Whats new and where's different to stay on Upolu?
For kiwi Islanders that may be heading to Samoa anytime soon you will be spoilt for choice for places to stay on Upolu, which is fast becoming a bustling hive of activity with accom options for every budget. Here are some of our pics for where to stay from the new and extravagant, to the truly adventurous.
For the eco traveller Samoa offers probably the most options of any of the Pacific Islands. Beach fales abound in every shape and form, and are the best bang for buck for the budget traveller along nearly all the coastlines of Samoa.
Now there are lava field fales, river fales, mangrove fales and tree top fales to add to those dotted around the classic sandy white beaches. One of the great things about most Samoan accommodation is that much of it is locally owned and operated, but here's a glimpse into the new interesting options now on the market.
VAI VILLAS In the village of Lotofaga on the South West coast of the Island you can find Vai Villas - four large airy fales surrounding a beautiful natural spring and mangrove waterways.Each fale is self contained and can sleep up to five people with a balcony area out the front that overlooks the mangroves. The point of difference to the usual beach fale is that to get to the beach you kayak or paopao through the mangroves downstream to the mouth of the river, a journey that takes you into a whole new world of birdlife and beauty.Owner of Muliaga Lua Tafau says "I wanted to do something different and nobody has ever built on the wetlands before, so the village was a bit skeptical of the whole project but I persisted and wanted to prove them wrong. I wanted to utilise the natural environment and I knew there was a mangrove area there where the waterways flows to the sea and I wanted the tourists to experience this beautiful environment. We've utilised the land too - taro, bananas, breadfruit all grown here that we use in the kitchen. Any over supply of produce my family can then sell at the markets"Exploring the mangroves has to be one of the best little known activities on the Island, its like you enter a whole different world thats green and verdant with crystal clear water that begs you to deliberately tip over. There are fish,eels, ducks, dragon horses and even turtles that sometimes swim up the waterways, making it an eco adventure maze teeming with wildlife. The food at Vai Villas is a high point with all the produce grown locally on the grounds - the watercress snipped from the waters edge and the taro pulled from the surrounding plantation of taro, banana and kava plants.The day we went they had a fresh healthy local Samoan lunch with sapa sui, local chicken, fresh fish, salads and fa'aflifu with freshly baked Koko Samoa cupcakes for dessert. Nuff said. Some days they have a lunchtime umu. The rooms are big and spacious and built using local timber and recycled materials from the Christchurch earthquake, they are comfortable and cool and much more peaceful to sleep in then beach fales tend to be, with birdsong rather then crashing surf outside.We loved the beautiful construction of the big entertainment fale with recycled stained glass features and verdant gardens out front. There are heaps of local activities to do - horseback plantation tours, lavalava printing, weaving and umu making as well as other village activities.
LALOTALIE Heading further around the West coast in the village of Faleaseéla is another off the beaten track treasure - Lalotalie River and Waterfall Retreat. This is at the end of one of the most beautiful coastal drives in Samoa, past the extraordinary and slightly freaky giant clam sanctuary to a rainforest garden that borders a river and a cascade of waterfalls.There are six small fales in the garden full of chickens and organic produce and $100 an adult gets you a nights accommodation with a local organic breakfast and dinner. Jane Va'afusuaga who owns the retreat with her husband Olsen explains the concept of the retreat. "Lalotalie is the name of the land, so it's 'under the Talie tree' and ECAT stands for Eco Cultural Adventure Tourism. We've got this beautiful river (Liua le vai o Sina River) the rainforest, the coast and we do a lot of conservation that is funded so it's kind of tying in the eco-tourism and the conservation. It's finding the right balance where we have eco-tourism and there's enough of it that there's an income for the village to benefit them but we have to make sure there is not much impact on the environment. We have a minimum number on our tours. We don't like to take more than 10 in a group, we don't run tours every day, we don't bring bus loads in - people mainly hear about us through word of mouth and then they come and experience it." The feature of this one-of-a-kind property is the hike through the banks of the Liua le Vai o Sina River, which is kind of like an Indiana Jones style adventure climbing up, over and around different sized waterfalls.Its definitely on the intrepid end of things, and the waterfalls are all part of a chain of beautiful pools you can easily jump into and splash out in the middle of the bush. The Lalotalie experience includes some pretty awesome local knowledge of the natural environment including the legend of Sina FatuLua - Sina of the Two Hearts, who is the goddess of the river and where it can flow. They only take small group of people to sustain the good ecology of the property and make for a more private bespoke experience in the river rainforest.
