Tanu Beach is one of six resorts in the village of Manase on Savai’i, the larger of Samoa’s two main islands. Unlike the luxurious, self-contained resorts of Fiji, these family-run fales benefit the local infrastructure and give visitors a taste of fa’a Samoa.
If you’re not of the backpacking persuasion, the open-sided fales will not appeal to you. The thatched huts on stilts have palm blinds you can adjust for privacy and to keep out frequent tropical downpours. For $45 NZ a day, you get a mattress and a mosquito net, cold showers and two meals a day.
The Baby’s gift …and other gentle adventures in Samoa
Twenty chiefs sit in a circle in a big blue and green fale, a few steps from a shiny aqua lagoon. They’re talking about us. How we, the tourists, affect their islands.
The chiefs, from all over Samoa are mostly elderly, compared with the men from the Samoan Ministry of Internal Affairs concerned with building communities.
“We’ve come to be tourists ourselves,” announces a man from the ministry. “That’s why we’ve come to Tanu Beach at Manase.”
The real tourists at Tanu get on with their business at this quintessential beach resort, while the chiefs and their entourage deliberate the effect we have on their treasured islands.
This place is picture-perfect. At least five different blue stripes make up the sea; the sand is white-gold, the vegetation bright green.
An orange lip-sticked Aussie moans that Tanu isn’t quite what she expected. The fales are too basic, she says. And, there is “sand everywhere,” all around the village, right up to the toilets.
The chiefs celebrated “being tourists” until past 2am.
All are embraced by the sauna-warm night, the sudden heavy rain falls. Then the the early morning dip in the sea that resembles a Marguerita cocktail: sharp icy water atop, warmer pleasant liquid beneath.
You can book Tanu only by phone. “T-a-l-o-f-a,” drawls the voice on the other end. “Ohhh, when you want to come to Tanu?” Right now would be good. It would be very good…
To reach Tanu Beach in the village of Manese on the less inhabited island of Savaii, you catch a ferry. If you are lucky, the Lady Samoa II will take you there. But our luck was tricky and, we got the less salubrious ferry. Missing the chance for a seat under the tarpaulin, we stood on the deck beside trucks. Then the rain started. We were soaked. The seas were high and, unusual in Samoa, we were – briefly - cold.
The impeccably groomed Java, a 23-year-old daughter of Manase village took us to the communal fale and handed us each an iced coconut.
Tanu is run by a well-regulated family. They adhere to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism). See the prominent fale (pron: faa-lay) dedicated to the movement’s founder Joseph Smith. If you’re there on a Sunday, you can hear the singing in one of the family’s big concrete fales.
The father of Muese Taito, the current chief of Manase Village was the Tanu the beach resort is named after. While you’re at Tanu, you are invited to consider Muese your father and his wife your mother. Every few nights, the family put on a Fiafia night of dancing, singing, fire dancing. The Dancing Princess and her siblings are marked by the chief with a smudge of black on their cheeks before they perform.
Like the best religious, they don’t make a big deal of it. Even though the extended family do not drink, you are welcome to collect a beer from their fridge any time you like and jot it down on your tab.
If you fancy anything stronger than Vailima, Samoa’s own beer, Raci’s Beach Club, a couple of minutes walk from Tanu, has cocktails at reduced prices during the happy hour from five to six thirty. Run by a friendly Swiss couple, Raci’s caters for outdoor pursuits and has an internet café.
The company at Tanu is from New Zealand mostly. Six degrees of separation is maybe three or four on our skinny volcanic islands.
There were few north American accents at the long breakfast table where it’s pleasant to linger and talk; at this time there were Argentinians, Russians, Czech Republic, an English boy from Oxford. Otherwise, we came from Nelson, Christchurch, Napier, Auckland…
Elena from the Czech Republic was sad to go home. Her New Zealand visa had expired. Sally, an American who lives in New Zealand, introduced her to Eva, sitting a few seats along. Eva, also from the Czech Republic, lives in NZ with her partner. Eva and Elena were soon chatting happily.
Some of us were sweetly amused by the antics of the Russians. The Babuska princess wearing a heavily embroidered shiny bikini top, twirled for the camera, posed Lolita-like in the shallows. The camera and her much older lover, adore her.
The waves lap to five resorts on the Manase beachfront:
Regina’s, Vacations, Jane’s, Tanu Beach and Stephenson’s. The Sunday bells and daily drumbeats are as much a part of everyday Savaii as are the chittering lizards in the fale roofs.
On the day that a group leaves for the Tanu tour of Savai’i, I explore the village of Manase.
The day was very hot, so a little umbrella was handy for sun and the sharp heavy showers.
I walk past the large communal fales and the tiny roadside open-air buildings (something between a shrine and a stall where you can sit down and rest and pick off a banana from the bunches hanging there: this is fa’a Samoan hospitality).
The coffee at Raci’s was excellent and I sat in the welcome shade for close to an hour chatting to Zita, who runs the place, (her partner Rene does the mean cocktails across the road). We watch the antics of an orphan chick named Harry foraging for food scraps, the current entertainment at Raci’s.
Zita suggested I try the seven tala (about $4NZ) barbeque lunch at Manase’s smallest shop at the other end of the village.
The lunch was piled up on the plate – chicken, pork, sausage, chop suey – it was delicious. Meme, the 22-year-old who works in the shop that belongs to her in-laws, brought the beautiful one-year-old Elizavetta to sit with me in the shade while I ate.
The shop, made of corrugated iron with big stones on the roof, sold excellent cotton lava-lavas. I bought an apricot-coloured one. Then Meme handed me a pendant, “from Elizavetta for you.”
So I left Savai’i with the baby’s gift and, when the ferry docked, in a weak moment, I got into a car with a red-shirted taxi driver.
He waved to everyone on the road and danced – his hands actually left the steering wheel – while driving along. Asking him to turn the music down was useless so... what else can you do? While in Rome etc. I ‘danced’ in the back of his taxi. “Oh, you’re a nice palagi,” he said.