Flower festival is a chance to sample more than sun and sand in Samoa, writes Robyn Yousef.
Bouquets of red ginger flowers festoon street lights and other unexpected places, colourful streamers and bunting decorate buildings and homes, and all of Samoa is in celebratory mode for the annual Teuila Festival.
The festival, which runs from August 30 to September 6, is timed to celebrate the flowering of the national flower, Teuila - the sweet-scented, bold and beautiful red ginger - and each year features special festive and cultural events.
This year's 24th annual festival should be particularly well-attended: the beginning coincides with a major UN conference held in Apia on SIDS (Small Island Developing States), and the event is expected to attract about 3000 international visitors.
Fasitau Ula, Vice Consul (Tourism) with the Samoa Consulate General Office in Auckland, believes this year's festival will be particularly memorable.
"We want to put on the best display while the whole world is represented in Samoa with the big UN conference."
Since its launch in 1991, Samoa's Teuila Festival has grown to become one of the Pacific's largest cultural festivals.
This year includes a choral concert, traditional Siva Samoa and contemporary dance competitions, Chief's Fiafia Polynesian Spectacular and Ailao Afi/Fire Knife dancing.
Also scheduled are tattooing and carving demonstrations, as well as how to prepare an umu (a Samoan ground oven). A celebration concert and the Miss Samoa Pageant are among the many other events.
My first visit to Samoa was in 2012 to celebrate a special birthday and, happily, it coincided with the Teuila Festival. This is a great time for New Zealanders to visit because of the variety of activities on show.
It's also the perfect opportunity to discover that there is much more to Samoa than arguably the best sunrises and sunsets in the world, friendly and welcoming locals, beautiful beaches and swaying palm trees.
During Teuila Festival, the heart of Apia buzzes with vitality, with many of the events centred around Government Plaza, where the special moveable stage is used for the main acts. There are craft and local food stalls and as always in Samoa, an ongoing soundtrack of music and laughter.
Special performances guaranteed to generate side-splitting laughs are appearances by The Laughing Samoans. Wellington-based Eteuati Ete and Tofiga Fepulea'i have been a very successful comedy duo since 2003, and the pair has entertained crowds throughout Australasia, the Pacific and the US with its hilarious take on Samoan lifestyle.
Throughout the week, other festival activities will include traditional weaving lessons, a cocktail-making competition, a fashion show and a physical fitness challenge. There'll be parades plus a range of musical entertainment and dance styles on display.
The festival will close with the final of the Miss Samoa Pageant. The beauty pageant attracts keen competition and huge local interest, with extensive television coverage that culminates in the crowning ceremony.
Ula says a growing number of New Zealand-based Samoans are returning to their homeland every year for the festival.
"Some have opted to do family reunions or similar group gatherings to coincide with the event.
"There a few elements of surprise in every year's programme, which makes it interesting and fresh. New Zealanders are invited to come along and celebrate our ways of living through entertainment and expressive arts during this week."
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies non-stop to Samoa up to seven times a week from Auckland.
Blooming lovely: This year's Teuila Festival runs from August 30 to September 6.