Day One: Arrival Day
Ahh Samoa……soft warm sunshine embracing us as we step off the plane, guitars strumming, melodic voices harmonising as we go through customs, flowery shirts, lava lava’s, jandals and smiling brown faces…..We have arrived and are feeling fine, just fine!
Our van driver awaits us, we are taken just up the road to Airport Lodge where we pick up our bikes and are given a thorough briefing and then we’re off….our first stop is Aggie Grey’s only 4km up the road where we stop for lunch and a swim before catching the ferry over to Savaii.
The thrum of the engines, the soporific warmth and our general tiredness after such an early start to our day, means that one by one we succumb and start nodding off. It’s been a long day.
An hour later we arrive on the island of Savaii and excitedly ride off the ferry and a short 1km later we are at Lusia’s, our upmarket accommodation for the night. Ahh, what bliss! We shower, we rest, take a look around, have a lovely meal and with not much else to do and feeling very much in need of it, we head off to our rooms for an early night.
Day Two: Lusia’s to Lano – 20km
First stop today is the big market place a couple of km’s up the road to buy what we need for lunches and snacks for the next few days. I have my shopping list and together we choose delicious tropical fruits, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, tuna, spreads etc and load it all into our support van.
By this time it was mid morning and getting pretty hot. Even though it was only a short ride today, we needed to get going before the midday heat hit us. We were certainly looking forward to our fresh water swim stop at the John Williams memorial pool and it was divine!
A deep, cool, natural spring water pool by the side of the road where we wallowed, feeling totally refreshed and energised. Fresh juicy mangoes and paw paw followed and 5 happy women then cycled off for a further 30 min to our accommodation at Lano.
Our fales were right on the beach and at high tide the water went right under us! We put our bags that were waiting for us into our fales, had a lovely picnic lunch with our ‘market food’, rested, went swimming and snorkelling, sat on the beach sipping mojito’s and eating potato chips……….Bliss !!!
Dinner was meant to be an umu (traditional Samoan meal cooked in hot coals) but a breakdown in communication meant that the staff were not told and so we missed out. We were disappointed but I knew we’d more than likely get an umu meal further on in the trip, which we did.
Day 3: Lano to Manase – 33km
Up and organised, our breakfast was Samoan cocoa porridge which was like a chocolate tasting runny sago (not too bad once I mixed our muesli into it) fresh tropical fruit and an omelette.
We were away by 8:30am with the warm wind at our back, skimming along the deserted road, through villages full of the children’s cheerful cries of “bye bye, bye bye!” We were to hear “bye bye’s” throughout our trip and no matter how many times you cheerfully called “bye bye” back to them they just kept on calling it. There were definitely times when we were puffing and panting up hills, dripping with sweat, sandwiched between the sun beating down and the heat of the road ‘beating up’ (if there’s such a thing) when the last thing you had any energy for was to cheerfully call out a returned “bye bye!”
Through the hot jungle roads we cycled with the trees completely covered in jungle weed, through villages with piglets scuttling, chickens scratching, roosters crowing, fires smoking and everywhere friendly faces waving, smiling and calling out hello or bye bye!
Stopping at the Mauga lava fields we guzzle down fresh, cold coconut juice straight from the coconut (so pleased we put them in the fridge the night before) and feast on sweet, juicy paw paws before we take a tour through the ruins of the church that was destroyed when a meter of lava flowed through it during the volcano eruptions that happened between 1906 and 1911. What is fascinating is that the lava flowed everywhere except over the burial site of the chief’s daughter.
20 min of cycling later and we were at our accommodation at Jne’s Beach Fales in Manase. We are shown to our lovely open fales and I’m back in the same fale that I’ve had 3 times now. It’s looking a bit in need of repair and the deck out the front has a definite lean on it but it still brings back fond memories of my first stay in Samoa with my husband and 5 years later when we brought 2 of our grandkids over. I admit I felt a little bit homesick and teary eyed…..
