It took me five years, a divorce, a couple of house moves, and some creative financing to get back to Samoa. It was with a great sense of achievement that I set off with my children for ten days of F’aa Samoa. We picked up a cute but ageing Rav 4 at the airport, and spent our first night at the perfectly comfortable Tusitala, now part of the Tanoa Hotel group.
We drove the next day to arrive at Taufua Fales on sunset. The complex has been rebuilt just as it was, as a sign of respect to those lost. We had opted for an enclosed three-sleeper fale, one row back from beachfront. Next to us were two en-suite fales, and in front of us, and along the beach are the open ones, wrapped in sturdy tarpaulin for some protection. My fale had a fan, lights and a power point, much to the relief of the technology addicted children. There was a double mattress on a small platform, and a single one alongside, both protected by mosquito nets. Dinner and breakfasts were both included in the tariff, which was a little over $100 NZ per night. For fales without facilities, it is necessary to cross the barely-used road to get to the bathroom block. In the middle of the fales, is the large eating and communal gathering space. Within minutes of arrival my son was swept up into a game of touch rugby by the young men who worked at the fales, having a break before getting down to the business of feeding the guests.
For mealtimes, we were called into the main fale, sat at long tables with the other guests. There are still lots of New Zealanders visiting Samoa, but a nearly equal number of Australians, plus the intrepid Europeans who have always been fond of Samoa. Plenty of dishes came out of the kitchen, usually around five choices, and no one went away hungry.
While the buildings at Lalomanu have been rebuilt, one thing that has not been able to be repaired is the reef. The beach is still gorgeous and white, the water crystal clear, but much of the coral has died, and with it the number of fish reduced, so the snorkelling is not as spectacular as I remembered. We still had three wonderful nights, swimming, snoozing, and generally unwinding.
From Lalomanu it is not far to visit Sua Trench, the deep swimming hole often featured on Samoan tourism advertising, set in beautiful gardens. The swimming hole is accessed down a tall ladder. Really adventurous types can swim through rock caves from the trench, out to the ocean beyond. Tackling the ladder was enough for me, left with no choice as both children scampered down there. Somehow the water was still beautifully warm.
Our next stop was Savaii, accessed by ferry. I was a bit alarmed to learn that Lalomanu, in the far south-eastern corner, was about as far as it was possible to be from the ferry terminal at Mulifanua. There was some discussion at the dinner table about the best path there. “Someone told me to stick with the coastal road,” one of my dinner companions advised, “that cross-island road looks easy, but there are small roads that come off it, you could get lost.”
With that advice in mind, we loaded up the Rav and set off. I loved driving in Samoa. The little Rav 4 ticked along at the requisite 50 kms, and though the drive took 2 hours, there was always something to see. “Oh, look at that,” I would exclaim to the children, as we passed through a particularly well kept village, or by a stunning church. They would be focussed on their ipads and generally missed whatever I was referring to. Although a particularly fat pig, guiding her ten piglets gently across the road, got an, “Awww,” from the teenager.
Trying to keep the coast on my left, and following my Jason’s map, eventually, I became disorientated. I stopped at a road-side store and showed my map to the lovely lady there. “Am I here?” I asked hopefully, pointing. “No, she laughed. “You’re all the way over here, turn left there and you are nearly at the airport. Many tourists get confused.” And she was dead right, just after the left turn, there was David Tua’s village, a familiar landmark on the airport road.
Our ferry tickets were booked by the car hire company on my behalf, so all we had to do was park the car in the queue and wait. The ferry ride takes about an hour.
On Savaii, we stayed at Lusia’s Lagoon Chalets, set in rainforest, and on a lagoon, very close to the ferry terminal at Salelologa. The complex has some cute cabins in the trees, and basic fales over the water, but I wanted a bathroom now, so we stayed in a motel room, in their big block. Lusia’s has an award winning restaurant serving such delicacies as coconut crusted tuna.
Our breakfasts were included at Lusia’s, so the pattern of our days while there was, yummy breakfast, swim, head out in the car for an outing. Get home mid-afternoon, have another swim. The children hadn’t quite understood when I gave them 200 tala discretionary funds, that there wouldn’t be much to spend it on. We bought a few souvenirs at the markets, but pretty much their money went in the afternoons on fizzy drink, a bowl of chips and an hour’s internet.
Our first day trip was up to Manase, where most of the tourist accommodation is. While it was a nice beach, it didn’t compare to Lalomanu. It is also really tidal, so if the tide was out, there wasn’t much to do. Savaii is very volcanic, with much of the island built on lava fields.
Manase is where to find the ‘Swim with Turtles’ attraction. This is not an ‘eco’ activity, the turtles are kept in large ponds. However, the children really enjoyed gently floating around after these magnificent creatures, they are only seeing a handful of visitors each day, and didn’t seem distressed by them. There is a range of accommodation along this stretch of coast, from the very popular ‘Stevenson’s at Manase,’ a selection of beach fales, and the swish Le Lagoto Resort.
We travelled a little further up the coast to find the Mataolealelo Springs, a pool somewhat incongruously framed in baby pink and blue concrete. We were instructed that we could only swim in the smaller pool adjacent to the lagoon, the main pool being reserved for adult males. We didn’t linger very long though, this was the coldest water we encountered in our holiday.
Another day we went in the opposite direction to explore, but only got as far as the Aganoa Beach Resort. This was tucked onto a sheltered spot but has a surf break just off the beach. They call themselves a surf resort, as the owners will also take guests out by boat to other good surfing spots. As well as ensuite beach fales, the highlight was a long beachfront deck, a perfect lunch spot.
For our last day, we caught the ferry back to Upolu in the morning, then settled in at Aggie’s Reef Resort for a long lunch, and drinks while we waited for it to be time for our flight. The setting was beautiful, the pool inviting, and the food delicious. For the first time in our ten days away, my kids were surrounded by children their own age, and were included in games.
“This place is great,” said my son, munching through ‘Samoan style’ pancakes with caramel sauce. “Why didn’t we stay here the whole time?”
“Because I wanted you to see the real Samoa,” I replied, “and you did.”