If we were to rate the countries in terms of churches-per-capita, I reckon Samoa would be in the top 10. It is a country where on Sunday most of the shops and businesses are closed because Samoans go to church and get back home only by mid-day. Situated in the Pacific Ocean, it is accessible by air from New Zealand, Australia and Fiji, however the number of tourists visiting Samoa is significantly lower comparing to Cook Islands or Fiji. Despite still being quite “authentic”, Samoa welcomed us with its warm “Talofa!”
Samoa and its culture
As I mentioned above, Samoa is a religious country. Most Samoans are Christian and they differ within this group. One thing that was fascinating is the number of churches… Let’s say they could be seen within 100 meters distance from each other! When driving past a church on Sunday, we could hear people singing and then walking home wearing white clothes.
Once everyone gets back from the church, the big feast begins! If you are not a part of Samoan family, don’t worry! The restaurants usually offer at this time of the day buffets, and some of them even serve traditional Samoan food such as taro root, taro leaves with coconut cream etc.
What is worth remembering is the “island time”. This means everything is pretty relaxed and there is no rush. Samoans are very friendly and genuinely happy to see you. I loved it! Friendliness + no hassle =a good holiday. Even the taxi drivers do not hassle you, they offer, an if you don not want to accept their offer, that is fine – no bargaining.
Samoa used to be a New Zealand’s territory, so the two countries still have some close ties, mostly when it comes to rugby and a significant number of Samoans living in New Zealand. People generally understand English, some speak better, some speak worse, but you can get around easily.
Itinerary – 7 days
7 days is pretty short, but when you are on one little island, it is just enough. Enough to relax, to get some sun and recharge your batteries. This was the ultimate goal of this trip – to chill out. We visited the main spots and stayed only on Upolu Island. The return tickets Auckland – Apia cost around 400NZD. Samoa is not as touristy as other pacific islands, so there was not a great choice of budget accommodation – prepare to pay some extra.
We arrived very late in the evening, at about 10-11pm, so we headed straight to the hostel Olivia’s Accommodation. This was the cheapest option by far (19NZD per night per person), and, as we all know, you get what you pay for – a bed, a cold shower, but some toast and coffee in the morning. The next morning we were off to pick up a rental car. After we had read some recommendations on TripAdvisor about aggressive dogs in the villages, we thought a car would be better than a scooter. The truth is that we encountered only one aggressive dog on the whole island…
The car at AA Rental cost us ~90NZD a day and you also have to purchase a temporary Samoan driving licence (another 20 tala – Samoan national currency). The roads are fine (for the island country) and there is almost no traffic. Downloading offline Google maps would be handy. Because we got the car on Sunday, it was even quieter – the best time to visit most popular attractions.
This is just a place to glance at, really. There might be some walks, but the place was unsigned. It was still awesome to see it in a distance… I wish it was sunny though, but every time we were in the highlands, it was cloudy and wet.
To Sua Ocean Trench
That was the highlight of the day! We drove there straight after the falls and got there at about 10am to beat the crowd! As we thought… It turned out it was closed (well, it was Sunday, we should have known better) and it opened only at 12:30pm (until 6pm). We had to come back later in the afternoon. The place still was not very crowded, so Sunday is a good day to go (not like I went there any other day 😀 ). The entry fee was around 20 tala each. It was lovely! But the stairs were dodgy – just take it slow and hold on to the stairs tight.
The water was actually super turquoise! Sadly, the sun was not shining when I was taking photos. There are some nice gardens around the trench. I was glad to see that people take good care of the place. The ocean view was quite breathtaking. We sat there for a while watching waves.
Taufua Beach Fales
To kill some time before To Sua opened, we drove to Taufua Beach Fales. What we were interested in was the beach 😀 They also have a cafe there, so we had some lunch and they let us use the beach. It was a beautiful white-sanded beach with clear warm water. It was not a great snorkeling spot through.
We also wanted to visit Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, but on Sunday it was closed 😀 It took us about an hour to get back to Apia. You can also get to these places by bus, but because we were planning on a bus ride the next day, we decided to take it easy.
This is when things got exciting! Namu’a Island is a little island offshore Upolu which offers beach fales and great snorkeling spots. The island is owned by a family from Mutiatele village. They look after the island very, very well! We stayed there for 3 nights and it was a great choice! Probably, not so great for people who like comfort and cannot survive without hot shower and wi-fi.
To get there from Apia we caught a bus to Lalomanu (just ask at the bus station). After 20 mins drive the bus stopped at the supermarket an everyone started to get off… As someone later explained – there was a supermarket, so we also got off and bought some supplies – 6 litre water and snacks. I would highly recommend to bring water with you. It took us about 2 hours and cost 20 tala (for 3 of us plus luggage). The ride was enjoyable – local remixes and open windows… real island vibe! Thankfully, no one was sitting on our knees 😀
The fales are basic – the roof and some base with waterproof “cloth” around it. They place the mattresses and mosquito net in there – beware of them at night! For us it was kind of adventurous to stay in a “wilderness”. There is no electricity, some cold showers and normal (flushing) toilets. There are also amazing views, coral reef, the sound of waves at night and no other tourists on the island – the experience to die for! Seriously, how lucky we were to be the only ones there at night (except for two dogs and a cat, and a family member that would come back later in the evening to be a “security”). Only during the day people would come around for a day tour and the last night two other people stayed in a fale next door.
