Samoa a “wedding week” to treasure
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.