A lovely picnic lunch, a nice long rest, a swim and a snorkel and pre dinner cocktails at the beach bar rounded off the afternoon nicely. A large group of Samoan high school teachers were having a Professional Development weekend and were sitting in groups out on the grass singing, laughing and supposedly practising their skits for that night’s performance. All we seemed to hear was them cracking up laughing all the time. I wish my PD weekends when I was a teacher had been as much fun!
After dinner and chatting to the other guests we ended up with drinks on the (sloping) deck of my fale before heading off to bed for what was to be a very stormy night. I awoke during the night to flashes of sheet lightning far out at sea, the sound of the waves crashing and then surging under my fale and horizontal rain lashing in through the open door. Luckily my bed was behind a wall so I didn’t get wet but the matting on the floor was pretty soggy in the morning…..
Day 4: Manase to Vaisala – 42km
What a long hot day’s ride this was and yet it started so beautifully! We left later than what we had planned and were on the road by 8am. Cycling along in the cool, fresh, clean morning air was so uplifting. Everything smelt and looked like it had been washed clean from last night’s storm. The colours were all so vivid and bright. The greens of the jungle, the turquoise blues of the ocean, the reds and pinks of the flowers and the yellow and orange of the village fales were a feast for the eyes. We sped along through the quiet and peaceful coastal villages delighting in it all, big smiles on our faces.
Then the road headed up and inland, through the jungle area and it got hotter. Gone were the gentle sea breezes, gone was the flat easy cycling road as with faces flushed and sweat dripping we cycled up the long hills panting in the heat.
Stopping in the shade by the side of the road for our fresh tropical fruit morning tea totally revived us and on we went up and down the undulating road that gradually headed over to the coast.
Before getting there though we stopped at the Aopo Lava Tubes, an amazing network of tunnels or tubes that goes for miles, where the lava flowed underground and out to sea creating these huge lava tubes where little swiftlets birds live. With our torches and headlamps we were led through some of these tunnels while swiftlets fluttered like bats around our heads.
By this time it was lunchtime and we were starving. Cycling uses up a lot of energy! Another big picnic lunch with loads of fresh juicy pineapple and then we were on our way again. What’s that they say about ‘mad dogs and Englishmen…..”
Our next and ‘bestest’ stop was the big fresh water swimming pool at Agua Asau.
We sped down the long jungle hill road knowing that this pool was waiting for us and what a welcome relief it was!! Slipping our hot sweaty bodies, fully clothed into the cool, crystal clear water was pure bliss! We frolicked, we dunked, we did handstands, we lay on our backs and floated enjoying every energy reviving minute!
Another 4km and we had made it to Vaisala Hotel – a large, sprawling, ‘seen better days’ old fashioned hotel right on the beach and what a welcome sight it was. This was definitely our hardest day on the trip and we were all glad it was over and we had a full rest day to look forward to the next day.
Our bikes were stashed in a large empty room and we were shown our rooms with big heavy double and single beds, ceiling fans, air con and fridges……SORTED!
We spent the next few hours refreshing and reviving ourselves with showers, rests, swims and the obligatory pre dinner drinks. We ended up having our first late night (we’re talking just after 10pm!) The other guests were from William Colenso College in Napier and we were treated to an impromptu performance as well as a bit of a fia fia from the Vaisala staff. You can bet we all slept well that night!
Day Five: Rest Day
How timely that our day of rest ended up being on a Sunday. Three of us were taken to the local village church, a lovely light, airy, open, cool and breezy church. About 150 villagers all in white, solemnly sat all around us. It turned out to be the yearly christening service and there were lots of babies looking like little dolls in their lacy, pretty, frilly little dresses being proudly taken, usually by their grandmothers, up to the minister to be christened with a sprinkling of water on their foreheads.
Though we didn’t understand a word of the prayers, the sermon or the songs we still enjoyed the whole experience, especially the singing.
Oh my, the singing!! The men’s deep voices surging and swelling like a Welsh choir, the rich and harmonising women’s voices together creating such a worshipful sound, it was well worth going for the singing alone!
For lunch we decided to get a ride on the pontoon around to Vaimoana, a lovely resort and spend some time there. It turned out to be a rather choppy sea and we were pretty much drenched by the time we got there. Luckily the trip back wasn’t quite so choppy.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch, a bit of a snorkel (not nearly as good as the snorkelling at Vaisala) and two of the group treated themselves to a massage.
