Tuapou Warren Jopling is a well-known local figure in Savai’i.
A Geologist by profession, he has lived there since 1983 after he first set eyes on the big island and decided that after travelling to over 117 countries in the world, Savai’i was the place he wanted to firmly plant his feet in.
He is captivated by her beauty and the possibilities in one of world’s oldest volcanic islands.
Now if you’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down with Tuapou while he shares some of his most interesting life experiences, you’ll find that his journey will serve as another spiritual reminder on how an individual can live a satisfying life by following the path that fills their heart with the most enthusiasm.
Since 1990, Jopling has been guiding tourists and international student groups around the island he knows as intimately as he knows himself.
There is no coastline, shoreline, sea arch or mountain in Savai’i that Jopling has not examined and studied. He is familiar with all of Savai’i’s curves and crests and while he enthusiastically shares Savai’i’s secrets with everyone– he is equally protective of preserving the island’s natural resources and history.
Tourism is essential for the Savai’i economy. And for the last 27 years, Jopling has been promoting the natural history of Savai’i by running tours and has even published booklets on it for the Samoa Tourism Authority.
“The way I feel, tourism is a combination of many things, people, culture, site seeing and natural history,” he said.
“There aren’t too many people in Savai’i who are pushing the natural history side of things except for me. So that is why I have been writing on occasion.”
Joplings career as a Geologist and Petroleumologist reads like an epic adventure novel that one would find hard to put down.
His odyssey that culminated in the discovery of Savai’i started off with a curiosity and then a fascination for gemstones that led him to study geology.
It wasn’t enough just to enjoy the outer beauty of the precious stones, Jopling had to know them deeper to its last mineral makeup.
But it was his career as a Petroleumologist that led him to oil fields all over the world from Canada to Brazil and eventually to Indonesia where he spent 17 years working on oil exploration before the remote islands of Samoa registered on his radar.
“They wanted me to be based in Jakarta but it is the last place on earth where I would rather be so I had reservations about this,” he recalls.
“While I was in Indonesia, I had read an article about Samoa. I didn’t know a great deal about Samoa, I’ve never heard of Savai’i. I collected stamps in my early days so I knew where Samoa was and this article gave a very glowing account of Samoa. It also mentioned the Safua hotel in Lalomalava.”
The article was enough to stir Jopling’s curiosity and in October 1982, he travelled to Upolu and then to Savai’i where he sought out the Safua hotel which was owned by Va’asilifiti Moelagi Jackson and her family at the time.
“It was the way of life that drew me to Savai’i. All through Brazil, I worked in very primitive areas where material things had no value at all.”
“It was all about people. Also in Indonesia, I spent 17 years in a rural area and there were wonderful great people. When I came to Savai’i I loved it not only the living in the hotel, the people. People are people regardless of religion or race.
“It was wonderful and Moelagi had a very young family. While I was at the Safua Hotel, I met Ken Newton, the owner of C.C.K.
“They were setting up a coffee plantation in a place called Vaiaata in the hills of eastern Savai’i. They asked me if I would be interested and I made an immediate decision – yes.”
Enamoured by Savai’i and spurred on by the same enthusiasm he had for examining precious gemstones, Jopling returned to Indonesia to pack his things and return to the island that had captivated his soul and sparked his obsession to know it inside out. Literally.
“Of course being a Geologist, it was very easy for me to stay because this island of Savai’i is magnificent. I really preferred Savai’i over Upolu. Savai’i is probably one of the most interesting volcanic islands in the world.”
In 1983 while staying at the Safua Hotel, he immediately started running tours to help out the Jackson family with running their hotel business.
Jopling had a long history of giving tours starting with his university days as a Geology student guide and his having access to a helicopter in Jakarta made it possible for him to also take company officials on helicopter tours around the northern part of Savai’i.
It wasn’t until after cyclone Ofa in 1990 and the coffee plantations that Jopling was involved with were destroyed that saw him running tours on a commercial basis for Safua Hotel.
He eventually wrote a book about the Geology in the Samoa archipelago which is about to be reprinted because he realized that the book needed to also include more information about specific sites for tourists.
“Back in 2014, I wrote a long report on the geology of Samoa as a tourist guide. After running tours in Savai’i, I decided to write another paper about the different sites of Savai’i which was published in the Samoa Observer in about 13-14 editions in the early part of this year.”
Jopling enjoys every single minute of his job and has given thousands of tours for over 20 years around Savai’i for overseas student groups from the U.S. and Australia as well as tourists from Amoa Resort.
“During these years I have done tours since 1990 until the hotel was closed about four years ago. I changed the name from Safua tours to Savai’i national history tours. I’m doing exactly the same thing and by doing this I am getting the best of two worlds, the Samoan world and the Palagi world.”
“The people who come are basically interested in natural history so during the years I’ve been running tours. I have taken many people through tours. This island is too big to comprehensively cover. You can speed around and stop at the blow holes but I like to explain things rather than zip around the island.”
Living as a Savai’ian, Jopling adopted the Jackson family of Safua hotel as his own and participated actively in his community, sponsoring many children in the village through primary school to secondary school and teachers college as well as the marine training center. His service to his Samoan family and the community led him to be gifted with the honour of Samoan citizenship.
“To be a part of this place for forever was part of my intention regardless of citizenship or not. My brother passed away in August this year, he was 92 and it was always his wish that I take up Samoan citizenship.
“This citizenship was a gift from Moelagi’s family. I had helped them over the years in many ways. I was a part of their family and lived with them for many years so this was just recognition of what I’ve done for the family – they gave me citizenship.”
Tuapou Warren Jopling is now officially on paper what he always felt in his heart. These days Jopling is still showing tourists and student groups around the Savai’i, filling a much needed gap in the tourism industry for the big island.
While his ailing hip sometimes slows him down, he continues his work with the same enthusiasm and passion he started out with when he first discovered one of the Pacific’s most interesting islands making him one of those blessed people fortunate enough to pursue and then find their personal legend.