Sunday, 8 July 2018

Exploring Samoa - The South Pacific's Best Kept Secret.

Despite just two days to see this beautiful South Pacific island, Samoa quickly became one of my favourite countries that I have ever been to. The scenery on the island was lush and tropical, and although we got lost multiple times, the locals were always willing to help direct us the right way. We set off in the morning from our hotel, the Sheraton Beach Resort, on the west side of Upolu island, and very quickly became infatuated with Samoa. 


The roads were fairly empty the entire way around the island, but especially on the west side. In my opinion the beaches on that side are the best; the stretches of white sand and crystalline waters as we drove along the road that wraps around the island's coastal edge made our jaws drop. Sadly I was driving so I didn't get many photos of the drive, but we pulled over a few times to get some. We also saw one of the famous Samoan painted buses! Each one is painted a unique design, and apparently if the bus is full the locals sit on each other's laps to make room for everyone.



Everyone told us that there was one road that goes all the way round the island of Upolu (the main island of Samoa), and it was impossible to get lost. Well, we got lost. Multiple times. There may be one 'main' road, but there are LOTS of smaller roads that LOOKED like the main road. And so we kept getting lost, ending up in a tiny village, and needing help from the bemused locals who couldn't understand how we got lost..."But it's just one main road...". But they were all SO lovely and really helpful with their directions!

We drove through the mountains and lush rainforest and a forest of palm trees. We drove down tiny country tracks and up steep hills and through thick vegetation alongside trickling streams and waterfalls. We passed wild pigs snuffling on the roadside, and stray dogs running in-front of the car constantly, and traditional Fales and beautiful ornate churches every 50 yards, that we heard are packed out every Sunday morning.


Eventually we found To Sua Ocean Trench, the most famous site in Samoa, and were a liiiiittle disappointed. We got there around lunchtime and it was low-tide, so the water was murky and a bit green/brown, rather than the sparkling emerald it usually is. Mother Nature was against us, and as such the photos aren't as epic as some you will see online. But we still loved it and had great fun! A coupla tips though: the ladder is steep, terrifying, and slippery, the current is VERY strong so hang on to the rope or rock, and, be careful if you swim into the cave (see previous tip on current).



After spending an hour or so at the trench and agreeing that we were really happy we got the courage to climb down that ladder, Laura and I jumped back into the hire car and set off to find the famous Lalomanu beach. And then we hit a roadblock. A literal roadblock. There had been a mountain rock-fall and the road was covered in huge rocks. Laura and I turned to one another and panicked, "there's only one road around Samoa! Do we have to double back on ourselves!?" Then another car appeared from the side and we realised there was a temporary road going around the rockfall. Oops.


Lalomanu beach was actually quite tricky to find (are you sensing a theme here?), because there wasn't really a proper 'beach' as such. It wasn't a proper sandy stretch of beach like over the West side of the island, rather a huge expanse of flat wet sand from the tide being out still. You're also not really supposed to sunbathe on the public beaches due to modesty, and as we had such an incredible lagoon beach back at our hotel (I highly recommend staying at the Sheraton Beach Resort, FYI), we decided not to stop off, and instead took a couple of snaps and drove on towards the mountains.


We drove through the mountains and more rainforest, passing groups of children in their traditional 'ie lavalavas' (a piece of cloth wrapped around and worn like a skirt) walking home from school, all waving enthusiastically at us as we drove by in our little red 4x4. We were surprised by the amount of LDS missionaries we drove past, and later found out that the Samoans are trying to petition the government to stop allowing them into the country to work on converting people. Religion is a huge deal in Samoa, and the amount of churches dotted around the country is astounding. Apparently the three main religions are Congregational, Catholicism, and Methodist!

After hours of driving we eventually reached the capital city, Apia. From there we drove 10-minutes to Robert Louis Stevenson's House, Villa Vailima, which was about to close as everything closes pretty early in Samoa (around 3pm). The house is BEAUTIFUL and really reminded me of Nelson's Dockyard in Antigua. You have to have a tour of the house to see it, you can't just wander freely, but it was really worth it and was actually fascinating to hear all about the positive impact Robert Louis Stevenson and his family had on Samoa and how much the Samoans love him. At the end of the tour the tour guide sings Robert Louis Stevenson's requiem, which he wrote for the people of Samoa. It's inscribed on his grave at the top of Mount Vaea:

"Under the wide and starry sky,
    Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
    And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
    Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill."



By this point we were starving hungry as we hadn't eaten from breakfast, and we didn't have enough time to eat in a restaurant, so we did the classic desperate tourist act of going to the nearest McDonalds and wolfing down a big mac and nuggets. We'd had a week of traditional Polynesian food and so we didn't feel too bad about having one maccas meal! After quickly eating we walked around the corner to the stunning Catholic Cathedral.



We were running out of time to get back to the hotel, so we jumped back in the car and went to the nearest petrol station to fill it up, when something a bit crazy happened...

In Samoa petrol-attendants fill up the car for you, so we sat there chatting away and planning our night out, when the attendant knocked on the car door and we wound the window down;
"Erm, could you please come outside the car?"
"Ok, what's wrong?"
"Well, there is a leak. Whatever you do, please do not turn the engine on!"
"What's leaking?"
"Look here, I fill the car, but the petrol comes out of the bottom. We need to wait for it to dry before you can turn the engine on."



Yep, so there we were, a huge queue of cars behind us waiting for our petrol patch to dry. Thankfully it was so hot and sunny that it only took about ten minutes. In that time we got a photo, and had a laugh with the petrol attendant about it all. Luckily all was fine and we got back to the hotel safe and sound! We dropped the car off and then got changed and ready for our night out in Samoa, but that's a story for another day ;)

Despite the car issue and the murky To Sua Trench, we absolutely LOVED Samoa. It was our favourite island out of Vanuatu, Fiji, and Samoa. We drove around the entire island (it took about 5 hours in total, not including the time spent stopping off), and it was just so beautiful everywhere we went. We were really sad we didn't have time to see all the waterfalls en-route, but we got a really good flavour of the country and the people that live there. We had heard mixed things about the locals, so were pleasantly surprised at how friendly and kind everyone was. Samoa is without a doubt the South Pacific's best kept secret.


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1 comment

  1. This looks totally idyllic - I've had a little taste of Fiji, French Polynesia and the Cook islands (amazing!) and this is somewhere I would love to visit. Such an amazing part of the world.

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