It had been a lovely, much needed, relaxing day and we were all ready after some more snorkelling when we got back, drinks and then dinner, for an early night.
Day 6: Vaisala to Falealupo – 19km
It’s amazing what a day’s rest can do. We were up and on the road by 8am and all feeling keen and looking forward to our short ride to Falealupo at the very top and most remote part of the island. Yes, it was a short ride but she had a killer hill in the middle of it!
We started out cycling through these lovely little coastal villages and then the road turned inland with a short sharp climb that then continued on still climbing till we reached the loop road turnoff. It felt like it was never ending and even though it was only mid morning it was very hot and humid. At the top of the long hill was a little shop that sold these delicious milky vanilla iceblocks, sold in little plastic tubes. They were absolutely delicious and just what we needed!
Within minutes we were off again and turning on to the loop road we continued on a sandy, pot-holed, rugged road that had virtually no traffic. We sped along, up and down the easy undulating hills, enjoying the coastal breeze. We even saw a huge pod of dolphins frolicking and leaping and splashing about.
Only a few more kms and we arrived at what is my favourite place to stay, Falealupo. The accommodation is so basic and so simple and the location is just stunning. I think the remoteness adds to the beauty of the place. We stayed in little beach fales only meters from the sea with gently waving palms dotted here and there. There is a toilet/shower block and an eating fale and that’s it. There seems to be an atmosphere to the place that just invites and allows you to just stop, relax and quietly enjoy. And so we did.
We slept, we read, we wallowed in the shallows and when the tide came all the way in, we snorkelled. Dinner was cooked for us and served to us at a table on the beach. That night I lay in my open fale watching the full moon slip across the night sky, listening to the waves crashing far out on the reef, feeling the warm soft breeze gently billowing out my mosquito net…………
Day 7: Falealupo to Satuiatua – 38km
The relaxed atmosphere of the place meant we got away later than what we should have if we wanted to avoid the heat that would hit us from mid morning on. At 8:15am we headed off down gorgeous coconut palm tree avenues, beside rocky shorelines of pounding frothy surf and then once again the road turned inland and up we started to climb. We climbed pretty much all the way out to the main road. From there on it was easy going and we just loved speeding along with the breeze cooling us down. One more big long hill before we stopped at Lovers Leap for a break and some coconuts.
Lots more undulating hills in the hot sun through villages with carefully swept and manicured gardens, children calling out their “bye bye’s”, skinny, tired looking horses tied by the side of the road, groups of people just sitting under trees, in fales, outside shops and lots of pigs, chickens and dogs. (We had no trouble from dogs chasing us or barking at us. If any looked like they might chase or bark at us we’d just shout, “Ah loo!” and they’d leave us alone.)
What a welcome sight our accommodation was at Satuiatua Beach Fales. Our fales, once again, were right on the beach but with a difference. They were all under this HUGE banyan tree. Our support van had gone ahead, as per usual, and dropped our bags off so we trundled and lugged our bags down to our fales before ordering our lunch.
While we waited we sat, relaxed and enjoyed some fresh banana bread still warm from being baked in the umu. Yum!! Along the way, we have met up with a few other kiwi’s and aussie’s and all are suitably impressed and envious of our cycling adventure. It really is the perfect way to explore a place.
We enjoyed an afternoon sleep after our lunch while we waited for the tide to come in and then we were all off snorkelling in one of the best snorkelling places on Savaii. We walked down to the far end of the beach and then swam out into the channel where the gentle current carried us along over all the coral just teeming with fish. No sooner had we finished snorkelling and got back to our fales than it poured down with rain which looked really weird as the sun was still shining. Warm, dry and sheltered, we watched the rain from under the banyan tree fales.
Just before dinner some of us went and took part in a coconut cream making demonstration. We sat and grated the coconut, then squeezed it through this fibrous loofa type material, till eventually there was only the milky creamy liquid left.
