Exploring Upolu, Samoa -
Frances (my wife) and Trish (my sister) arrived a few days before me with the intention of cycling around much of Upolu. They had no fixed plan and only a few brief notes on what to expect. Starting out from the Airport Lodge, the first striking feature is just how quickly the road degenerates. There are patches where the potholes cover more of the road than the remaining seal. Still, this is good for keeping the infrequent cars and buses to below 15kms per hour. At first villages almost constantly line the road with a still clear lagoon on the right looking very inviting.
In the distance they can see a tiny ribbon of gravel logging road climbing steeply up the forested hillside. “Thank god we are staying on the main road” they think, but the main road becomes this track and they push their bikes up the hill. Driving this road a few days later I'm pleased to have a 4WD and from our air conditioned comfort we can appreciate the forest which has a misleadingly leafy green cool to it. At midday on a bike it would have been less appealing. The girls continued around the coast for five days finding some great spots to stay and confirming the practicality of a tour around this Island.
I flew over with my Mum a few days after Frances and Trish. Mum is 80 and a bit frail, so I promised her she would not have to bike and we would hire a car. It's my 8th trip to Samoa but the first in a car and it seems a bit strange. While the air conditioning is nice there isn't the same feel of connection to the locals. Despite the heat cycling is a much better way to experience Samoa. We meet up with the others and go back to the places they enjoyed the most.
Lalumanu was destroyed in the tsunami but Taufua resort has been rebuilt and we have our first night there. New air con motel units have been built up the hill, safely away from the water. Next to the house are 14 fresh graves of the families tsunami victims; it's a bit sobering. Mum stays in the air-con while we opt for the rebuilt traditional fales on the beach. There is very little risk of another tsunami, but if the same fault ruptures again we will be well shaken awake with at least 15 minutes to get up the hill. That night we have a traditional Fai Fai or dance. The performers are technically quite good but the sad eyes of the lead woman cast a small shadow. The next morning I check out the snorkelling. The sea is warm and pleasant, but, unfortunately the tsunami has destroyed much of the coral and crown of thorns star fish have moved in.
At Ben and Dave's Fales Frances and Trish are invited to go fishing for GTs (Giant Trevally). We are expecting a fee in terms of 100s of tala, so the price structure is surprising, 20 tala (about $NZ13) each if they don't catch anything, half price if they catch dinner, double price if they want to return early. These are serious fishermen. With much laughter the four set out in an aluminium dinghy to troll inside the reef, no life jackets in sight. They return at dusk with half a dozen trevally, huge smiles and tales of big bust-offs and the ones that got away. The meal that night night is not brilliant, but the hospitality and setting more than make up for it.
We have seen photos of an amazing pool that can only be reached by a long log ladder and the girls have discovered that this is the To Sua sea trench. Old lava tubes connect this deep sink hole to the sea and at the right tides and sea conditions it provides safe swimming. It's quite a special spot and we enjoy lunch in the surrounding gardens after a leisurely swim. We are told that it is possible to dive out through the connecting tube to the sea – but we decline.
Heat and dehydration get the better of Mum and we retreat to Le Uaina resort for a bit of pampered luxury. The Resort is on the edge of a sheltered lagoon with a marine reserve and Piula Cave Pools nearby so there is plenty to do. I would like to say I sat in the loungers for two days reading books and occasionally going for long swims, but I never could sit still, so it was a half day of business in Apia and some long snorkels and kayaks along the coastline. This must be the perfect place to learn to snorkel as it has a sheltered shallow lagoon and very rewarding coral and reef life.
With the research over it was down to work at the Airport Lodge, assembling and testing our new hire bikes and training the staff in cycle maintenance. There was time for an evening in Apia and we decided to try the Fia Fia at Aggie Greys. It’s a well choreographed show of traditional dance and song, but not nearly as powerful as the shows at Lano on Savaii.
Frances and Trish also commented on a couple of other places they stayed at that they had enjoyed: Namua Island is off the eastern end of Upolu and only a short boat trip away. The fales and part of beach were washed away by Tsunami but NZ college students and teachers staying there reached high ground easily. The accommodation has all been rebuilt and while it is pretty basic and the food quite average, the idylic setting makes up for everything else. Watch for the huge hole digging crabs and walk to the high point of the island.
Pleasant and a bit more expensive with dinner not included in the price is Virgin Cove - however great food and popular resort. Nearby is the Mangrove Fales - just opened and under a giant Banyan tree that afforded a cool shady spot. One fale was in the form of a treehouse. Tours into the mangrove swamps were offered or you could just paddle on a ride-on at your leisure.
All in all a reminder that there is stil lots more to discover in these pleasant isles.