Seeking an escape from winter's chill? Vicki Febery heads to sunny, tropical Samoa for the perfect family-friendly getaway.
Winter 2007 was rather dire in New Zealand, and, having had a month of head colds making our family miserable, we were all in desperate need of some sunshine. So I set out in search of the perfect tropical holiday for our family.
After flicking through several brochures and searching online, we decided on Samoa - mainly because it was somewhere a little bit off of the beaten track. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on where to stay in Fiji and Rarotonga, but none of our friends had been to Samoa.
With a 20-month-old son, Harry, my husband Grant and I needed a resort that catered for children as well as adults. With their enormous swimming pool, lush, tropical outdoor spa complex, dive centre on site, Kids Club and safe swimming beach, we chose the new Aggie Grey's Lagoon, Beach Resort and Spa, just five minutes from Faleolo International Airport.
Flying with an over-excited 20-month-old was the one dampener on our trip. Other passengers on our midnight departure were remarkably tolerant of our squealing, excitable toddler as we tried valiantly to restrain him in his seat for the four-hour flight. On our arrival at Aggie Grey's Lagoon, Beach Resort and Spa, they took one look at our travel-weary faces (by then, Harry was sleeping peacefully in his stroller with his long blonde curls framing his face angelically) and showed us immediately to our room - perfection. It was on the lower level of the two-story complex and looked straight out to a lush green lawn and the picturesque ocean, with a few palm trees and frangipani outlining the view.
After catching up on our sleep, we headed straight to the enormous pool in the middle of the resort, which ended up being where we spent much of our time in Samoa. Little Harry loved the swimming pool, which seemed to be made up of five interconnecting sections of pool, all of varying depths, with a nice cocktail bar located in the middle section, so we parents didn't need to leave the pool area for refreshments.
The resort had a variety of day trips each day, plenty of free activities on site and a wonderful kids' club, so there was plenty to do - or you could choose to do nothing at all. We opted for something in-between, spending plenty of time as a family in the pool, or exploring the mainland by hired car. We did take the free kayaks out one morning, though, and used the babysitting service another day so Grant could snorkel and I could dive.
My two dives with Dive Samoa were the absolute highlight of our trip. Because of my lingering New Zealand head cold, I had to wait until day five of our seven-day trip before the pressure in my ears had equalised and I could dive, so the anticipation to get out in the ocean had built until I was practically bouncing with excitement. And I was not disappointed. It was the best diving I have ever done. Diving is still a relatively new sport in Samoa and, as such, the coral formations are simply beautiful. There were stunning swim-throughs and abundant marine life (including turtles), but the most amazing part of the trip was my dive leader signalling to me to listen out while we were under the water. A low, humming sound could be heard and it sent chills (of a good kind) down my spine. Just beyond the reef, the migrating whales were talking to each other. It was an awesome experience, being so close and privy to these majestic creatures' conversations.
The skipper on the dive boat had seen the whales surfacing just beyond the reef. He told me his family thinks he's crazy for going out on the water each day. He was from one of the hill villages and the majority of the hill villagers cannot swim. They were always asking him why he hasn't been eaten by sharks yet!
I had assumed, as an island nation, that swimming would be a daily part of Samoan life. Swimming may not be, but smiling certainly was - he said everything with a beaming smile on his face.
While I was diving, my husband was snorkelling - and, like me, he was impressed with the sites we were taken to. Meanwhile, Harry was having a wonderful time with his babysitter, who had taken him to the Kids Club, where he played on the outdoor equipment and made sandcastles.
We took a trip in to Apia one day and checked out the local markets, bought some souvenirs and wandered around town. Driving to Apia and around the mainland was beautiful. I loved looking at all the candy-coloured houses… The blues, yellows, and pinks they paint their homes. And the churches were incredible. It seemed that each village's church was bigger or more ornate than the last. Harry was delighted with all the animals running around - little piglets, chickens and dogs.
Samoa is simply stunning. It is naturally beautiful and very relaxing. There are many natural attractions to visit that cost virtually nothing. If you like waterfalls or waterslides, you can't miss the Papaseasea Sliding Rocks. The entry to the Sliding Rocks is in a small village between the resort and Apia. On arrival, we paid our inexpensive entry fee and headed along the walkway in the direction of the shrieks and laughter we could hear. What a fantastic natural attraction. Over time, a waterfall and rapids on the river have become smooth enough for swimmers to slide down and into the water holes at the bottom of each drop, without fear of scratches or ripped togs. Sitting at the top of the largest drop, it took all my courage to let go and drop around four metres into the pool below.
It was fantastic fun - although I did find myself trapped like a limpet on the rocks when I tried to follow a long-legged Samoan boy back up them, rather than finding my own footholds. I didn't look overly graceful in my pink polka-dotted bikini, clinging to the rocks with all my might… It took all my effort to hold on, meaning I was unable to hold in that post-pregnancy bulge! Ah, well - the beauty of an overseas holiday means I'm unlikely to bump into those who witnessed my embarrassment again.
After the energy and excitement of the Sliding Rocks and diving, I felt totally justified in an afternoon of pampering.
The Manaia Polynesian Spa (which means "all good things" in Samoan), located among tall, swaying palm trees at one end of the resort, was sheer bliss. The massages and spa treatments are performed in huts surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. It was so tranquil, and my therapist sang beautifully throughout my Coconut Aura massage. I may have even nodded off for a few minutes during my blissful pampering session.
Aggie Grey's Lagoon, Beach Resort and Spa has no less than five restaurants, and we tried almost all of them while we were there - from BBQ evenings to pizzas to Asian cuisine, they cater for all tastes. We were encouraged to try the Samoan dish palusami (a delicious, coconutty concoction wrapped in leaves) and we enjoyed the abundant seafood. Our favourite evenings were spent dining to the sounds of local musicians playing a variety of string instruments and singing well into the evening. The cocktail list at the resort was extensive and I made it my mission to try a different one each night. I put on a good couple of kilos on the trip - and would gladly do so again to repeat the experience. I look forward to returning to Samoa and the friendly staff at Aggie Grey's Lagoon, Beach Resort and Spa - soon!
• Avoid a midnight flight - you'll arrive far more relaxed if your child isn't keeping others awake for four hours of air travel.
• The meal packages are great value if you are planning on spending most of your time at the resort.
• Take portable snacks from home. Having ready-made juices, jelly, and fruit pottles were great. It ensured that Harry stayed well-hydrated
• Take resealable plastic sandwich bags. The slight time difference meant Harry's routine was out, and he often didn't eat at lunchtime. Having resealable plastic bags meant we could order a sandwich for him at lunchtime and take it away with us for later, when his appetite kicked in.
• Don't forget to take along a basic medical kit, and sunscreen for everyone.
• An off-road stroller or backpack is a great idea for transporting little ones, who tire much faster in the island heat.
• Unless you're feeling like generously rewarding the officials at Customs, drink all of your duty-free champagne before you leave Samoa - or, at least, don't leave it in your carry-on bag on your way home.
• The whale song on my dive trip
• My Coconut Aura massage, complete with traditional welcome by a Samoan Warrior named Sven
• Papaseasea Sliding Rocks
• Having a "date night" with my husband, while Harry was tucked up in bed being looked after by a lovely babysitter at the resort
• Simply chilling out in the sunshine for seven days with my family
Vicki Febery is OHbaby! Magazine's former marketing manager and mum to two-year-old Harry