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Lalomanu Beach - Samoa's tropical beauty mirrors the warmth and friendliness of the people. Picture / Tony Enderby

Charmed by Samoa


Warm air greets us as we step off the plane at Samoa's Faleolo International Airport. The warmth sets the tone as we navigate customs and immigration - each time greeted by a smiling official.

Our first hint that Samoa is a little different from home came when we climbed into the wrong side of the car. "You can drive if you want to, it's only 35km into Apia," Tau, our driver, says with a grin. Samoa follows the keep-right rule and we flinch as the first approaching vehicle passes on our left.

Over the next few days we try the wrong-side entry a few more times but stop short of taking up Tau's repeated offer to get behind the wheel.

The Samoan friendliness continues at Apia's best known hotel, Aggie Grey's. Named after the woman who was renowned in the Samoan hospitality industry, the hotel is still owned by the Grey family and became famous when Hollywood celebrities stayed there while filming in the South Pacific.

During a tour of Apia's markets we have our first look at Samoa's individually painted buses - each one a work of art, with colours in harmony with Samoa's blue sky, green forests and fiery sunsets.

Behind Apia, the volcanic peaks rise to more than 1000m, split by the Cross Island Rd to the south coast. Robert Louis Stevenson, most often remembered for his story Treasure Island, lived in Samoa for the last five years of his life. His home, Vailima, is now a museum and is set in magnificent gardens overlooking the sea above Apia.

He was known as Tusitala - teller of tales - and from the fond words of our guide, he clearly became close to the hearts of the people.

We spent an hour wandering through the refurbished house where its rooms recreate the setting Stevenson lived in. But one has to wonder why there are chimneys and fireplaces installed.

Further up the road the futuristic-shaped Baha'i temple contrasts with the traditional churches around Apia.

After another attempt at getting into the car on the wrong side, we make our way through the rainforest. Birds flash past, the most spectacular a red and black sparrow-like bird.

A few metres from the road is a sign for the Papapapaitai Falls. With a bit of help from Tau we get close to the correct pronunciation. The length of the name is a clue to the height of the falls that flow 100m into the gorge below.

Stopping at the Papasee'a Sliding Rock we watch a stream flow over volcanic rocks, their rough edges worn away over thousands of years. The air is hot, so we slide into the cool spring water to bring a welcome respite from 28C.

It's not far up the Alafa'alava Rd through the rainforest to the palm-lined driveway of the Tanumapua Estate. "Hi, I'm Mana," another smile greets us, "your horses are almost ready."

Our behinds have recovered from the sliding rock experience, but how will they be after exploring the estate's 66ha on horseback?

We follow Mana along the trail. Above us brightly coloured birds call and flash between the trees.

An easy trot through the bush and fields and we emerge on to the road. The Samoan friendliness continues as each passing car toots and its occupants wave. The horses are used to them and don't flinch. They also know which side of the road they should be on.

Chilled fresh coconut juice, fresh pawpaw and slices of pineapple refresh us after an almost perfect dismount.

The sun begins to set and the colours appear to seep into the land all around us, enveloping us until the sun sinks away drawing dusk in its wake - the first star of the night twinkles into life.

Before we rest we make our way back to Apia. This time we effortlessly remember to get in the correct side of the car, Tau didn't say anything, but I think he was impressed.

* Jenny and Tony Enderby travelled to Samoa with the assistance of Polynesian Airlines and the Samoa Tourism Authority. While in Apia they stayed at Aggie Grey's Hotel and Hotel Kitano Tusitala.

Getting there:

Polynesian Airlines flies to Samoa from Auckland, every day except Wednesday. Ph 0800 800 993, Email:

Where to stay:

Aggie Grey's Hotel began by selling hamburgers and coffee to American servicemen during World War II. It's on Beach Rd on the Apia waterfront, and has standard rooms, fale-style bungalows and roomy suites.

Hotel Kitano Tusitala is on the Mulinu'i Peninsula and an easy walk to the main Apia shopping area. A children's playground is next to a shallow pool and a deeper pool.

More information Contact the Samoa Tourism Authority. Email

©Copyright 2003, The New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)

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