Travel. There’s so much to love about it, not only the actual discovery of new places but also that great connection you get when you swap travel tales with someone else who shares your passion.
With so many of us exploring the globe these days it’s quite common to have someone say “When I was there…” or “Did you go to…” when you mention a destination. But I’ve recently returned from one country that has most of the people I’ve spoken to stumped.
Every single person I’ve spoken to about Samoa has lit up and wanted to know more. Some have had it on their wish list for a while. Others haven’t even had it on their radar. But everyone has been genuinely interested and full of questions.
“What’s it like? What can you do there?” I’m often asked. And so here I present my personal Top Ten Things To Do in Samoa…
I flew into Samoa late at night, but even before I could see how beautiful it was I could feel it. And it wasn’t just because there was a live band playing at the baggage carousel to put a smile on our face and get us in the holiday mode.
Stepping out of the airport walking to the car the air was balmy and smelt great, and there was a wonderful energy all around us. As we drove to the Sinalei Reef Resort I started to catch glimpses of tropical flowers beside the road, and animals lazily moving off the road.
The next morning I woke to a picture postcard. Lush greens, stunning blues, bright pops of colourful flowers. I’m not sure how many times I said “oh wow…” as I walked to find breakfast, but it was very much towards the higher end of the scale. And it’s a phrase I continued to utter over the coming days.
Between the crystal blue waters, the sandy beaches, rich green valleys and rainforests, the lagoons and the waterfalls it’s one breathtaking moment after another. And with an average air temperature of 30 degrees all year round and an ocean that stays around 25 degrees, this is my kind of place.
I found myself wondering how this natural paradise has escaped so many tourists for so long. Don’t get me wrong, one of Samoa’s many charms is the fact that it is so unspoiled by tourism. On the one hand I think how much money some of the locals could be making from tourists; on the other hand, I loved the fact that I didn’t see a single postcard stand until we got to the airport to leave, and that at no point did anyone try to sell me anything.
As an Australian who lives on the East Coast my home is only a five and half hour flight away from Samoa. That may not sound too close, but this is Australia. That’s not much longer than it takes me to fly to Perth. While our Kiwi neighbours have been onto Samoa as a destination for years, I’m surprised that it’s taking us Aussies so long to catch on. And I’m glad I’ve made it before word well and truly gets out.
2. Get the Ferry to Savai’i and Explore
Samoa’s international airport is found on Upolu, so this is the place you’re most likely to arrive. Upolu has the biggest share of Samoa’s population (including the main town of Apia, where 35,000 of the country’s 177,000 people live), and is a beautiful place to visit in its own right.
But even before I was able to get over how incredible Upolu was, we were on a ferry and on our way over to the ‘big island’ of Savai’i. And as soon as I got there I understood why.
Home to just 42,000 people, Savai’i is the third largest Polynesian island after Tahiti and New Zealand. And it’s just stunning.
One of the highlights for me was the snorkelling. Just a week before I went to Samoa I’d been at the Sydney Aquarium, oohing and aahing over some of the tropical fish. Here, I could step out of my fale, straight onto the beach, and by the time the water was over my knees I could see those same tropical fish swimming around my legs.
With a snorkel on, it was magical. Schools of bright fish swimming around me, unfazed by the human in their midst. I felt like Ariel (a nickname that went on to stick after this redhead spent so much time enchanted by those fish).
But there wasn’t even a need to get under the water. It’s so clear and still that you can see gorgeous fish amongst the coral by simply standing there and looking down. (Yes, those are my toes in the same shot as one one of my favourite fish (which reminds me of a drag queen – hey gurl! – but that’s another story)).
Now back to that clear, calm water. One of the best things about swimming in Samoa is the way a natural protective reef keeps the water so flat; and keeps the sharks out! I know, I know, most of them won’t hurt you, but I’m still a big fan of being able to snorkel without any scary surprises.
While I find floating peacefully in the calm waters heaven, I know there are those who like things to be a bit more active. Samoa also has them covered. You can get a boat out past the reef to surf what I’m told are flawless, world class waves. I’ll take the experts’ word for it. I really didn’t see them. Far too happy playing Ariel with the colourful fish.
3. Swim with Turtles
On my first day on Upolu we caught a boat out to the picturesque Namu’a island, and there in the waters we saw large green turtles gliding happily along.
It was a real “welcome to Samoa” sight, but unfortunately hunting has led to these turtles being endangered, which means they need a little help along the way.
