January 1, 1970
by Georgia May
Settling in to Island Life
Late October 2015, right at the end of the Samoa’s peak tourist season, my partner and I jumped on a plane in Auckland to experience our first taste of the Pacific. We settled on Samoa (I say we, but it was probably 90% me) as I wanted to experience a touch of paradise but without being totally removed from the islands culture and heritage. It was perfect. As I stepped off the plane and breathed in the heat, to the sound of palms rustling in the breeze – I was immediately immersed in island time. Traditionally dressed musicians serenaded the tourists with upbeat tunes as we waited for our luggage and it was hard not to feel the holiday vibes already.
We pre-arranged transfers via our accommodation which I would recommend doing as public transport options are pretty much non-existent and most resorts are on the other side of the Island. Outside the airport is where we were greeted by a welcoming man who drove us from Faleolo International Airport, 40km west of Samoa’s capital, to our accommodation. It’s probably worth mentioning that the majority of flights from New Zealand arrive in the evening and as far as dining options go, the airport doesn’t really have any so I would advise eating on the plane or bringing snacks with you. Alternatively, if you ask your driver nicely he may swing by the MacDonald’s drive thru in Apia for you. So with cheeseburger, nuggets and chips in hand and smiles on our faces – we were finally on our way to Lalomanu Beach.
Traditional Fale Accommodation
A couple of hours later (the speed limit in Samoa is s.l.o.w.) we stepped out the car and straight onto the fine sands of a South Pacific beach at Taufua Beach Fales. We were shown to our fale – Samoan House – by a man with a torch and pointed in the direction of the toilets then left to settle in to our minimalistic home which we would be staying in for the first couple of nights. Equipped with a mattress, mosquito net and not a lot else we settled down for the night. If you’re after a holiday to catch up on sleep and luxurious lie-ins in your air-conditioned suite, then a beach fale is not the accommodation for you! I would definitely suggest taking ear plugs as although the sea was quite a way down the beach, during the night the crashing waves sound like they are right below you and the ocean breeze made the roll-down tarpaulin sides flap like crazy.
When I opened my eyes in the morning and was right on the golden sands of one of the top 3 most beautiful beaches in the south pacific, with the beautiful blue ocean in front of me it was all totally worth it. The fale accommodation had a very community feel to it and at breakfast and dinner the tables were moved into one long banquet style seating arrangement – perfect for getting to know each other, particularly after a cocktail or 2 at happy hour. Alternatively if you’re more of a beer drinker then try the local Samoan larger, Vailima.
After visiting beaches all over Europe many times growing up it was an absolute treat to lay on a beach with so much space around me. I almost missed having a stranger’s foot in my face, almost. Days were spent doing absolutely nothing apart from laying on the beach and it was brilliant. If you tend to burn or need a break from the sun there was always the option of the communal dining area or heading to your fale for a break in the shade but definitely worth noting that there is no proper escape from the heat.
After a couple of nights in Taufau beach fales we headed to the resort we had booked for our next 3 nights, Saletoga Sands Resort & Spa, about a 30 min drive west along the coast from Lalomanu. A huge contrast from our previous accommodation we were welcomed into a large and more formal reception building by a similarly lovely group of staff who took us down through the resort grounds, past the day spa and swimming pool with swim up bar on to the beach front, to our fully enclosed and air conditioned beach hut with en suite AND a small private outdoor shower area.
Although Samoa has its own currency, Tala, resort pricing is quite costly and I wouldn’t say it’s a destination for foodies with most resorts offering basic westernised food. Having said this, the traditional Fia Fia night is a must. Translating to “Happy”, the evening of dancing, fire acts and performances from passionate locals a traditional island feast left me grinning from ear to ear! Both the fale accommodation and our resort offered a Wednesday and Sunday how and I think this is common at most tourist accommodation, but sometimes at an extra charge.
When in Paradise
Samoa lends itself to the ultimate flop and drop holiday. If all you want to do is laze around drinking from coconuts on a beautiful quiet beach then you’ve certainly come to the right place. Calm waters and golden sands on beaches boarded by palm trees is the perfect setting to lay back with a book or go for a wander. If you prefer to be on the water then most hotels offer the rental of kayaks, snorkelling equipment etc free of charge.
However, what really led to my love affair with this beautiful slice of the south pacific was the exploring that could be done if boredom struck. While we were there we ventured out in the heat to visit some of the natural wonders Samoa is best known for. Tu Sua Ocean Trench lived up to every expectation, it was picture perfect and the well-kept grounds surrounding it were just as impressive. The ladder is long and steep but once in the trench you could float around in peace and even adventure through an underwater tunnel into another cave if you’re feeling brave. Although a little costly to enter (20WST when we went in October, 2015) it was completely worth it.
We also visited the Togitogiga Waterfall which was a short walk from the car park and had a couple of levels meaning you could jump your way down the waterfall and it wasn’t too high for scaredy-cats like myself! One thing to note is that that one of Upolu’s most popular tourist attractions, the Papase’ea sliding rocks, were not “slid-able” when we went as there is not enough water falling – although you can still go and see the area, Papase’ea is best visited during the rainy season.
I think we found the perfect place to balance the flop and drop with a bit of adventure and still feel there is much more we missed out on; such as hikes in the rainforests or a visit to Samoa’s largest Island, Sava’ii. Samoa, I will be back.