Day One –Thu May 30th 2013 – Auckland to Samoa
We were an excited bunch of 11 women arriving at Auckland airport in 2’s and 3’s for our early morning flight, sitting together in a departure café, tentatively getting to know each other. (Tentativeness was well out the door by the end of Day 2! )
Ahhh, the sheer bliss of stepping out of the plane into hot sunshine and warm tropical breezes (and leaving foggy Auckland way behind!) We were met by a van and taken to Airport Lodge just a few k’s away. Once there we sorted ourselves into pairs for our fales, the same pairs would end up sharing fales for the rest of the trip, then we got fitted out onto our bikes…….this takes longer than you would think!
A quick van trip down the road to Aggie Grey’s airport lodge where we luxuriated in their gorgeous swimming pool, sipped “happy hour” cocktails, did a proper “meet and greet” and had a lovely meal, was a wonderful way to start our adventure. Probably just as well that we didn’t know then what the next day was going to bring……….
Highlight of the day: There were many, but for me, arriving into hot sunshine was just awesome!
Day Two – Fri May 31st 2013 – Salelologa to Lano – 19km
Woken to the sound of roosters crowing – at 3am!! Lots of rain fell in the night but it “seemed” to be clearing ….little did we know…. After a magnificent breakfast, we set off on our bikes for the 3km bike ride to the ferry. Our bags had all been loaded into the van and we just had a little handle bar pannier with our necessities in, (camera, phone, sunscreen, muesli bars etc.)
It was a pretty rough ferry crossing to the island of Savaii and a couple of the women were a bit green around the gills. The closer we got to Savaii the more the weather changed and as we rode off the ferry the rain started.
Our first stop was the huge covered market to get some supplies for the trip. We had a couple of picnic lunches to buy for. The idea was to get the food, load it into the van, cycle off to a nearby swimming hole and have a lovely picnic in the sunshine……Yeah right. We ended up having our lunch inside the market place as the rain pelted down outside. No guttering on the roof meant it was like walking through a waterfall to get onto our bikes. But, hey, we all reasoned, once you’re wet, you’re wet. So off we set in our shorts and singlets (no need for raincoats as it’s so warm and you dry out so quickly once the rain stops.)
By the time we were riding along the coast ride the weather had become like a mini cyclone! Palm trees lashed and thrashed, bending over in the force of the wind that threatened to blow us off the road, salt spray and rain stung the right side of our faces, palm fronds hurled across the road! Riding at the back I could barely see the front rider as heads down, shoulders hunched we battled along. It was so exhilarating, so exciting, so energising …..and also a wee bit scary too!!
Finally the storm abated, the winds dropped away, the rain stopped and we breezed merrily along….until we came to a long line of vehicles, all stopped by the side of the road. Hmmmm…..what’s going on here…? A raging torrent of water across the road was what was going on! Thigh high, muddy brown water surging across the road, down a little weir and out to sea and our accommodation for the night was just over the other side of it.
As we all stood there contemplating what to do a group of young boys, we’re talking 11 to maybe 14 years old, rushed across through the raging torrent and starting picking up our bikes and slinging them over their shoulders and wading across, just like that! None of us were brave enough to go over by ourselves, a couple tried but the force of the water was too strong, so back the boys came to hold our hands and lead us bunch of nana’s safely through to the other side.
Half an hour or so later our support van made it through and warm and mostly dry we settled into our first fale accommodation on Savaii.
Marae style, we slept on foam mattresses on the woven matting floor – 6 of us in one fale, 5 in the other while the storm raged through the night. Long flashes of lightning lit up the inside of our fale accompanied by long rolling thunder that shook the floorboards…..needless to say we were all were a bit bleary eyed the next morning…and it had nothing to do celebratory drinking session we had when we got through the raging river…..honest!
Highlight of the day: “Cyclone cycling” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that ride!
Day Three – Sat June 1st 2013 – Lano to Manase – 33km
Took a wee while to get ourselves organised this morning, (or was it just me.) Having a “system” I find, works really well. Little things, like laying out your clothes, toiletries etc the night before, having your pannier bag packed with your essentials, having a designated place for your bike lock keys, your luggage keys etc
So off we cycled at 9am, what was to be our latest start time as from then on we were on the road between 7am and 7.30am. Already it was hot and sticky. After all that rain last night everything was clean and sparkly but it was like riding in a sauna!
We stopped and visited a couple of tourist spots along the way; the Mauga Crater and the Lava field church where you can see the lava as it flowed through the church and the gravesite – which was fascinating to see. A few of us stopped off and went out for the afternoon on the Dive Savaii boat – snorkelling and scuba diving out near the reef, while the others biked on to our accommodation at Manase.
For me staying at Manase was quite emotional as it was almost exactly a year before that I had been there with my husband and 2 of our grandkids and I’d come up with the plan to cycle around Samoa as an adventure for my Women’s Adventures NZ. And here I was, 1 year later with a group of 10 women doing exactly that! (I gave myself a little congratulatory “pat on the back”.)