Enter the Turtle Sanctuary at Satoalepai Village on Savai’i. Here green turtles are raised in a big brackish water pool until they are fully grown and can be released into the ocean.
The sanctuary welcomes tourists, and for $5 for adults and $3 for children you can both see the turtles, and swim with them.
The turtles can grow up to 185 kilograms, and the ones we swam with were really quite large, but thankfully they’re also sweet and gentle.
It’s a strange sensation to be in the water, knowing these big creatures are in there somewhere but not being able to see them until they’re about to bump into you. But despite stifling squeals when they unexpectedly brushed up against me, I loved swimming with these guys and gals.
4. Sleep in a Fale on the Beach
It can get a bit confusing as fale is actually the word for any kind of building, but the beach fales are simple huts with a few posts, a thatched roof, and usually no walls.
With enough friends you could have a whole Samoan island to yourself. Namu‘a only has 11 traditional beach fales available, and the rest of the island is uninhabited.
We only spent half a day on Namu’a but it was enough to fall in love with the place and hope that one day I have the chance to go back and spend a week or so just snorkelling, lying on the beach, and soaking up that view. Bliss.
5. Visit the Coconut Man at Taga Blowholes
I’ve seen a blowhole or two in my time, but I have to say the Alofaaga Blowholes at Taga on Savai’i are my favourites so far.The power of the water as it blasts up into the sky is palpable, and it not only looks extraordinary, the sound of the roaring jet of water is an experience in itself.
They also have an adorable man who entertains tourists by throwing coconuts into the blowhole. Believe me, it’s an art. See that little black dot in the white of the water below? That’s his coconut. He has to time it perfectly to be shot up into the sky like that, and it’s a lot of fun to watch him do his thing.The man told me his name is Tofa, and when I asked how long he had been throwing coconuts into the blowhole he chuckled, slowly replied “Many, many years,” and smiled a beautiful, weathered smile.
6. Drink fresh coconuts and eat fresh fish
I wouldn’t suggest chasing Tofa’s coconuts, but I’m a big fan of drinking fresh coconut, and eating fresh fish. So I was right at home in Samoa.
One of the best meals we had was at Sinalei Reef Resort where the tuna on my plate had been caught that day by the resort’s neighbour. And that’s just one of the wonderful seafood experiences (don’t tell my colourful fishy friends)
7. Swim under a waterfall
Swimming in the ocean in Samoa is all about beautiful blues and warm water. Swimming under a waterfall is a cool, green, crisp experience. Well, if you get the right one that is. With some of the more powerful ones I can imagine it would be quite a bracing, bruising experience!
But pick your waterfall right and you’ll be floating in a little piece of paradise, as we were at Afu Aau waterfall. Oh heaven… how long did I say that flight to Samoa was again?
8. Watch Shooting Stars
Sure, this one is up to the meteor showers on a particular night. But there wasn’t a night when at least one of our group didn’t see a shooting star when the skies were clear.
It’s just one of the magical things about having a big, clear sky overhead in Samoa. Between the lack of general pollution and light pollution the stars above are shining brightly, you can see the sweep of the Milky Way and when those shooting stars do cross the night sky you can make wish after wish.
To heighten the experience further, I recommend watching shooting stars from the beach… or better yet, floating in the water. Perhaps with a cocktail.
9. Have a laugh with the locals
The landscape isn’t the only beautiful thing in Samoa. The people we spent time with were warm, welcoming, and a whole lot of fun.
10. Soak up the Sunsets on a Digital Detox
You may recognise this sunset photo… that’s because I loved it so much I’ve used it in my logo. As if it wasn’t difficult enough to leave Samoa, on our last night there the sky put on the kind of show that made it all the harder.
There was only one thing to do. Meet the gang and have a cocktail.
It had been less than a week since we’d all met to explore the country together, but something strange happens in Samoa. A few days feels like a few weeks.
Some of that could be credited to the digital detox I underwent. Not only did my mobile not work for the trip (if you desperately need to stay online you may want to get a Samoan sim card for stay), internet access is hard to find. This is not the kind of place where you’ll easily find wifi or internet cafe style set ups.
Unplugging made the trip all the better. Once I got over the urge to share how gorgeous everything was on Twitter, that is. We could soak everything up, really connect with our surroundings without outside world finding its way in.
When we touched down back at Sydney airport, the sound of text messages coming into phones around me was jarring. A reminder that the real world really did have to be dealt with again. No worries. I can do that for a while. I know how to find Samoa again. See you there?
Amanda Woods travelled as guest of the Samoan Tourism Authority but as usual all views and reviews are her own.