Michael Burgess checks into the Sinalei Reef Resort and Spa, Samoa
Location: About 45 minutes from Apia airport on the south coast of Samoa's main island (Upolu), which is famous for its endless string of secluded beaches and colourful local villages. Samoa is just under four hours from Auckland.
Room: A beachside villa with a private patio and sun loungers, overlooking what feels like your own beach. Stunning views and immaculately presented. Staff provided complimentary bottles of water each day, and there was a fridge and tea/coffee facilities.
The resort has 29 rooms, in five different categories, from garden villas to the presidential suite, though the spacious nature of the place gives a feeling of seclusion wherever you are. There is a television in the large common area — which came alive on the night of the first Bledisloe Cup test — which is also well-stocked with books and has a table tennis table.
Check-in experience: The Virgin flight got in at 9.25pm, but customs and baggage was relatively swift. The resort provides a transfer service for guests staying five nights or more, otherwise taxis are prevalent and cheap. Staff met us at reception and took us straight to the rooms ("let's do check in tomorrow, no rush"), where they had provided some fresh sandwiches as the restaurant was closed.
The bed: A comfortable queen bed. The air-conditioning unit was often employed with the tropical heat, though the sea breeze also helped. Mosquitoes were not nearly as prevalent as various guide books had suggested, though repellent was thoughtfully provided in the room.
The bathroom: Huge shower area, with good water pressure. Nice details, such as the sink set in a beautiful carved wooden base.
Toiletries: A range of soap, body wash and shampoo/conditioner.
Food and drink: Two restaurants on site, including the overwater Ava I Toga. There are also two private dining fales, for special occasions or celebrations. Harry's bar is a few steps from the pool, and there is another near the resort's jetty. Tough choice; a cocktail in the restaurant or on the sun lounger?
The food offered by the on-site restaurants was excellent and reasonably priced.
Standouts during our stay included freshly made oka (marinated raw tuna), snapper and a delicious vegetable lasagne, full of local produce. The coconut mojito comes highly recommended, as does the virgin colada mocktail. Ice cold Vailima beer was always welcome, too. Breakfast was lavish and complimentary. There was a buffet with toast, cereals, juice and yoghurt, as well as a plate of tropical fruit (papaya, coconut et el) served to your table. A la carte omelettes or pancakes, as well as two sides, were also included.
The culinary highlight was provided on Saturday night, with a spectacular buffet under the stars on the beach. It was an amazing setting, with food to match; all kinds of barbecue morsels, veges and salads, topped off with a spread of desserts, including homemade pavlova.
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