Highlight of the day: Sitting at the beach bar, with everyone, watching this amazing sunset, feeling very happy and satisfied with life!
Day Four – Sun June 2nd 2013 – Manase to Vaisala – 40km
Up early and breakfasted and on the road by 7:15am! This was meant to be our hardest day of riding with lots of hills and some bit bits of rough road (though I think a few of the group found other days a bit harder.)
As “tail end Charlie’ I cruised along at the back, blissing out in moments of quiet solitude, smokey morning breakfast fires, roosters crowing in the soft warm morning air….
After seemingly lots of hills later ranging from undulating to “get off your bike and walk”, after lots of photo stops, rest stops complete with fresh coconut milk, pawpaws, bananas and oranges (carried by our support van) we arrived at our most refreshing stop of all. A beautiful big cool fresh water pool – Agua Pool – complete with stone wall and steps leading into it.
It was sheer bliss to slide into the water and instantly feel refreshed and energised for our last climb of the day up to our accommodation at Vaisala. (Unfortunately it was at this pool that we had our first and only accident when one of the group slipped on the step and went down, banging her head as she fell. Luckily another one of the group sitting there broke her fall a bit so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been…)
Vaisala was our accommodation for 2 nights and what a perfect place it was. A big old style rambling hotel complete with wide verandahs, large comfy rooms, wonderful meals, perfect snorkelling both along the beach and in a special coral garden pool that was just teeming with fish and interesting coral.
Day Five – Mon June 3rd 2013 – Rest Day at Vaisala
It was wonderful to have this extra day of rest.
Highlight of the day: Snorkeling in the rock pool coral garden, honestly it was like snorkeling in a huge aquarium.
Day Six – Tue June 4th 2013 – Vaisala to Falealupo – 19km
Just a short ride today. We started with quite a big hill climb that we weren’t expecting, but once we turned off the main road and onto the side road that took us around the north western most tip of the island we noticed the changes. The road, fringed with high sugar cane type grass, was rougher with lots of little pot holes and big sandy patches. There was no one around. It was very hot but very calm and peaceful.
We stopped at a beautiful church that had been ruined by the 1990 cyclone. On this sunny, calm and peaceful day it was hard to imagine the force of the sea, the wind and the rain that had destroyed this seemingly strong and sturdy building.
Within no time at all we had made it to our most basic, but my most favourite, accommodation. Our fales were literally metres from the water’s edge and had just a mattress on a woven mat with a mosquito net over it. We could pull down the coconut palm blinds when and if we wanted to but otherwise our fales were totally open. So basic, so simple and so pretty.
As we had arrived relatively early we had heaps of time to swim, snorkel, just sit together in the water and chat, read, rest and enjoy! Some of the group went off exploring and met a local guy who showed them how to weave a basket.
After a lovely meal in the open sided dining fale we all sat around and played charades accompanied by lots of fun and laughter!
Highlight of the day: Lying in my fale at night watching the amazing lightning display over the sea…….
The cycle today was I think one of my favourites. The top of the island has a lovely remote, off the beaten track feel to it. We cycled along the sandy pot holed roads, heaps of palm trees lined up along beautiful white sandy bays…..
As we rode back out onto the main road it started gently raining and continued for a lot of the 38km which was actually really nice. There were quite a few hills and we had lots of rest stops with everyone in the group doing really well and all being so supportive of each other.
We arrived at Satuiatua at about 12 and we all just loved our pretty “Princess Barbie” fales, with their pink and orange curtains fluttering in the sea breeze, nestled under the canopy of a HUGE big tree and right on the beach.
After a wonderful restaurant lunch, we spent the afternoon as we spend most afternoons, swimming, snorkeling, relaxing………etc etc!! The snorkeling there was AMAZING! There was a current that went along the beach so we’d walk up to the far end of the beach, wade out with our snorkeling gear on and just drift back along with the current. Not far below the surface was an abundance of marine life! Lots of these little “bolshie” black fish that would angrily pop up out of the coral and eyeball you as you snorkeled over them. There were schools and schools of amazing tropical fish….it really was spectacular!
Highlight of the day: It has to be the big plate of scones that were kindly made for us after we admitted to our hostess that we’d been fantasising about scones and jam for the last few days. Luckily, she’d spent years in NZ as a primary school teacher and knew how to make a good scone! This highlight is closely followed by the PD’s (pre dinner drinks) on the beach and another hilarious game of charades.
Day Eight – Thu June 6th 2013 – Satuiatua to Sili – 51km
Early morning start after our yummy “kiwi” breakfast with real “perked” coffee. It was to be a big day today, though we didn’t know it then. Off we cycled through beautifully manicured villages with luxurious green lawns, colourful border hedges and cottage garden mix flowering abundantly in their well tended gardens.
In every village there are always groups of children enthusiastically calling and waving and even running along side us as we biked. If we stop in a village then you can guarantee we will surrounded by friendly but sometimes shy children (who love having their photo taken, especially when they can see it after.)