Pre-dinner drinks sitting and chatting together, a delicious fish curry for dinner, finishing off with kahlua over ice-cream for dessert and we were very happy little campers. Off to bed early as we had an early start the next morning.
Day 8: Satuiatua to Sili – 40km
We loved having an early start this morning. We were on the road by 7.30am and it’s definitely the best part of the day. There’s such a beautiful, clean, fresh smell in the early morning. The road was easy with undulating hills and we happily cycled along, stopping to take photos, buy fruit, or chat to the kids along the way. We came across a very welcome mini geyser leak in the water pipe beside the road and all jumped off our bikes and stood fully clothed in the sprinkler, an instant refresher!
Next stop was Taga and the Alofaaga Blowholes. These are amazing! The hiss and the roar and the sheer power of the sea as it literally ROARS through the holes in the rocks and shoots up into the sky is incredible! We shouted and clapped with glee!!
Then we were off again, next stop one of 8 waterfalls in the world that fall into the sea. We stood under the falls, pummelled by the force of the water as it tumbled over the rocky ledge and onto the beach below. Feeling energised and revitalised we hopped back onto our bikes and 10 min later we were at our home-stay accommodation in Sili, a little village a few km inland off the main road.
We stayed with the family of the local chief and it is definitely one of the highlights of this trip. They are such a lovely, friendly, family who treated us so well. After lunch and a rest in our fale we went for a walk through the village and stopped off at the fale next door where the local women’s committee were busy weaving huge mats. Within minutes they had us joining in not only the weaving but also up dancing with them as they sang and danced around us. It was such a happy, joyful and impromptu time together.
Then it was off to the river for a lovely refreshing swim with the local children before we wandered back and rested in our fale, waiting for the umu to cook our dinner.
And what a lovely dinner it was! Huge amounts of coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves, chicken and noodles in the rich soupy broth, eggplant, tomato and onion mixture fried together. It was all so tasty and delicious. Our hostess Kisa, chatted with us throughout the meal while the rest of the family chatted and waited in the adjoining “kitchen fale”. Once we had finished they came in, cleared away what we hadn’t eaten and ate that themselves.
After dinner we all came together and had a very entertaining and lively evening with lots of reciprocal singing, finishing off with a special request for the Hokey Tokey. (They remembered it from last year’s group.)
It had been a full on day and we were all ready for a good night’s sleep…..unfortunately though, this was not to be! Dogs barked and fought, roosters crowed at hours when roosters are not supposed to crow and one by one we crunched our way over the volcanic gravel, past the 9 sleeping dogs, who didn’t even blink at us, to use the outhouse. At about 5am the eldest son was up and in the kitchen busily making 150 steamed chicken buns, one each for the stream of local children who later passed by on their way to school.
Breakfast for us was a real treat; hot pancakes, steamed chicken buns, cocoa porridge and fruit. Feeling very full, satisfied and happy with our stay with this lovely family, (despite our sleepless night) we headed off on our bikes at “peak hour” traffic time….which meant biking into hordes of school children as they walked in large groups down the road, all happily waving and shouting “bye bye, bye bye” as we weaved and waved amongst them.
Day 9: Sili to Salelologa 25km
Leaving the village of Sili behind we rode about 10km along the inland road before coming out onto the main road and stopping off at Afu Ahau waterfalls for a lovely refreshing swim. A short 5 min ride after our swim we stopped to watch the tapa cloth making demonstration.
This is a fascinating, interactive demonstration. We were all amazed to see the bark of a spindly tree transformed into a beautifully patterned, soft piece of tapa cloth and enjoyed being part of the process.
Back on our bikes again and into the heat but only for about 9km before we were at the market place. It seemed incredible that 8 days had passed since we were last there buying up our stores to take with us. We had come almost full circle and none of us wanted it to end. We had seen and done so much in those 8 days. First stop in the market was buying our much looked forward to ice creams, then we roamed around buying this and that, chatting with the stall holders (who were always amazed to hear that we had just biked around their island) and had some lunch.
