It's always great when a place you've been to and thought you knew, suddenly presents itself in a brand new way that changes your whole outlook.
I've been lucky enough to get to Samoa more than half a dozen times for work and play, including a glorious month and half doing some voluntary work. To me it's always been a place that ticks off what I want from a tropical getaway. It's connected enough with its local culture to feel like you are somewhere else, and it still has enough comforts of home so that nothing is a stress.
Sure you can stay in one of the nicer resorts on offer, there are plenty to choose from now, with new players having recently entered the market. But it also caters to the budget conscious and adventurous.
One of my favourite escapes was here, on the quiet side of Upolu in a village fale on the water's edge. A single-room hut on an elevated platform with just a mattress and a mosquito net. At night a pack of local dogs slept underneath, howling at the moon so loud that I recorded them and set it as my ringtone. That cost me just $70 Tala (NZ$$39) a day including breakfast and dinner while providing a proper village experience.
Coupling this with the accessible surf break out front and being off the grid for a whole week made it one of the more memorable escapes I've ever had. Especially as it was timed with the annual coral spawn so I was fed the worm-like polyps, a "delicacy" the locals had collected in the dark on the reef using our village dining hall tablecloths as nets. Okay, perhaps not everyone's idea of a good time, but for me I was a pig in the proverbial. Pig was also on the menu.
Plenty of the villages offer accommodation like this. One place that strikes a perfect balance between a village experience and waterfront resort is the Matareva Fales run by Fiauu and Davita as part of their village.
A white sand beach out front leads down into a tidal lagoon where Davita has spent time carefully re-growing coral gardens having turned the whole area into a marine reserve. This makes for great snorkelling and there's even a small surf break on the reef. If you are looking for a cheap family holiday where the accommodation is a bit of an adventure in itself then this place is well worth checking out. Ask Davita nicely and he may even show you his secret family cave, so huge he's never made it to the end.
Having these experiences, I thought I knew the island fairly well, the permanent scar on my back from a surf accident means that the island certainly knows me intimately. So to be honest when it came to fishing I made assumptions based on never having heard anyone really say boo about the place or its potential. I quite wrongly assumed that the local reefs must be depleted and the island held only a few passing pelagics.
It's difficult to describe how good it felt to be so wrong; it's even harder to describe just how good we struck the fishing there, just offshore on a recent trip. We went to film just one episode which quickly became two, something we've only done once before while in Niue on a fishing blinder. How good? Well I'll need a full column next week to tell you all about that...
Clarke Gayford hosts Fish of the Day, Sundays at 5.30pm on Three