SALETOGA SANDS RESORT & SPA and SALETOGA BEACH BUNGALOWS & HOTEL This 4 star family resort at the Southern end of the Island (Saletoga Sands Resort & Spa) has been around for a couple of years now but has a new wing component to it that opens up its accommodation to much wider price range options - Saletoga Beach Bungalows & Hotel.Its a popular choice of family style resort on this coast where there are many honeymoon style resorts with a no kids allowed policy and Saletoga does many things well. The pool area is well designed amongst the villas, the beach is great with good snorkelling spots and lots of well maintained water sports facilities.It also does a great fiafia night and buffet. The younger staff put on a killa floorshow - one of the better ones on the island with an awesome female MC and a young fire dancer who raise the bar above the usual tourist tatt.The breakfast buffet is worth a mention for its range of fresh fruit and yogurt parfait fingys and some of the BEST light fluffy panipopos to be had in Samoa - And them's fighting words on an Island known for its stodgy baking. Light and fluffy also has to be said about the amazing cloud like beds in the villas, which are all spacious and feature outdoor showers in a rock garden. The premium experience has to be the Matai Suite - which has its own privacy at the far end of the resort, and boasts a huge pool-like rock bath in your own private bathing garden of eden.These suites also hit the jackpot with it own nespresso machine making for a sublime caffeine kick in a land of instant coffee. But with such amazing koko samoa why would you need it?Food recommends here are the lobster - tell them to undercook it, and the pizza - throw in extra toppings. And the Marqeritas have a kick - throw in extra kipolo.
Over the newly opened hotel side, there are some great budget rates for the same resort facilities, and the brand spanking new rooms are clean and spacious pretty much on the waterfront.
This is a big property so while the resort side may sometimes feel congested the hotel side is well spaced out with a well designed bar and pier area. .
TAUMEASINA ISLAND RESORT This sparkly oasis of light and sea freshens up the hotel experience in Samoa, and let's you have a resort style taste of Upolu without traveling across the other side of the Island.
The new kid on the block in Samoa, Taumeasina Island Resort changes the game for hotel options in Apia and there are many delights to the platter it offers up.From the cold welcome towels and drink on arrival, to the awesome accoustic singing duo and Monday night guest cocktails there are many little touches to appreciate. The staff are smiles aplenty and all seem happy to be there which always helps, and the manager guy is big on the mix and mingling which makes for an open and welcoming vibe.Hows the stunning lobby design with the giant steel ceiling fans and woven white wall features? And theres beautiful tatau cutouts in the walls and a fully flash sort of deconstructed chapel structure for weddings or sunset drinks. One of the best and unexpected features is the pristine beachfront and clear ocean waters so close to town. There's great live coral and fish for snorkelling and you can have a beautiful sunrise kayak experience around the east facing lagoon front. Its pretty spesh in the middle of Apia and you may come across a local fautasi paddling crew having their morning practise - meeting locals in the ocean at dawn is a thing. Special mention to the $10 tala cocktail happy hour and the innovative 'taro cocktail' (better then it sounds) and also the very good expresso coffee.The rooms are well positioned to either capture the sunset side of the Island or the stunning mountain view side overlooking the lagoon, everywhere there is glass and windows to maximise the view all round. In the villas there are washing machines and dryers - a godsend for family groups and also a great spill from the outside deck stairs that graduate into the gardens meaning heaps more chillax space in nature then the confines of a hotel room. The Sunday to'ona'i is one of the best on the Island - a seafood lovers delight including lobster, crabs, prawns and faiai fe'e amongst all the other food for $65 tala. We love that they do a $40 local day rate redeemable on food and beverages that allows you a day at the resort using all the facilities. Also there's an awesome babysitting service here. Look out for them Xmas specials :)
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