Next stop was the ferry 3 km down the road. While waiting on the ferry we watched a large turtle lazily swimming beside us before disappearing in the depths below. Only one of us had managed to see a turtle when we were out snorkelling so it was a real treat to all get to see one now, even we were weren’t actually in the water with it. Back on Upolo and on our bikes for the last time, we rode the final 3km to Airport Lodge to drop off our bikes, all looking a lot healthier, tanned and more relaxed than when we had arrived.
After a chatty de-brief with Ross and Frances from Outdoor Samoa, we climbed into the van and headed off to Lefaga Bay and our lovely, comfortable accommodation at Valasis Fales. Although we were all feeling rather tired from our long day and sleepless night the night before, we all wanted to see the giant clams for which this bay is famous for and the tide was right for us to snorkel out to see them.
We were so glad that we did! They were HUGE! About 1 metre long and half a metre wide with big open “lips” that would slowly close if you hovered your flipper over them. There were about 30 of the big ones and about 20 that were about half that size.
A quick shower and a fresh change of clothes before we sat down to a beautiful 3 course dinner of Thai coconut curry fish chowder, stir fry chicken and veges and banana cake for dessert. Delicious! Our beds were a very welcome sight that night. We all crashed!
Day 10: Upolo Island Tour Day
We had an awesome day today exploring some of the most beautiful places on Upolo. Our first stop was checking out the upmarket beach resort just along from Lefaga Bay called Return to Paradise. It’s not quite the place I’d want to stay at and there are definitely nicer beaches to swim at but it would definitely suit some people.
From there we went to see Togitogiga Waterfalls which had a lovely big swimming hole and then on to my favourite place, To Sua Trench with it’s big long ladder into the huge deep sinkhole below. We stayed and swam and enjoyed this incredible place.
We had a lovely lunch at Taufua on the bottom of the south coast where most of the damage was done during the cyclone. It was amazing to see how much growth and vegetation there was there now. If it wasn’t for a few derelict, roofless buildings you’d never know of the devastation that was only a few years ago. We continued on to the Sopoaga Waterfalls with its gardens full of named plants.
Our van driver, Alacosi, entertained us on the Samoan drums and then with a coconut cream making demonstration.
From there we drove on over the island to the other side and swam in the Piula Cave Pool that goes right underneath the theological college that sits on the cliff above. We had time for a quick visit to the Mailelani Soap Factory, a small but very prosperous cottage industry where we all bought soaps and lotions to take home.
By now we were all ready to stop, have a bit of a rest and get freshened up for dinner. Our accommodation at Amanaki was ideal. We retired to our hotel style rooms and luxuriated before meeting up for dinner and cocktails at the hotel restaurant. After a gorgeous meal and a few drinks, bed beckoned but 3 of us decided to have a little wander into Apia and see what the Friday night life was like…… 3 hours later, hot and sweaty from non stop dancing to a great band at Cocktails on the Rocks, we arrived back, happily tired, ready for a shower and bed.
Day 11: Apia and our final day.
What a lovely relaxing day this turned out to be. After our totally western style breakfast complete with “flat whites and cappuccino’s” we ambled off down the road to the huge market place.
It was a busy, bustling noisy place with colourful arrays of lava lava’s, clothing, tapa cloths, carvings and ornaments. We arranged to meet up an hour later and get a taxi to the home, now a museum, of Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a stunning huge colonial style house set on a huge lawn that was a pineapple plantation when he lived there. It is well worth a visit and the guided tour is very informative.
Our taxi picked us up again and dropped us off at the Home Café, a delightful cool, funky, trendy café with delicious food. From there we caught a local bus back into Apia to our hotel and had a relaxed afternoon, swimming in the pool, resting, reading, meeting up for drinks before dinner, while outside it poured with rain.
Our last night’s meal was at the very flash Paddles restaurant further around the bay. We dined in style and with no Saturday night life happening, we headed back to our beds for our last night in Samoa, all feeling a bit sad and sorry that our time had come to an end and we were flying back to the “real world” tomorrow.
It had been an awesome trip. We had had so many different experiences and would be going home with lots of wonderful memories to take a moment to bask in as we went about our busy working lives back in NZ (not to mention heaps of photos!!) I’m planning on going back for another adventure in October 2015. Wanna join me?!