Alanah Eriksen

Alanah Eriksen is the New Zealand Herald's property reporter, and assistant chief reporter.

Samoa: Dip your toes in for true delight

The green turtles at the Satoalepai wetlands eventually get released into the ocean. Photo / Angela Gregory
The green turtles at the Satoalepai wetlands eventually get released into the ocean. Photo / Angela Gregory

They can weigh up to 185kg and they're green and slimy so swimming with them probably sounds a little unnerving.

But the green turtles at the Satoalepai wetlands - one of the most popular attractions on the Samoan island of Savaii - are actually rather delightful.

As we drive into the sanctuary at about 9.30am, the villagers looking after the prehistoric animals are barely out of bed. They simply smile sweetly as we get out the car.

As with most Samoans I came across at the various tourist spots, you have to practically chase them, grab their hand and put money in it, they are so unassuming.

We walk towards the part fresh, part saltwater enclosed pool where the reptiles are protected from predators.

The six or seven endangered turtles are being raised by the people of Satoalepai who release them back into the ocean once they are ready to mate.

They're not trained zoologists but have learned turtle husbandry as it is passed down through the generations.

I get into the water - a combination of brackish and salt marsh - and try to swim up to the reptiles.

They swim away nervously and then one of the villagers comes over with pawpaw that we cut up. Suddenly I'm their best friend.

They nip and butt into one another fighting for the fruit, sometimes bumping me with their slippery bodies as I yelp.

I'm the only one in the water so the turtles are mine.

An Australian couple arrive about 15 minutes later, although they don't look so keen on being surrounded by the hungry creatures, so for a while I feel like a turtle-tamer at Marineland showing the amateurs how it's done.

When I held the pawpaw above the water the turtles poked their heads above the surface, squirted water from their noses, took a breath of fresh air and latched on to the orange fruit. The Aussies clapped with joy.

Admittedly there is only so much turtle touching one can endure but it was worth the $10 entry fee. I recommend bringing snorkelling gear for a better view.

Satoalepai offers accommodation in six over-water fales. However, dwellers must be prepared to rough it slightly.

The basic fales have just a mosquito net and the communal shower spits out cold water.

There are also canoes for hire which can be used to explore the stunning natural habitat.

If you'd rather see the green turtles in their natural habitat, this can be done around Namua Island, just off the southeastern coast of Upolu, where, for about 20 tala ($11.34), tourists are taken out on a small boat.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand operates up to seven direct flights, per week, between Auckland and Samoa. Fares start from $270 per person, one way.

Turtle swimming: Green turtle swimming is available at the Satoalepai wetlands on the northwest coast of Savaii. Cost is $10. You can stay in one of the six over-water fales for $90 a night.

Further information: Check out the Samoa Tourism Authority.

Alanah May Eriksen flew to Samoa with Air New Zealand and was accommodated by Aggie Grey's Hotel and Aggie Grey's resort on Upolu and Suifaga Beach Resort and Le Lagoto Resort in Savaii.

- NZ Herald

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