Samoa : What to Expect
I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Samoa recently. I went, as many people would, with a surreal expectation of tropical days sipping cocktails on the beach; flowers in my hair and golden glowing skin. Although all of this is possible on the islands of Samoa, what I found was that the realities of being a human being (sweating, getting burnt and ill, sweating more, etc) intefered.
It was like this some days, but not every day
When I boarded my flight to Samoa in Auckland, I hadn't put much thought into what to expect. As I stepped off the plane in Apia 4 hours later, the first thing that hit me was the heat. A powerful, inescapable hot wind threatened to sweep me off the stairs down from the plane doors. With the heat came the panic – I am not that comfortable in hot countries at the best of times (in an air conditioned hotel with a pool) let alone staying with a host family in Samoa. I braced myself for how often I would have to wash my clothes, and staggered across the desert/tarmac to collect my bag.
View from the taxi window en route from the airport
In the taxi from the airport, my panic was replaced by joy. The drive across the island of Upolu
took me past lush tropical bush, friendly looking villages with free range chickens running wild and sandy beaches framed by palm trees. In fact, by the end of my two week stay the heat hardly bothered me at all – and I was used to chucking t shirts that I had only worn for two hours in the laundry. Even so, my first travel tip for these jewels of the Pacific is:
Find Somewhere to Cool Down
Some of my favourite swimming spots in Samoa:
- Papase'ea Sliding Rocks – this is located on one of the two main islands, Upolu, a short drive out of Apia. It is basically a series of small waterfalls which you can slide down, and it is good fun. We went in the rain and on a really hot day and both were equally enjoyable!
- Lusia's Lagoon Chalets – you can stay in these chalets as an alternative to the beach fales (small huts) found on many Samoan beaches. They are located on the island of Savai'i which is great for a weekend trip. The 'chalets' are small rooms on stilts over the lagoon. I prefer these to the beach fales as it is a lot easier to swim in the lagoon straight from a ladder and as the rooms are raised they stay a little cleaner. The lagoon is absolutely beautiful with clear water and cool fish. The restaurant attached is also awesome!
- To Sua Ocean Trench. This one, located on the south side of Upolu is a must see. The trench is stunning and the water in it rises and falls with the tide. The picture of this one speaks for itself really!
In my island dreams, whatever food I want is brought to me on a big platter as I lie on the beach. In reality, I found myself phoning every restaurant in Apia to see if I could find one serving food on a Sunday. Travel tip number two:
Find Some Good Food
- If you are anything like me, the most exciting part about a new country is new food. The traditional style of Samoan cooking is with an 'umu, which is a form of earth oven. The cooking is a long and labour intensive process compared to what we are used to with our ovens and fridges. The food it produces is absolutely delicious; for example bundles of taro leaves filled with coconut cream. It is definitely worth going to an 'umu if you get the opportunity. Ask at the tourist info centre in Apia.
- If you want a nice meal and cocktail overlooking the ocean, Sails and Paddles are two well known restaurants in Apia serving delicious food which seems to be a blend of many types of cooking, and great cocktails. The Italian Pizza Cafe on the waterfront in Apia also sells surprisingly good pizza, and the Indian Cafe in Apia has perfectly nice curry. All the restaurants in Samoa tend to be reasonably priced.
- Sunday. It is a shock to anyone living in a westernised country to be in Samoa on a Sunday. Samoan families truly do treat it as a day of rest, with trips to church followed by big meals. This means that, for tourists, most shops and restaurants etc shut down for the day. If you need a meal on a Sunday try a hotel – it may seem obvious, but when it was 40 degrees and I was hungry logic evaded me, and it might do the same to you.
Samoa is different from its neighbouring islands of Fiji in that it has very little tourism based development. I saw this as a huge advantage as I felt the experiences I was getting were really authentic. However, this also means that it can require a little more effort to find the best tourist spots etc. My last travel tip is therefore:
- A great way to see the islands is to hire a car. Make sure you take a map from the hire car company or tourist centre, and ask someone to show you on the map the best sights. There are no big signposts directing you to the beautiful waterfalls, swimming holes and beaches, especially on Savai'i, so you need to keep your eye out. If in doubt, ask a local – they are usually welcoming and friendly.
- It is good to know that for most attractions you will be asked to pay a small fee of about 5 tala. This can sometimes seem like a rip off but it is important to remember that this could be a village's main source of income.
- Visit the markets whenever you can. Even if you don't buy anything, these markets are less touristy than in other countries. Therefore you get a great feeling for the place you are in and can also admire Samoan food, lava lava (traditional dress skirts), and arts and crafts. My favourite was the Flea Market in Apia.
I would recommend a trip to Samoa to anyone who loves the appeal of island life without the tourist traps. If you are planning a trip, please feel free to get in touch for more information about mine!