Beauty is the real deal
SHE was not your average pageant contestant. Photogenic? Yes.
And her eyes sparkled in the spotlight.
But she was far more curvaceous than the Western beauty queens I was used to.
Vivacious and outgoing?
And she commanded the attention of the packed hall with every graceful movement.
But she remained humble, respectful and fiercely traditional.
She was a beautiful Samoan woman.
The winner of the 2011 Miss Samoa pageant, Olevia Ioane, was crowned on the final night of my visit to the South Pacific nation.
And for me, the 24-year-old teacher's beauty, dignity, creativity and cultural pride epitomised modern Samoa.
The pageant, which also showcases wearable art from some of the region's most innovative fashion designers as well as contestants' talents, is the final exclamation mark to Samoa's biggest celebration of the year, the Teuila Festival.
The Teuila Festival (pronounced te-wheel-a) is held in late August-early September each year when all of Samoa puts on its happy face and decks out shops, houses, fales and public areas in teuilas - the national torch-like red flowers flanked by bright green leaves that we more commonly associate with the ginger plant.
Festival Central is the lawn area in front of the government office building, spilling over to the neighbouring Samoan Tourism Authority cultural village where a number of cultural activities take place from mid-morning until late - everything from dancing, singing, and fire-twirling to markets and traditional customs such as weaving, tapa making, tattooing and cooking in the umu above-ground oven.
Samoans like to think of their country (Sa meaning "sacred" and moa meaning "place") as the heart of Polynesia and this festival is not only a big annual production for visitors but also an important celebration of their unique cultural and natural heritage.
Samoa comprises 10 islands in the archipelago but only four are inhabited.
While Savai'i (pronounced like Hawaii) is the largest island to the north, most people live on the second-biggest island, Upolu (pronounced oo-poh-loo), concentrated in the capital, Apia ("a-pee-a").
The rest of the 180,000 total population is found in more than 360 villages.
Samoa welcomes a total of 30,000 tourists a year but the main tourism focus is the Teuila Festival.
Last year's festival theme was "Beautiful Samoa".
And from the pristine turquoise lagoon to the great blue depths of the ocean reefs, from the dark green of the rainforest to the starkness of the black lava fields, from fronds of the coconut palm swaying outside a quaint beachfront fale to her mountainous peaks, Samoa's beauty is everywhere.
But just like the Miss Teuila Festival winner, Samoa's inner beauty - her friendliness and the wide smiles etched on the brown faces of her people - is what will really win you over.
The writer was a guest of Samoa Tourism Authority
Air Pacific, Air New Zealand and Polynesian Blue fly to Samoa weekly out of Brisbane and Sydney.
GOOD TO KNOW ABOUT SAMOA
Where to stay on Upolu Island:
Taufua Beach Fales: http://www.samoabeachfales.com
Le Manumea Hotel, Vailima, Apia, pictured right: http://www.manumearesort.com
Orator Hotel: http://www.oratorhotel.com
Tanoa Tusitala Hotel, in Sogi, Apia: http://www.tanoahotels.com/Tanoa-Corporate/Tanoa-Tusitala-Hotel- Apia_IDL=250_IDT=309_ID=1607_.html
Where to eat:
Sails Restaurant and Bar, Apia: Exceptional food and great cocktails while dining al fresco by the water: http://www.sails.ws
Sydney Side Cafe: Convent St, Apia: possibly Samoa's best-known coffee shop and a great place for tasty and healthy lunches.
What to do:
Palolo Deep Marine Reserve: snorkel only 3km from the Apia CBD, straight off the beach, for a small fee.
To Sua Trench: Overcome your fear of steep ladders and head down to the To Sua Ocean Trench, one of the ideallic sites in Lotofaga village, Upolu Island. To Sua translates as "big hole". A ladder is installed on site for visitors to access the 30-metre deep seawater pool. Water flows into the deep hole through a lava tube tunnel. The two sua are situated in a beautiful garden park, ideal for nature photography, overlooking the south-east coast of the island. A few scenic sites are in the same area, including blowholes, and an incredible small beach on the western side.
Piula Cave Pools in the Piula Theological College
The Robert Louis Stevenson Museum in Vailima, Apia: http://www.rlsmuseum.com
Savalalo Flea Market and Fugalei "New" Market (fruit and vege)
Aggie Grey's Cultural Show
TEUILA FESTIVAL 2012
Sunday, September 2-Saturday, September 8
The Teuila Festival is one of Samoa's most celebrated annual events, and promises to be as exciting and entertaining this year as in the past. Many activities and shows will held particularly in Apia, Samoa's capital city.
Throughout the week, cultural activities will include the choir hymnal exhibition, a variety of traditional entertainment such as fire knife dancing, traditional sports with the fautasi race (the long boat used as a means of transport across the islands of Samoa in the olden days), plus wood carving, tattooing, and two nights of variety shows.