Samoa a “wed­ding week” to trea­sure

Wedding Destinations - - NIUE FEATURE -

Samoa, the name alone con­jures up im­ages of trop­i­cal sun­sets, fra­grant frangi­pani, glis­ten­ing blue wa­ters and the sounds of is­land drums. As a place to spend time with fam­ily lead­ing up to a wed­ding and in the days af­ter, Samoa has made in­cred­i­ble progress in catch­ing up with its is­land neigh­bours of Fiji and the Cook Is­lands in pro­vid­ing world­class re­sorts at its many ro­man­tic lo­ca­tions.

Samoa com­prises two main is­lands, Upolu and Savaii, which rep­re­sent 96 per­cent of the land area, and eight other smaller is­lands and all are nir­vana for any­one who loves the sea. The beaches are white, won­der­ful and un­crowded and the water so clear. The main set­tle­ment of Apia is found on the is­land of Upolu.

Scot­tish au­thor Robert Louis Steven­son se­lected Samoa of all the South Pa­cific is­lands he vis­ited as the place to spend his fi­nal years. He died here in 1894.

Samoa was first set­tled from is­lands to the west from about 3000 years ago, the first Euro­pean to sight Samoa was Ja­cob Roggeveen, a Dutch­man, in 1722. The ar­rival of the English Protes­tant mis- sion­ary John Wil­liams in 1830 led to mass con­ver­sions of Samoans to Chris­tian­ity and pro­found changes to Samoan so­ci­ety.

In the 1890s the is­lands were di­vided be­tween Amer­i­can rule in the east­ern group, cen­tred on Pago Pago, and those of the west, ruled by Ger­many. When the First World War be­gan in 1914, West­ern Samoa was oc­cu­pied by New Zealand troops, and New Zealand con­trolled th­ese is­lands un­til Samoa be­came the first South Pa­cific coun­try to gain in­de­pen­dence in 1962. Samoa’s pop­u­la­tion is about 180,000, with most peo­ple liv­ing in the 362 vil­lages.

Our cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion be­gins at Lotofaga, where we ad­mire the Sopoaga Falls spew­ing from the far hill­side be­fore learn­ing from our colour­ful host that the co­conut orig­i­nated in Samoa. As else­where in Poly­ne­sia, the co­conut is revered as the provider of life, in­clud­ing food, milk, fi­bre and leaves for cloth­ing and shel­ter. But when it comes to crack­ing the hardy nut, this is the first time we’ve seen it done with a mighty karate chop in­stead of with a ma­chete. We per­haps shouldn’t be sur- prised at the phys­i­cal ap­proach taken by Leva, who not sur­pris­ingly is re­lated to the heavy­weight boxer David Tua.

At Vavau we wan­der down to one of the most beau­ti­ful beaches in the South Pa­cific. The golden sand, turquoise water and palms bow­ing to the trade winds is the play­ground of a few for­tu­nate souls rent­ing beachside fales.

The grand old Pi­ula Methodist Church holds a spe­cial se­cret. Now nearly 100 years old, this place of wor­ship stands sen­tinel over gin-clear spring water bub­bling up into rocky cav­erns.

Fel­low trav­ellers tease us with sto­ries that gi­ant eels in­habit the Pi­ula Cave Pool. In true ad­ven­ture-land fan­tasy, we jok­ingly won­der whether it is pos­si­ble to dive from the far end of the cav­ern via an un­der­wa­ter stream to an­other cave.

It seems we are in a land where fan­tasies can be­come re­al­ity, when two large eels are seen pa­trolling the pool’s edge just as we be­gin swim­ming in the re­fresh­ingly chilly wa­ters. Then, a fel­low swim­mer in­forms us it is pos­si­ble to fol­low the un­der­wa­ter

stream by hold­ing our breath for 15 to 20 sec­onds and emerge in an­other bay.

In­stantly we stop our jests and re­main silent for the re­main­der of this cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion. There is not a sin­gle sug­ges­tion that we’ll en­counter the ghosts of Robert Louis Steven­son or his wife, Fanny, walking along the ve­ran­dahs of Vail­ima. Jok­ing on a day when jests be­come in­stant re­al­ity is clearly fraught with dan­ger.

At the golden sands of Lalo­manu, the half­way point in our cir­cuit of Upolu, we spread our­selves around a pic­nic ham­per on an open beach fale. An im­promptu game of beach rugby, us­ing a co­conut husk as the ball, pro­vides noisy and dra­matic en­ter­tain­ment as play­ers tackle one an­other into the surf or make Hol­ly­wood dives for an imag­i­nary try line into the soft sand.

Soon the mood of a few of our wed­ding party turns to snorkelling. Off Lalo­manu the water is clear, the fish colour­ful and even more in­quis­i­tive than their hu­man in­trud­ers, but the star of this un­der­wa­ter show is the bril­liant co­ral.

We cross the sum­mit road to Apia to ex­plore the mar­ket and en­joy the waterfront spec­ta­cle. Colour­ful truck buses load or dis­gorge seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble num­bers of com­muters, fresh fish are sold from the back of pickup trucks and moth­ers nurse their ba­bies in what­ever shade they can find.

En­tic­ing as ru­ral Samoa is, a day or two should be set aside for sight­see­ing in Apia, a friendly town lo­cated around a broad, shel­tered bay. It is an im­por­tant port for fish­ing boats, cargo ves­sels and overseas cruis­ing yachts. Along Beach Road are numer­ous restau­rants and bars, some of which could be straight out of a short story by Som­er­set Maugham, who passed through Samoa early in the 20th cen­tury. Samoa jus­ti­fi­ably prides it­self on be­ing known as “the cra­dle of Poly­ne­sia.” Th­ese is­lands have been set­tled for about 3000 years, and an­cient Samoa was a dis­per­sal cen­tre for ocean voy­ages to other Poly­ne­sian is­land groups, in­clud­ing the Cook Is­lands and the Mar­que­sas.

Samoans are de­vout Chris­tians, thanks to the zeal­ous work of Protes­tant and Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies who ar­rived dur­ing the 19th cen­tury. One of the most strik­ing features of the 45-minute drive from Fa­le­olo Air­port to Samoa’s cap­i­tal town of Apia is that ev­ery vil­lage seems to have an im­pos­ing church. Many are new, but some date back to colo­nial times. They all add dig­nity and even grandeur to the vil­lage, stand­ing out among the fales, or tra­di­tional houses and the fono, or meet­ing house. At­tend­ing a church ser­vice is es­sen­tial when vis­it­ing Samoa to ob­serve the in­ten­sity of the wor­ship and the beauty of the con­gre­ga­tion’s singing.

Apia is 2890 kilo­me­tres from Auck­land and 4400 kilo­me­tres from Syd­ney and won­der­ful des­ti­na­tion for a “wed­ding week.”

The is­land is warm through­out the year, with max­i­mum tem­per­a­tures av­er­ag­ing over 30 de­grees Cel­sius from De­cem­ber through to Fe­bru­ary. The south-east­erly trade winds cool tem­per­a­tures slightly be­tween about May and Novem­ber, when it is also drier.

The cur­rency is the Samoan tala (dol­lar) and sene (cent) while the na­tional lan­guage is Samoan. Most Samoans also speak English, the of­fi­cial lan­guage of government and busi­ness. Mar­riages in Samoa are legally recog­nised world­wide. To marry in Samoa you will need to fill in an ap­pli­ca­tion for a mar­riage li­cense with the Min­istry of Jus­tice in Apia at least 14 days be­fore your wed­ding day - but not more than three months in ad­vance.

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