This is the ninth blog post on our round the world trip August – November 2016. It covers our stay in Samoa.
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Samoa: a new country for us
Our taxi to the airport in Brisbane turned up on time at 4.45am. We had an uneventful flight to Auckland on Virgin Australia. After a wait of 4 hours we took another Virgin Australia flight to Apia, the capital of Samoa, arriving well after dark – there was a 4 hour time change. Most people on the plane were rather large Samoans. Fortunately we were not seated next to any of them. There was a musical reception committee at the airport which sounded very Hawaian.
Why Samoa? From our reading of the guidebook and online Samoa sounded like a very nice place. And so it turned out. It consists of several volcanic islands, but there are two main ones, Upolu and Savai’i. The capital Apia is on Upolu but Savai’i is actually larger. We decided to visit both.
The Samoans seem to have their priorities right. They have no military and spend heavily on health and education. We saw new hospitals and everyone spoke very good English as well as their own language. They seemed very happy people and I don’t think there is much crime.
The main airport is on almost the only bit of flat land 35km west of Apia. A procession of taxis headed to the town and we were soon at our hotel. A statue was standing guard on each side of the entrance.
We had chosen a hotel in the centre as we would not have a car for the next day. We had got some money from an ATM at the airport, but the taxi driver had no change and Martin had to go to a petrol station with him to get some (at 11.15pm).
In the morning we saw that the hotel was almost empty. Breakfast was a bit thin (fruit and toast with no jam) but the staff were very friendly.
We had a day exploring Apia. In the main market you could buy a papaya (our favourite fruit) for the equivalent of about 15p, and a very bright blue fish. There weren’t too many shoppers except some passengers from a cruise ship.
We had a very good panini lunch at the Milano cafe where the owner also told us about his restaurant called Paddles.
Robert Louis Stevenson lived just outside Apia for several years and in the afternoon we took a taxi to his house and museum which is in a beautiful botanic garden. We had to tell the taxi driver where it was.
We were shown round the house by student tour guides – several others there were anxious to get into conversation with us. All were wearing Samoan dress (long skirts and brightly coloured tops). Stevenson is buried on a nearby hilltop but it was too hot for the 45 minute steep climb up there.
In the evening we took another taxi to Paddles, which is by the harbour, and had an excellent meal. Nearly all the other customers were Europeans and a lady and her daughter from New Zealand gave us a lift back to the hotel.
Breakfast was a little better next morning after we just managed to stop them making French toast which neither of us likes. We were the only people eating there.
Our rental car was delivered to the hotel just after 9. There was plenty of paperwork, as is usual in developing countries. We had to buy Samoan driving licences and were told not to park under a coconut tree. We were going straight to Savai’i and the car rental company had booked the ferry for us.
On the way to the wharf at Mulifanua we got a sense of what Samoa looks like. The road seemed to be a continuous sequence of villages. The houses are brightly coloured and have a lot of open sided areas with small pillars all round. Every village seems to have a big church, with all kinds of Christian denominations represented.
There were plenty of fruit trees especially breadfruit and coconuts. Pigs were wandering around by the side of the road. Samoan buses are open-sided with no glass. They are painted in bright colours with names on the side with open sides. We saw more than one with the name “Poetry in Motion”.
The Lady Samoa III, another tub, was just arriving as we were. We needed guidance for driving on as the ramp was very steep. There were huge numbers of foot passengers, mostly fairly large. The one big lounge was fitted with rows of plastic seats. Everyone started watching an adventure movie on a large TV. The news came on after the movie and everybody suddenly went quiet when Obama started talking about Trump. The journey to Savai’i took just over an hour and the boat was rolling quite a bit.
Savai’i is almost a rectangle but with the south-west sliced off. The wharf is at the south-eastern corner. We drove north then west along the coast road in the north to Va-i-moana resort where we had booked half-board. The scenery was much the same as on Upolu except that we saw more lava fields. We were very glad we had bought some food in the supermarket in Apia as there was none on the way. We had to eat it in the car.
Va-i-Moana and the umu
When we arrived the owner took us immediately to watch the umu being prepared for Thursday’s special dinner. It was just luck that we were there on umu day. An umu is a ground oven where food is cooked in hot stones. We watched coconuts, breadfruit and pork being wrapped in taro leaves and laid down in the oven which was covered with more taro leaves.
After that we were installed in our fale, a Samoan thatched hut which had one double and two single beds with mosquito nets, and hibiscus flowers laid on the towels. The attached shower room was partly open to the sky. Many fales are totally opensided but we preferred a lockable room. We were glad it was also waterproofed as there were some heavy rainstorms while we were there.
The resort was ideal for a rest after so much travelling. Our fale was close to the sea and we had to watch out for falling coconuts on our way to dining area. There were several other dishes besides the umu food in the dinner buffet.
