The Land that Time Forgot, Samoa

It was somewhere about 30,000 feet above the international dateline that my troubles began.

En route to Apia in the South Pacific paradise that is Samoa, I had happily left stressful Sydney in my wake and was dozing peacefully with coral reefs and beautiful Samoan princesses on my mind, until I was awoken by the smooth, reassuring voice of our pilot, announcing that we had just crossed the international dateline and it was now time to wind our watches 21 hours* into the past.

This small feat, you may argue, is a mere formality for the mathematically capable. For me, however, it was the harbinger of doom. As I gazed sleepily at my watch, I slowly came to the realisation that my feeble number skills had let me down once again, as I had misjudged the time difference by a good 24 hours.

So arriving at Aggie Grey’s Lagoon, Beach Resort & Spa at a little past 2am on a balmy Thursday morning - not Friday morning as per my calculations - I walked into reception flustered, frustrated, without a booking and completely living up to the aforementioned maths teacher’s dire predictions about my future.

But herein lies the beauty of Samoa. Nothing is a problem and stress struggles to survive. With little more than a quick phone call and a knowing smile from the kind receptionist, I was checked-in and, after a few hours’ kip, ready to explore Samoa’s premier resort.

Always Aggie’s

Aggie Grey’s is a Samoan institution that dates back to the 1937 when the original Aggie – twice widowed and looking after sever children – first opened a bar. It soon became a popular spot for US servicemen, dishing up hamburgers and beer to hungry marines. It was also here that US playwright James Michener met Aggie, using her as the inspiration for Bloody Mary in Tales of the South Pacific. When the US servicemen left Samoa in 1945, the savvy businesswomen started Aggie Grey’s Hotel & Bungalows**, which stands proudly as the architectural centrepiece of Apia – Samoa’s capital.

Today the company is managed by Aggie’s youngest son and three grandchildren, and has gone from strength to strength in recent years with the opening of a second property, Aggie Grey’s Lagoon, Beach Resort & Spa, 45 minutes’ drive out of Apia and only five minutes from the airport on Samoa’s stunning north-east coast.

Well-equipped, air-conditioned rooms open to expansive beach views, and you only need to take a few steps from you balcony or courtyard to wet your toes in the Pacific Ocean.

Safe snorkelling, a large resort pool that overlooks the beach, and a friendly kids’ club make it ideal for a family getaway. The excellent facilities for up to 200 people at the onsite Tekali Conference Centre plus catering facilities, fine dining options and a neighbouring 18-hole golf course also make Aggie’s an effective business destination for those seeking sun with their spreadsheets.

Cocktails and Dreams

But my first stop is the resort’s Manaia Polynesian Spa. Arrive early for your appointment and take a dip in the outdoor spa before your treatment begins in a serene fale (traditional open-walled shelter), set in lush, tropical gardens. Stretch out, enjoy the sunshine and indulge in one of the signature treatments – such as the Fruit Body Cocoon, which employs a concoction of fresh nonu (a native medicinal plant), banana, papaya and Samoan organic honey to detoxify your body and synchronise you to ‘island time’.

Then pay an afternoon visit to the Solent Bar for a poolside cocktail - the fish-bowl-sized Aggie Grey’s Special will test your resolve. Or perhaps you’d prefer a trip to nearby AquaSamoa, where you’ll find all manner of watersports, from subdued pedal boats to powerful jetskis and wakeboarding.

When the sun goes down, fine dining begins at the resort’s South Pacific Restaurant, where the catch of the day is a must for seafood-lovers. On Fridays, check out the vibrant Island Fiafia (happy) night, which combines a smorgasbord of traditional Samoan fare with tribal dancing, singing and a spectacular fire-knife display.

Cruise the Capital

In the capital, a visit to the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum – within the author’s historic former estate Vailima - gives insights into the writer’s last years and a colourful slice of Samoan history. Tours take you through the restored estate, highlighting Stevenson’s bedroom and writing room and a collection of his first editions. If you’re feeling energetic, visitors are urged to take the steep, 45-minute rainforest trek to his final resting place.

Samoa Scenic Tours offers a half-day tour of Apia that takes you to Vailima along with trips to the daily fresh produce market, the Mulinu’u - sacred burial grounds of Samoa’s most important chiefs - Parliament House and Independence monuments. Enquire at Aggie Grey’s tour desk to book.

The Apia flea markets on Beach Road, which take place every day except Sunday, are best for retail therapy. Pick up traditional carvings and fine cloths printed with motifs, or colourful lava-lavas (Samoan sarongs).

And as the sun sets, seek solace at Le Laumei Faiaga, otherwise known as Turtle Take It Easy Bar, just off Beach Road. Visit on Monday evenings for a truly remarkable karaoke night where talented punters make Australian Idol sound like feeding time at the zoo. Or simply pull up a chair in the open-air bar area and let the cool tunes of the in-house band dance on the tropical breeze.

Village People

Samoa really comes alive when you leave the comfort of the resort and Apia’s relatively modern amenities to explore Upolu - Samoa’s main residential island. While car hire is available at Aggie Grey’s, worrying about limited petrol supplies, safe drinking water and the entry fees charged at most village-owned beaches is best left to the good people at Samoa Scenic Tours.

A variety of day trips are on offer, one of which will take you to the stunning beach set of Gary Cooper’s 1953 film, Return to Paradise and neighbouring Matareva Beach on the south-west coast. Or head east for spectacular inland views over Le Mafa Pass on the eastern cross-island road, a series of breathtaking waterfalls (Sopoaga Waterfall, about 20 minutes’ drive south of Le Mafa Pass, is my pick) and a taste of traditional island life as you pass through picturesque villages. Charming Eva in the north and jaw-dropping Lalomanu on the island’s south-eastern point are standouts.

Beach Days

On Sundays, you’ll find Samoans, dressed in white, attending church and preparing for the traditional weekly umu (underground oven) feast or playing an impromptu game of kirikiti - the national sport that resembles cricket. Samoa Scenic Tours’ lunch stop at Fao Fao Beach on the remote south-eastern coast is an ideal opportunity to sample traditional culinary delights such as palusami (fresh coconut cream with onions wrapped in taro leaf), oka (fresh raw fish marinated in coconut cream and lemon), slow-cooked lamb or pork and fresh barbecued reef fish.

Kick back with an ice-cold local beer or fresh coconut cream cocktail in the rustic, but incredibly charming, village-run Deep Sea Bar. Located right on the sand at Fao Fao Beach, soak up the atmosphere while cruisey tunes play and local holidaymakers mingle with international tourists. Then, if the mood takes you, hire a snorkel from the bar, stroll out onto the pure white sand and snorkel the reef to your heart’s content. If only my maths teacher could see me now.

*Since this article was published, Samoa's time zone has moved forward 24 hours to  UTC+13:00. 

** Refurbished in 2015, Aggie Grey’s Lagoon, Beach Resort & Spa is now the luxurious Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey's Resort.  

^ Some of the treatments mentioned in this article may have been amended since publish. For the latest information, please visit Aggie Grey's official website.

Words by Shane Conroy - Published in Voyeur November 2008
Quick Facts 
Population Approx 190,000
Area 2,831 km2
Time Zone GMT + 13
Languages Samoan, English
Currency Tala (WST)
Electricity 220 – 240v 50Hz
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