The cost per person per night is 120 tala including breakfast and dinner. Alright, breakfast and dinner are served that of Samoan size, so they are very very filling. You would only want to snack for lunch. Dinners are quite early too, at about 5:30 pm, because family goes back to the village to have dinner. The food was basic – for breakfast bacon, eggs, bread with some deep fried egg plant, fruits, and coffee, while for dinner it would be grilled chicken or fish with some vegetables and rice or bread fruit. Simple and delicious! The owner joined us one breakfast and it was nice to have a chat about the island and how the things run around there. We asked them for some fresh coconuts one day, they arranged them for us for free 🙂
We had snorkeling gear with us because we knew this was a great spot. The coral reef goes around the beachy part of the island and it is best to do snorkeling later in the afternoon when it is high tided, otherwise you will be literally touching the corals with fins. Amazing snorkeling!
There is also a walk to the very top of the hill. The walk is very very steep, I slided down for a couple of times on my bum 😀 We spotted some big crabs, lizards and bats. There is also a view on to the other side of the island which is not protected by the coral reef. Simply beautiful!
And, of course, some stunning sunsets.
This is a perfect place for relaxation, for long sleeps, reading and enjoying the sun, water and nature. We also took Skip-Bo to keep us entertained 😀 Other things to take would be, of course, snorkeling gear, torch and mosquito spray. I am very surprised not many people stay there, but it is a must-visit place if you are heading to Samoa for some adventure! To book, you need to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Back to Apia
The check out was at 11:30am, so we stayed in Namu’a until then and got a boat ride back. We spotted a big turtle on the way, but if your are unbelievably lucky, you will spot it when snorkeling 😉 The bus goes back to Apia at around 12ish… remember, it is the “island time”, so it came at about 12:45 😀 2 hour ride back and then a walk to the hotel. We stayed for another two nights at Talofa Inn. More expensive, but we needed a good shower and some comfort. The breakfast here was so so good! Fresh fruits, an egg, oats, coconut-papaya mash, coffee and toasts… what else can you wish for?! It is located in the city centre and there is a supermarket right across the road – they sell nice smoothies and barista-made coffee!
Because we arrived very late in the afternoon, we just relaxed and went out for dinner. This is where Samoa would need to improve. There are almost no good places to go to. There is no cafe culture, so the only up-market restaurant that targets directly tourists is Paddles. Located on the waterfront, it is accessible by foot but hard to get a table just by walking-in – you really have to book in advance.
We could not really find any other places nearby, so we went to MacDonald’s 😀
Palolo Deep Marine Reserve
From the centre of Apia it is only 20-minute walk. The entry fee is 5 tala per person. There is snorkeling gear for hire. I would highly recommend to go there in the late afternoon because it is low tided from 6am – 12pm, and, as it tuned out, it was “unswimmable” in the morning. We were getting so close to the corals, it was hard to move around. Then at some stage I saw 3 sea snakes, which are shy creatures really, but if your body is just centimeters apart, this is freaky as!!! I really panicked and got out. Plus the poor state of the coral which was absolutely beautiful but damaged really badly suggested I should not have continued to damage it more.
So we just stayed there to do some sunbathing and reading.
Taumeasina Island Resort
On our last day we decided to treat ourselves and purchase a day pass at Taumeasina Island Resort. The pass is 40 tala per person which allows you to use the swimming pool, beach and kayaks, and the value of the pass (40 tala) can be spent towards drinks and food. What a great deal! For 3 of us we had 120 tala to spend, so we really enjoyed ourselves. If you spend more than the value of the pass, you will just have to pay the difference. The prices were very reasonable and there was a good selection and variety of food. They even have kids menu! We also got given towels and they stored our luggage because we were off in the evening.
The taxi to the resort from central Apia cost 10 tala, and the taxi to the airport 50 tala. It is cheaper than the hotel’s 75 tala trasfer. It takes 45 – 50 minutes to get to the airport, so it would be wise to go 1 hour or 30 min before the check-in opens.
Some final thoughts
One thing we missed was the sliding rocks near Apia. I am not a big fan of cold water, so I did not regret it 😀 Some other travellers said it was good fun!
The taxis are everywhere and they are very cheap. Within the city it is 5 tala, to the outskirts it is 10 tala. One driver offered us a ride to Mutiatele (where we caught a boat to Namu’a Island) for 50 tala! Coming to think about it now, for 3 of us it would be a bargain!
There are few ANZ ATMs around the town, with majority in the city centre. The exchange rate is pretty bad though, so it would be better to bring cash. Most places do not accept credits cards, and if they do, there is a surcharge.
A lot of places are closed on Sunday. The only supermarket that is opened 7 days a week is called Frankie.
Overall, it was a great island experience. Samoa is still quite “authentic” and is untouched by massive tourism. It is a very relaxing places with great temperatures at about 30°C during the day and 27 – 28°C during the night, warm and crystal clear water. If you are looking for some island escape, Samoa is the place to go.