Music was provided by two guys with guitars, one playing a kind of double bass with only one string and an instrument which was tapped with 2 sticks and being played by the chef. The female resort staff performed some Samoan dances for us. The music was soft and rather swaying and there was a lot of arm movement in the dances. The dancers were smiling all the time and came round to hug all of the guests at the end. This was definitely a happy place.
Next day was a quiet rest with two good meals – dinner was a set menu this time. There was a big rainstorm in early evening. A lot more people had arrived.
Va-i-Moana and the palolo
Early next morning there was a lot of activity out on the reef. We discovered that our visit had coincided with the annual palolo event. The palolo are blue worms which only come out on the reef (for mating) on the 7th day after the full moon in October They are (apparently) a great delicacy and people come long distances to attempt to catch them. Everyone in the resort was offered a small amount on toast for breakfast. They taste like fish paste.
After breakfast we got into conversation with a group of friends from Apia who go to Va-i-moana every year for the palolo. They catch them in a very fine net and would be taking them back to Apia for their friends.
Later that day we drove east along the north coast to see a London Missionary Church which had been badly damaged by a flow of lava which filled the entire inside of the church. It was a Sunday and very quiet as everybody seemed to be at church. We eventually found lunch at another hotel and decided that we had made the right choice to stay at Va-i-moana. Dinner that day included lobster.
The palolo fishermen were out again the next morning but they didn’t catch any more.
Back to Upolu
We left in reasonable time to continue driving round Savai’i. The scenery stayed much the same with a lot of houses. We stopped to see some blowholes – the trail to them was measured in miles and so I wondered when they switched to the metric system. We also passed many more big churches.
There was a long queue at the ferry – and no food. The palolo fishermen were there and told us that most of the queue did not have a reservation and so we were sent ahead to drive on. The fishermen disappeared into a business class lounge which we had not realised existed. We sat on the plastic seats again. The TV was showing a rugby match. The only food for sale was pot noodles. Would lunch today be only the biscuits which we had with us?
We needed to get more cash and so went to the airport, which was nearby, for an ATM. The airport was deserted but we found a sandwich and sausage roll shop at the back.
No longer starving, we drove south down the west coast of Upolu. The terrain became more mountainous and the villages stopped. The road was steeper and turned into gravel. We had three maps which did not agree with each other about the extent of the gravel and began to wonder if we should turn back. Fortunately we met an American couple coming in the other direction in a car a bit like ours. They told us that we would be OK but would have to drive through a river. It was quite wide but only about 4 inches deep and we were soon back on a paved road which turned into a main road.
Our destination was Sa’Moana Resort which was 7km off the main road on a gravel road which had lumps of lava in it. It was very quiet when we got there. We were shown to a large newish chalet facing the beach in a very nice setting. There were more flowers on the towels and on the bed which was on a big bamboo frame.
The room was better equipped than Va-i-Moana with a fridge, kettle and some fruit. There was a modern loo and washbasin then another outdoor shower surrounded by lava walls. The owners had turned off the electricity – not very intelligently as they had also left milk in the fridge. Black tea today.
Dinner was not included and so we both ordered some fish called wahoo with salad and rice which was accompanied by some rather loud music. We watched one of the best sunsets we have ever seen.
In spite of all of this, Sa’Moana somehow did not seem alive after Va-i-moana. There were just a few other people staying there and very few staff.
We had one full and rather quiet day there. It was rather annoying to find we had to pay for coffee at breakfast. However the wifi was very good and so we caught up with paperwork. The lunch menu was the same as dinner but I wanted something lighter
and asked for an omelette which was on the breakfast menu. I was first told that I couldn’t have one because it wasn’t on the lunch menu, but after persisting I did get one. Dinner was rather nice masi masi fish. We then discovered that the fridge had not been plugged in – there was a pretty awful smell from some spilt milk.
Back to Apia
I did invest in the expensive cappuccino for breakfast next day and we managed to get away from a rather talkative guest by 8.30. Upolu is a long thin island but we missed out the eastern side and took the cross island road up the mountain, along a flat area at the top and back down to Apia. We had a brief stop at the Papapapai-tai waterfall.
It took a while to find the car rental office to return the car. We were finally shown to it by a taxi driver who obviously sensed business which he got by taking us to the small airport close to Apia for the flight to American Samoa.
Impressions of Samoa
If you want to go to a South Pacific island, I would definitely recommend Samoa. The
scenery is magnificent and the people are so friendly. Driving was easy. All the villages have names, but there are hardly any other road signs. But if you stick to the coast roads, (and you more or less have to because of the mountains), that’s not a problem.
We had good food in Apia and in the two resorts where we stayed, but there are very few places to get a meal outside hotels and no picnic tables. It’s not a good idea to set off without having some food with you – and do expect to have to eat it in the car.