Samoa to New Zealand

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November 3rd 2008
Published: November 3rd 2008
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We coincided with the build up to the Teuila Festival in Apia, Samoa, which is primarily a singing and dancing competition from each area, in addition to fire dancing which is pretty exciting and definitely not something to try at home. It provided evenings of entertainment in front of the Government buildings and in an auditorium when weather proved inclement. Apia is a laid back capital sitting on the northern coast overlooking the harbour which is about to undergo chaos when their right hand drive have to change by law to left hand drive because of a policy to buy cars from New Zealand instead of America. Derrold and Gail enjoyed a one week trip to the island of Savaii on our arrival in Apia, and we followed suit when they returned. They then toured the island of Upolu for five days, while we stayed in the marina at Apia just before departing for Tonga.

One of the highlights in Apia was Tuesday and Saturday night live entertainment. A New Zealander had opened the Zodiac Community Centre four months earlier with a focus on traditional dancing 3 days a week plus a relaxed environment for enjoying local beers, food and music. We found the place purely by accident when seeking out the Indian restaurant from an advertisement in the local paper. During our month in Apia we became regulars much to the delight of the musicians, who were quite excellent.

We all found the 24/7 approach to sailing together week after week, month after month, a bit much and desperately needed space on arriving in Samoa. Walter and I worked on the sanding and varnishing the galley and saloon as the yacht gets much more wear and tear with 4 people aboard. We played tennis daily as courts are 15 minutes away (Brompton fold up city bikes onboard make life easy for exploring) and where possible we rollerblade. On the Society Islands we cycled 15-20 miles around islands but found shorter journeys much more comfortable!

The history, culture and heritage of Samoa is interesting as the people are originally believed to have migrated from the East Indies, the Malay Peninsula or the Philippines, with the oldest known site of human occupation on Upolu dating back to 1000BC. The most significant changes occurred when the western missionaries arrived and started influencing the lives of the locals. Their success is most apparent today with more churches standing prouding within each village than can possibly be supported by that local community. Each are more like cathedrals than churches in terms of their size. The Samoans are devoutly religious people and devote much time to their church activities as we saw each weekend when they turned out in their Sunday best - the women in white formal dresses resembling a wedding party. New Zealand took administration control of Samoa from 1914 up to Independence Day in 1962.

With 362 villages in Samoa and a total of 18000 chiefs, land is owned by extended family units and each has a building dedicated to the drinking of cava by the chiefs who regularly sit around discussing village matters. Whilst the women and children weave mats which are highly prized possessions within their own homes and as gifts to their chief. On the island of Savaii a young girl of 17 approached Walter and I as we ate our lunch on a beach. She invited us to visit her home and eat our lunch in the shade which we did. She had spent 4 months weaving a mat which we immediately fell in love with because of its simplicity and the fact that she had done this herself with only guidance from her mother. She was delighted to part with her prized mat at a fair price and we will thoroughly enjoy using it at a later date.

The islands are fringed by coral reefs and lagoons, overlooked by craggy volcanic peaks. The farming within the rugged interior is very apparent as you drive around with rich fertile soil and healthy looking cattle, pigs and ponies in great abundance. On the coast are numerous holiday resorts offering fale accommodation within the villages. These are basic open sided huts offering no level of comfort and food Walter and I were indifferent to - roots cooked in a variety of ways and presented in leaves.

Savaii is the largest island in Samoa and is known for its traditional way of life, pristine scenery and archaelogical sites. Rather than sail to Savaii we hired a car in Apia and crossed by ferry to Salelologa - a two hour crossing. Whilst there for 5 days we visited a lush rainforest and enjoyed what was called a canopy walk, although it proved to be a series of ladders ascending a 300’ tree - supposedly the oldest on the island. To cross into another tree at 200’ was deemed unsafe as the ropework was in need of repair, however our guide offered us the chance of crossing, having told us first of the danger involved, but it would cost more money!

Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous Scottish author, settled in Apia in the 1890’s with his family, resulting from a chronic bronchial condition which his Doctor thought might would improve if he lived in a warmer climate. Spain would have been closer, a drier heat and therefore a better climate for his health as the humidity around Apia is at times quite high. Walter and I visited his home in Vailima which has been restored and is run as a museum. He was buried high on the hill behind his property which overlooks the ocean and made for a delightful half day walk through rainforest.

We had lunch at Ili Ile on the south side of the island - having hired a car for the day. There we met Daniela from Rome who had set up a resort with three falles (rather exclusive and substantially built beach cabanas) restaurant (serving authentic Italian food) and her residence. Her mother had flown in that morning from Italy and prepared lunch so we had mama’s cooking. In addition Daniela has three boutiques on the island of Sardinia selling clothes manufactured in Rome and she ships a selection to Samoa on a regular basis for the local market and tourists. Walter treated me to two beautiful dresses - a polka dot brown one and a black one with white circles - both are ideal as they don’t crease and dry in minutes in these temperatures.

From Apia we sailed to Nuiapotapu on 21 September (my birthday) arriving on 23 September. It was a 7-9 knot beam reach over a two day crossing. This is the most northern island within the Kingdom of Tonga and another picturesque island. Here we were greeted by delightful people in the form of customs, health and immigration officials who boarded our boat with smiles and a pleasant, informal manner. A more regular experience is trapsing from building to building within the port of entry, trying to find various departments and primarily finding queues and slightly difficult personnel. Our friends Inge and Ernest, who we’d met in Apia arrived after a few days and had been advised to make their way to Auckland asap due to a health issue.

We awaited a suitable weather window to appear for the next passage to the town of Neiafu within the Vava’u Group of Islands. It was here that we visited botanical gardens with demonstrations and explanations of local weaving, cava making, tapa cloth making and painting, rope making from coconut fibre. We toured the gardens which were planted from the early 1970’s by the owner who had been the Tongan Minister of Agriculture, keen to display plants from throughout Polynesia including those which are used for their medicinal purposes.

Gail and Derrold went their own way from Neiafu and Walter and I continued in convoy with Inge and Ernest on Atlantis. The next stop the Haapai Group although we didn’t go ashore as we were stopping enroute and had checked out of Tonga for Minerva Reef; a two day passage. We stayed for four days, enjoying a few visits to the reef to explore and catch lobsters whilst awaiting a suitable five day window for Opua in New Zealand. Light winds at times, 10-25 knot winds on the nose at others and a 50 knot storm which lasted about four hours which took us somewhat by surprise as we had all sails flying when it kicked off.

05.00 on 1 November and we were welcomed into Opua, Bay of Islands by six dolphins swimming through the phosphoressence in the water making them look like silver torpedos. They accompanied us for twenty minutes and this was a special occasion of sheer exuberance on their part. We are now at the marina in Opua with plans to visit Auckland by car to see Bayswater Marina tomorrow where Marnie will be in a slip for a few months. A 30 hour flight from the East Coast of America has just taken us 10 months to complete!!!

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