Lupe Sina Treesort has the power of love

NINA KARNIKOWSKI
Last updated 08:57 03/06/2014
Lupe Sina Treesort
Eugenia E. Gratto

TAKE A LEAF: The house in the tree.

Lupe Sina Treesort
Eugenia E. Gratto
OUT ON A LIMB: Branches wind through the rooms.

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I'm in the shower, wrapped in Samson's arms, when my husband walks in.

He doesn't scream, he doesn't yell. In fact, he smiles.

He smiles because Samson is not a hunky man, but a 300-year-old banyan tree in Tiavi, in Samoa's Upolu hinterland, who for the past two years has been playing host to the only treehouse in the South Pacific.

From a distance you can barely see it, what with Samson dripping his roots all over it like a messy candle. But step a little closer and there it is, the two-storey light-green timber house with a palm-thatch roof, suspended 12 metres above the ground. It's a truly magical sight, like something straight out of Middle Earth or Walt Disney's Fantasia.

Inside, there's a living room and two bedrooms, one of which has a ceiling fan. There's running hot water, a flushing toilet, and a kitchenette with a refrigerator and coffee maker.

More impressive than fitting all these mod cons inside a tree, however, is the extent to which the house has been integrated into the tree itself. The interior walls are made from ifilele, a Samoan hardwood, and each piece has been cut especially to fit around Samson like a jigsaw puzzle.

The aforementioned shower could possibly be the world's coolest, using Samson's strong, aerial roots as its walls.

After our showers, we walk over to the main house, about 100 metres behind Samson, and are wrapped in another stranger's arms. We're not strangers for long, however, as owner Carol Batchelor, clad in a floral sundress and with flour inexplicably dusting her bronzed arms and smiling face, immediately starts telling us her and her husband Jack's tragedy-tinged story.

Originally from Oregon, Carol and Jack fell in love with Samoa during their travels, and in 2008 decided to move there. They bought an old resort on the south coast, and Jack, a builder, had just finished renovating it when the tsunami hit in 2009. The resort was swept away and Jack almost lost his life. Then they found Samson.

"Jack looked at this massive tree and said, 'I'm going to build a treehouse'," says Carol, who was understandably dubious at first. But then their 27-year-old son, Brad, came over from the US to help, and seven months later Lupe Sina was born.

Tragedy struck again, however, just one month later, when Brad was killed in a car accident. One month after that, Cyclone Evans hit. The cyclone toppled seven Banyan trees in the surrounding area and virtually razed Jack and Carol's house, but Samson and the treehouse miraculously weren't affected.

"We've been through a lot, but this feels like home," says Carol, tears glistening in her eyes. "And when you're inside the treehouse, I hope you see why."

We certainly do. Samson, the giant, wise old wizard that he is, seems to be the custodian of the property and generously accepts everyone into the warmth of his arms, much like Jack and Carol. He's not only incredibly handsome, he's also kind. In the middle of the lounge room, for example, he has reached up through the floorboards, graciously offering up a natural love seat. What a guy.

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Before dinner we sit on the treehouse balcony, taking in the 180-degree views of the jungle and the ocean beyond, over a couple of frosty Vailima beers and some books about treehouses.

Banyan trees are a keystone species, meaning they're ecologically critical for the maintenance of Samoa's biodiversity. This means we have a soundtrack of the songs of birds, cicadas and bats playing over the soft roar of the ocean, as we watch twists of cloud turn from yellow to blood orange, from violet to baby pink.

Eventually, the sun drops below the surrounding jungle, signalling a wander back to the main house. In the undercover al fresco dining area, Carol serves up a delectable home-cooked meal of moon fish with honeyed carrots and creamy, garlic-laden mash, accompanied by a glass of chardonnay, followed by a slice of her freshly baked chocolate cake (so that was what the flour was about).

As a soft breeze blows, we head back over to Samson. Within minutes, we're in our comfy mosquito net-covered bed, being lulled to sleep by the sound of the wind whispering through the leaves , and vowing to come back for another cuddle from Samson very soon.

The writer stayed courtesy of Lupe Sina Treesort.

TRIP NOTES

STAYING THERE The Lupe Sina Treesort's Samson Suite is US$350 (NZ$413) per night, including breakfast (additional adults, including children over 8, are US$50 each).

Star Gazer, its second treehouse that was completed in April, is built around an ava tree. The bedroom has a glass ceiling and it costs US$250 a night. Discounts available in both treehouses for stays over three nights. See lupesinatreesort.com.

MORE INFORMATION samoa.travel.

THREE NEARBY ATTRACTIONS

FOREST WALK The Pupu Pu'e National Park's coastal walk, which weaves through a seaside pandanus forest and emerges at an expansive field of wrinkly lava created when a nearby volcano erupted 3000 years ago, is a 15-minute drive away.

SWIMMING HOLES A few minutes' walk away from the Le Pupu Pu'e National Park, Togitogiga Waterfall is essentially a series of swimming holes separated by small waterfalls surrounded by lush, tropical gardens. Great for a picnic, and most impressive during the wet season (November to April).

ENCHANTING TRENCH The otherworldly To Sua trench is about a 30-minute drive from Lupe Sina, but it's worth every minute of the journey. Sunken 30 metres into the earth and surrounded by vibrant green grasses, it's actually a giant tidal hole that formed when the roof of a lava tube collapsed. A natural wonder. Entry is 15 tala ($7.6).

- FFX Aus

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