Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Samoa: Swapping city grind for some island time

Despite it being the rainy season, Wynne Gray got the most out his beachfront escape.

The Sinalei Reef Resort and Spa in Samoa. Photo / Supplied
The Sinalei Reef Resort and Spa in Samoa. Photo / Supplied

My breakfast order was an omelette - it seemed the ideal start to my first day in Samoa.

We had jetted in after midnight and were driven across the island of Upolu to our resort by a couple of staff, who kept up the chatter.

Progress was slow because of the lack of road lighting, and the dogs and other wildlife basking in the residual warmth of the pot-holed tarseal.

On arrival, a huge man with a torch guided us to our fale at Sinalei Beach Resort. It was clean and air-conditioned, with an outside shower and toilet annexe housing geckos, sizeable ants and other insect life - and, fortunately, no sign of mozzies.

When we rose a few hours later, we discovered the thatched fale had a terrific view of the nearby beach. It was supposed to be the rainy season but we were blessed with 32C temperatures, so the child bride was in her element. Sun, reading books and swimming - just the therapy needed after a busy year.

So off to the restaurant and my omelette. Or so I thought.

We were on island time so the wait was anticipated. But when the breakfast arrived it looked more like scrambled eggs. No worries: I was not going to endure another wait and, besides, it looked appetising. It was - and so apparently was my omelette, which we later discovered had been delivered to one of the few other restaurant diners.

The waitress was new and had been too shy to change the meals when she realised her mistake.

Lunch took a similar tack. I thought I'd give the fish, chips and salad a run. The problem was, the mixed salad did not make an appearance. Now, I'm not a foodie - nothing like some of my colleagues, the real tooth men in the Herald sports department - but it seemed like I'd offended someone.

Dinner was a fiafia night, an island banquet, and nothing was missing this time. There was raw fish before the mains of pork, fish, beef curry and chicken with potato salad, steamed vegetables and palusami before baked papaya, breadfruit in chocolate sauce and mango salad. The lubrication came from a Vailima or two - not bad for day one.

The resort could hold 80 guests, but there were only a dozen of us there because the school term had not yet ended in New Zealand and Australia. This was the resort hit hard by the tsunami two years ago, but much of it had been rebuilt within six months.

There is nothing quite like relaxing by the ocean and listening to local music. My only curiosity was how the restaurant coped in peak season.

The blokes from Brisbane, staying nearby in huts on the beachfront, had it sussed. They were avid spearfishermen and every morning set out for a dive outside the reef. They were back by lunch with their tuna and saltwater trout catch.

They gave the tuna to our restaurant in exchange for the chefs whipping up a sashimi dish for them each night. It was a good deal as meals were not cheap, and the wine was expensive enough to persuade most guests to drink beer or cocktails.

Prices were not as inflated when we ventured into Apia. The half-hour taxi ride took us over the hilly divide in the middle of the island into the waterfront capital. There were the obligatory markets, a visit to Aggie Greys, and local meal before the steamy conditions forced us under cover.

Back at our beachfront headquarters, we decided to take in a Sunday church service as the rain broke on our final day. It is not my normal practice but we wanted to digest the scene which is so much a part of island life. The first small church was not ready, so we carried on to the bigger service in the next village.

We eased ourselves into the back pew as the congregation drifted in and out, seemingly depending on the feeding times for the many babies. The numbers swelled to about 200 in the church, which had whitewashed walls, decorative artwork and sculptures, and corridors to allow easy entrance and exit.

Everyone wore their Sunday best. Lavalavas were ironed, hair combed, voices tuned. The choir was magnificent, but some of the kids got a bit twitchy.

Eventually one got a clip from grandma's fan for acting up, while I got the hairy eyeball for inciting trouble.

It was not the first time that had occurred, and that would not be my last visit to the languid isles.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies directly daily from Auckland to Apia.

Where to stay: Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa is on the south coast of Upolu island in Samoa.

Wynne Gray paid for his own travel in Samoa.

- NZ Herald

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