There was lots of rain today from lightly drizzling rain to pouring rain and for the first time I actually got a bit cold….no one else seemed to though. We stopped at 3 different tourist spots. Lovers Leap, where we were told the local story of this spot, Alofaaga Blowholes where we ooohed and aaaahed as coconuts were blown sky high by the force of the water shooting up through the blowholes (if you look closely at the photo you can see the coconut at the top of the spray) and lastly at Mu Pogoa waterfall, one of the 8 waterfalls in the world that tumbles onto the beach and into the sea. A group of us climbed down the rocks and onto the beach where we ducked under the waterfall and stood behind the curtain of water it as it hurtled off the edge and thundered onto the beach. Such a weird phenomena!
By the time we got to our homestay accommodation at Sili we were all pretty saturated. A beautiful hot Samoan lunch was ready waiting for us. Large bowls and plates of grilled fish, rice, noodles with corned beef, bananas in coconut cream and taro were lined up along the table and we tucked in with enthusiasm while our hosts and their family stood around the edges and watched ….which felt pretty weird I must say. They then had their meal after us.
After lunch we clambered into the backs of a truck and a ute and set off on a tour of their plantation which was as unlike a plantation as I could imagine. Taro, banana and other plants were planted seemingly in haphazardly fashion in cleared off bits of jungle with long grassed overgrown tracks to get to them….
Feeling dirty and muddy from our days cycle and plantation tour, we all wandered down to the local swimming hole where we waded in with our soap, clothes and all and had a good wash. Finally, in warm dry clothes we rested in our “marae style’ fales until dinner time.
Roosters crowing, dogs barking, a smokey haze drifts through the fale as the umu is prepared for our dinner. And what a feast it was! Once again bowls and plates lined the middle of the table filled with delicious and very rich tasting food. There was suckling pig, fish, taro, breadfruit, oka (raw fish in coconut milk) and rice. Once again our hosts waited for us to eat before they had theirs.
Highlight of the day: The impromptu singing (and dancing) session after we’d all had dinner. They’d sing a song, complete with actions, then we’d sing one. Our grand finale was the Hokey Tokey!
Day Nine – Fri June 7th 2013 – Sili to the ferry – 30km and back over to Upolo.
Up early after a not particularly restful night of roosters crowing, dogs barking and a seemingly steady stream of us nocturnal loo goers crunching our way over the rocky gravel to the loo. After fond farewells to our host family, we cycled off through the waking village and about 30 minutes down the road to a beautiful waterfall – Afu Aau – where a group of us stripped off and leapt in. It was so refreshing and a lovely start to the day.
Just a bit further down the road we stopped off to watch a Tapa cloth making demonstration. It was absolutely fascinating. From the cut off bark of a skinny little tree to a fully designed and dyed piece of tapa cloth in just 1 hour…..
Back on the road and in an hour or so we were at the market place just a couple of kms from the ferry. We’ve been so lucky with the bikes that we hired from Outdoor.Co.NZ. No major issues at all, a few chains coming every now and then and a broken brake cable and some general tightening of handlebars and seats but nothing too serious. We had no flat tyres and most importantly, no accidents!
After a good long stop at the market place where we enjoyed delicious pineapple ice-creams, we biked off to the ferry, cruising along in the sunshine. So different from when we first started out, 7 days earlier, in all that pouring rain. We had cycled 200km around Savaii and were all feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves.
A miscommunication about the exact time of the ferry meant we waited for 2hrs but we were happy enough just relaxing and watching the activity around the ferry buildings. Once we got back over to Upolo we loaded up the van with our bags, rode back to Airport Lodge to drop off our bikes then we clambered into the van for the 40 min drive to Apia and to our hotel, Amanaki.
What bliss, what pure luxury! We showered and got all doo daahed up and had a lovely meal together (complete with celebratory cocktails!)
Highlight of the day: – has to be enjoying our luxury accommodation….need I say more!
Day Ten – Sat June 8th 2013 – market morning and full day tour
After a blissful night’s sleep had by all in our luxurious rooms, some of us crept out quietly for an early morning swim in the hotel pool, we breakfasted and then ambled down the road to the Apia flea market for a bit of a shopping spree.
Armed with all of our luggage and our purchases, we set off in the van for a tour of some of the most popular tourist spots on Upolo. Although this was a long day and there was lots of driving, we all got to see and experience so much. I can thoroughly recommend going to the Robert Louis Stevenson home and museum, the Piula College with its underground cave pool and the To Sua Trench with its loooong steep ladder to climb down into the pool. All absolutely stunning places!
Our final night’s accommodation was on the South East coast of the island and to be honest a bit disappointing after we’d been spoilt at our luxury accommodation the night before. However, once we were all showered and dressed up, we hot footed it over to the flash high end Coconut resort and totally lost ourselves in the high energy, mesmerising, world class fia fia performance. We were all completely blown away! A world class performance.
Highlight of the day: The Fia Fia performance at Coconuts, unforgettable!
Day Eleven Sun June 9th 2013 – Back home again.
The last morning was spent relaxing under the palm trees, reading, chatting and going swimming. We had all gotten pretty close over the last 10 days and felt happy and comfortable just being in each other’s company.