On the remotest part of north western coast of Savai’i exists a part of the old world charm and romance of the South Pacific with the Vaisala Beach Hotel.
It one of the reasons New Zealand couple, Jan and Dave King, has been returning to this hidden part of Samoa for the past 25 years making it their home away from home.
In fact, Dave was reluctant to speak to Dear Tourist for fear of drawing too much attention to their slice of paradise.
“I’m selfish, I want to tell tourists not to come here so we can continue to have this place to ourselves,” Dave laughs.
“With Vaisala, it has everything we need and want, the fact that we keep coming back tells you the value of the place.”
The couple prefers staying away from resorts and spending time blending into their surroundings and mingling with like-minded visitors like themselves.
“Why here? We don’t like resorts and we feel that the people that you get here aren’t tourists. They’re visitors and there are very interesting people here who we have met over the years.”
“It’s not for everybody and the locals stay here as well from around Samoa when they’re travelling for work and that’s what we like.”
“There are tourists who expect to sit underneath the coconut tree and expect their cocktails brought to them and I don’t believe that’s Samoa – that’s Fiji. I’ve lived in Fiji for years, it’s ruined.”
When describing the visitor that would appreciate Savaii’s unique charm, Dave guessed that it was those niche visitors who are genuinely interested in a different culture.
“We are from New Zealand so obviously we have more Samoans than here and it’s good to see where they come from and what their culture is. People who we have met here, we’ve never heard a complaint from them not one person, but they wouldn’t have been happy anywhere so this place is pretty important to us.”
Dave first set eyes on Samoa when he stopped over in 1973 on a cruise ship coming back from the U.K. and it left a lasting impression on him that he returned after Cyclone Ofa in 1992 to work.
“We were building the road from Moata’a through to Saluafata on the east coast road, but then cyclone Val hit and then we had to rebuild it,” said Dave.
“My wife and I always travel the islands but we came back about 25 years ago and we always make a trip and stay a few nights here at Vaisala. Then we just started to come straight here after a few years and we come here twice a year for three to four weeks at a time.”
Dave is a land surveyor in New Zealand and has been following Samoa’s current events very carefully. It’s one of the reasons he is so interested in Samoa’s land and title system.
“I think I’m worried about it. I think you need a titling system where there are no disputes between land, between people and that’s what one of things the Torrens system does, but it’s the ease of people being able to sell that’s a different situation. I believe that you shouldn’t really have free hold land that can be sold.”
“You lose your land, you lose your heritage and I don’t think you should do that. Lease is fine if you can lease land that’s good. Customary land is customary land, end of story, you don’t have a boundary but that’s where disputes start.”
“You need that land defined so there are no disputes. It’s not just ownership, it’s about defining land. Definition and boundaries of land is more important. With ownership, I don’t believe you should be able to sell it to anybody. Between Samoans is fine.”
Jan and Dave move with familiarity around the Vaisala Hotel, calling every worker by their name and helping themselves to hot koko Samoa on the famous verandah of the hotel overlooking the stunning Vaisala bay.
Coming to a remote part of Savaii every year for a quarter of a century, the King’s have no complaints except one.
“Theres no Samoa Observer newspaper here, there that’s my first ever complaint,” Dave laughs. “I can get it in Salelologa, but not on this side of the island. If you could just put on the bus and drop them off to this side of the island that would be good.”