Destinations

Weekly travel: Mary Lambie bikes Samoa

It was blisteringly hot but blindingly beautiful as Mary Lambie hit the road.

The brief was straightforward – 380 kilometres over six days, circumnavigating Samoa’s two main islands, Upolu and Savai’i, on a road bike.

I’ve been on umpteen long- distance rides both here and in Australia, so this sounded leisurely: a tropical pedal beside an azure ocean. Yeah, right!

I knew Samoa would be hot (and hilly), but I hadn’t counted on the energy-sapping heat and the rough-and-ready roads. It all added to the adventure as we rode through some of the lushest land on earth.

Samoa is ringed by reefs and the different blues of the sea matched all kinds of vivid greens in the foliage, creating a startling kaleidoscope of colours with the flowers.

Jim and the kids came along for the ride.

I hired them a couple of mountain bikes, plus an electric bike from Outdoor Samoa. They pottered along at their own pace following the main tour, the kids intrigued by the ease and speed of the electric bike. In Samoa, the speed limit is 40km an hour and the bike did nearly that!

Seti Afoa is the organiser and instigator of the Ford Tour of Samoa, now in its third year. He has tweaked it so there is less riding in the heat of the day and he makes sure the course lets riders see as much of this tropical paradise as possible.

We set off at 6am, 23 riders of mixed ability from Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. The first leg took us from the centre of Apia to Lalomanu, along 62km of bumpy roads with wandering dogs and pigs, and the steepest 1.5km hill I have ever had the misfortune of trying to climb on a bike.

I failed and, at the halfway mark, hopped off and pushed. To have this episode so early on dented my confidence, but I was reassured to discover some of the faster riders also struggled.

A dip in the ocean and four egg sandwiches later, we were back on our bikes and off to Sinalei.

The heat was blistering, but there were support vehicles, water stations and constant encouragement from the terrific people on the tour.

Day two saw another early start. We had to make the 8am ferry to switch islands, and that was a 40km ride up hill and down dale.

Samoa is a hive of activity in the early morning as locals take advantage of the relative coolness – school buses, kids and workers were all sharing the road. Then we enjoyed an hour’s reprieve on the ferry from Upolu to Savai’i, Samoa’s largest island.

Once on Savai’i, we headed to a café run by an Australian named Kevin and his Samoan wife Netta, who makes the most delicious, light and moist cakes – better than anything I’ve ever tasted on Ponsonby Road. She told me up to 22 ingredients are poured into some of them and they are stirred by hand for 45 minutes before baking. That, she said, is the key to their perfection.

We rode past waterfalls, lava fields and glistening lagoons to Tane Beach Fales for the night. This was basic accommodation but charming and welcoming.

For me, day four was toughest – a 4.30am start to beat the heat on a 100km leg.

Before it was fully light at the 20km mark, I came off my bike when I hit a stone coming down a hill, and made holes in my knee, elbow and helmet. Blood dripping down my leg and arm made for an impressive injury, but there was no choice but to box on… for 80 more kilometres!

The payoff was arriving at the Amoa Resort with its big pool, swim-up bar and great cocktails.

The last couple of days let us relax more and the finale was a police-escorted ride back into the centre of Apia, where we picked up novice riders along the route and successfully held up Saturday traffic.

What a way to finish a week in the saddle – Jim and the kids happy and me tired but thrilled with my achievement of being an official finisher of the Tour of Samoa 2016.

Watch out – we may be back next year!

Images from Scottie T

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