By Keith Gordon

With daily flights from New Zealand and Australia, a low currency conversion, and superb natural scenic beauty, the Polynesian islands of Samoa are now a popular tourist destination. Located 14 degrees south of the equator the islands of Upolu and Savaii offer the dive tourist plenty of scope for varied underwater interests and with dive facilities located around the coast close to dive attractions there is no need to spend long hours on dive boats travelling to dive sites. Not only a destination for the diver, but a holiday destination for the whole family, Samoa also offers a wide selection of tours, attractions and activities to keep non divers occupied. Whether you are staying in a top class resort or a beach fale complex at $50 a day, the Samoans will ensure your stay is a pleasant and relaxing experience. All the rooms at the new Aggie Greys Lagoon Beach Resort and Spa, face the ocean lagoon and a range of water sports equipment including sailing catamarans and kayaks are available for guests.

Located at the hotel, AquaSamoa Watersports, a PADI dive centre with nitrox facilities, offers dive courses and dive trips to local reefs and nearby islands. Dive trips to Apolima, a volcanic cone island in the straits between Upolu and Savaii, provides great diving on the reef shelf fringing the steep island cliffs. In August whales are migrating through the strait and their cries echoing through the depths surround the diver with a constant underwater symphony. The reef walls of nearby Manono island, festooned with magnificent soft corals, present a myriad of colours and are a great subject for the camera, but beware of the nasty stinging rash these soft corals can inflict on bare skin.

The legendary Aggie Greys hotel is situated on the waterfront of the capital town of Apia and provides a selection of accommodation at a range of prices. Wednesday night at Aggie’s is fia-fia night and the programme of traditional Samoan song and dance, accompanied by a magnificent buffet meal with many local delicacies, is a must on a visit to Samoa. Ten minutes walk from Aggies front door is Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, a large deep blue hole in the lagoon that is accessible from the shore. The Deep, with walls of coral and populated by a myriad of tropical fish, provides an excellent snorkelling and diving venue for all the family. Apia is steeped in history and offers some fascinating excursions including the old residence of Robert Louis Stevenson. The famous author is buried on the mountain above and the guided tour of his home should not be missed.

On the other side of Upolu, Ian and` Vanessa Cooper operate Liquid Motion,, from the Sinalei Reef resort about 30 minutes drive over the hills from Apia. A PADI dive training centre, Liquid Motion operate a Bladerunner dive boat to locations along the southern barrier reef including Perfect Pinnacle at Nuusafee Island where fan and whip corals sprout from the underwater slopes and white tip sharks can be found resting below on open sand areas. Their Anganoa Wall dive is a great dive for divers of all levels.

Moanalei DiveNSurf ,, is a PADI dive centre based at the south-east end of Upolu alongside beautiful Lalomanu beach and close to Aleipata marine reserve and off-shore islands. Dive trips are operated to the outer reef and nearby islands. Dive sites include Namua Gardens with diving in a volcanic crater amongst prolific marine life and the offshore Pinnacle which drops from three metre to depths over 40m and is a site for sharks, barracuda, tuna and other larger predatory fish. Low cost beach fale accommodation for those who wish to sty a few nights is available alongside the dive centre. The pure white sand beach, a popular destination for day picnickers from Apia, leads into the clear waters of the lagoon where corals, growing close to the shore-line and the friendly marine inhabitants offer interesting shallow-water snorkeling. A great place to visit while you off-gas on the day before you fly home.

On the larger island of Savaii, Fabien & Flavia Lebon operate Dive Savaii a PADI dive centre,, established in the village of Fagamalo. A number of good low budget beach fale accommodation facilities and restaurants are available close-by at Manase. Dive sites include the wreck of the Juno, an old steel-hulled sailing ship sunk in 1881. Now festooned with a variety of corals and marine life including turtles, the wreck offers the fascination of exploring an old shipwreck and great photo opportunities.

If you are planning a trip to Samoa and intend to stay in a resort, it pays to consider a package holiday inclusive of accommodation and airfares. There are some good deals going at attractive pricing. The traditional Samoan beach fale accommodation is cheap, and even if you plan to stay at a resort, a couple of nights should be set aside to stay at a beach fale complex. It is a great experience and the best way to experience Samoan village life.

All the dive centres provide rental dive equipment and pricing for dive trips and rentals can be found on their websites. Discounts are given to divers who have their own equipment. Air NZ gives an extra baggage allowance for sporting equipment including dive equipment, but check this out when making your booking before you front up at the check-in counter and have an endorsement of this on the airline computer, especially for your return flight as the Samoan check-in may not be aware of this provision.

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