with Australian and New Zealand standards). FYI: the tala currency is about two for one Australian dollar.
A visual highlight of the Orator Hotel, apart from its appealing bungalow-styled rooms, are its hectares of manicured gardens, with the majority of the plants and trees hand-picked by the owners, Jerry and Charlotte. Craig and I were lounging by the pool when the skies darkened overhead and an almighty bolt of lightning streaked across the sky, followed by an ear-splitting clap of thunder, and most of Upolu Island blacked out until well into the evening. A thunderous applause to nature!
Our second home was straight out of the pages of James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize novel, Tales of the South Pacific. I am talking about Stevensons at Manase, Savai’i Island. No connection to the famous author, this jaw-dropping resort has beach fales (open huts) literally 10 steps from the ocean’s edge. Ten steps to the clean, pristine, sparkling blue Pacific Ocean, with sand so soft and the sea so warm.
The sun had started to sink (ever so slowly), shadows were creeping over the palm trees hugging the water’s edge and my colleagues were enjoying a refreshing swim (it was hot) when I lit my Cohiba cigar and timidly walked into the shallow sea and knew … oh, how, I knew … that I was in paradise. In those splendid moments, everything in my world was perfect. I felt like the main character in Ernest Hemingway’sThe Old Man And The Sea.
We spent two nights at Stevensons, and sleeping in a beach fale was a new, and enjoyable, experience for me. Although they were the resort’s budget accommodation (there are luxury-appointed suites and beach-front villas), I was comfortable … even with the cold showers. I am grateful to Stevensons staff who prepared an umu (such divine flavours), and performed traditional singing and dancing at the resort’s Tusitala Restaurant. Just beautiful to watch and listen.
I did not think the sunset ”dreamtime” could be topped but I was wrong. My media colleagues decided to enjoy an evening swim before bed, and I waded out to join them. There was light from some of the beach fales but not strong enough to dampen the awestruck mood … because the stars, in their thousands, were out that moonless night, and it was a magical, magnificent, exhilarating, enchanting sight. You could not help but gaze in awe. Several of my colleagues saw shooting stars. Did they secretly make a wish?
Our third home was Aggie Grey’s Lagoon Beach Resort & Spa, Mulifanua, just a five-minute drive from Faleolo International Airport, Upolu Island. This four-star resort has serious credentials, boasting 91 hectares (224 acres) of tropical gardens, with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
I came across a white-walled church in the middle of the resort’s manicured gardens and became curious (as most journalists are) why a place of worship ”happened” to be in a place of hospitality. Well, when the resort was being built about four years ago, construction workers uncovered the remains of a 100-year-old church, and it was decided to resurrect it to its former divine glory. Bravo. Applause for giving new life to a remarkable building.
Please, don’t get me wrong; although I enjoyed the beach fale-experience immensely at Stevensons, the fluffy pillows, soft bed, air-conditioning and hot showers in my room at Aggie Grey’s were … divine.
Our fourth home was something ”out of the blue,” something unexpected, something that makes all your senses go into overload and ”blow off” the top of your head … especially after a bumpy ride along a pothole-ridden dirt road which seemingly lead to nowhere!
Sa’ Moana Resort, at Salamumu Beach, Upolu Island, is in a lush coconut grove with absolute beachfront bungalows (2-6 persons), a saltwater swimming pool at the ocean’s edge, and a natural reef within easy view. The 3.5-star resort opened in 1999, originally for surfers and their families to enjoy the waves and just chill out in a breathtaking setting. The two hammocks in the coconut grove were a subtle touch to the theme: total relaxation.
Two delightful (and beautiful) Kiwis had joined the Australian media team at Sa’ Moana: Rachel (campaign manager, House of Travel) and Amelia (journalist, New Zealand Herald). It was not all relaxation for Rachel; she actually came to this beautiful country to work!
”Being on the ground in Samoa, especially during the biggest cultural and sporting events of the year, provided a rare insight into this unique and impressive island nation.” Rachel says. ”Thank you Samoan Tourism Authority! I’m managing the upcoming South Pacific edition of House of Travel’s Inspire Magazine which will be available instore nationwide, online and in the Sunday Star Times. Samoa will be one of the key features in the magazine, and additional to Inspire will be ongoing campaign activity throughout the year, all with an objective of bringing tourists to this stunning island nation.”
OK, so Rachel did have some relaxing moments; it’s hard not to at the pamper-those-guests resorts dotting Samoa. Her thoughts? ”Absolutely stunning! The country is so … photogenic. The people, the land, the sea, everything,” Rachel says. ”The culture is what really stands out to me – the people are so proud, very friendly and absolutely stunning. Add to this the picturesque waterfalls, turquoise seas, powder-fine white sandy beaches, lush tropical rainforests … there’s the colourful buses that blast sweet reggae music and pumping nightclubs, fresh seafood, ice-cold Vailima [local beer], a complete range of accommodation options, the list goes on … mmm yes … Samoa is so … yummy.”
We quickly made friends later with two Victorian surfers who were told of this fascinating place by a friend of theirs, a former staff member. Simon, a financial planner, and Gareth, in construction, came to Samoa on an 11-day surfing and diving holiday. Ah, but the best-laid plans of mice and men …
”We had 50km/h trade winds for two weeks straight which killed all the activities we had planned but to experience the local people and their culture made up for everything,” Simon says. ”On Sunday, we were invited to church where they all sang for two hours and then went back to the high chief’s village to have their traditional umu. Amazing people. I will definitely go back but maybe not pack the surfboards or dive gear next time. Sa’ Moana was good but its staff are the biggest asset. The fact that the resort hires Samoans with such a beautiful temperament made our experience exceptional, despite the unsettled weather.”
The writer was a guest of Samoan Tourism Authority.