|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Sheer beauty, so pure it is difficult to breathe in
The volcanic islands of Samoa lie halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand and just to the west of American Samoa. In Samoa there is a constitutional monarch—currently His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili.
Samoa is a postcard of natural beauty consisting of ten islands, each offering very distinct and different environments to explore. From the rain forest covered rugged volcanic mountain peaks of the two main islands to the vast valleys leading down to a coastline ringed with a necklace of white sandy beaches.
Within these lush green fertile valleys, grow banyan trees towering above the rain forest canopy which is full of tropical blooms and numerous varieties of vegetation. Cascading waterfalls drop into rivers that cut jagged lines through the valley floor as they make their way to the ocean.
The coastline is a wonder in itself, with sparkling white sand beaches, in some places stretching for miles, and here and there are walls of sheer cliffs that drop straight into the Pacific. And beyond the beaches out into the blue lagoons are scattered the rest of the islands that make up the Samoa archipelago, some inhabited, others with only natures wildlife, protected by the fringing coral reef that keep the powerful force of the Pacific Ocean at bay.
And among all this natural beauty and picturesque valleys and coastline you will find nu’u or villages with their churches, meeting houses and open fale or homes encircling the malae or village green. Home to people proud of their strong Fa’a Samoa - cultural heritage, that live along side these natural wonders. For it’s the people, culture and nature that give life to these islands.
One of the best remaining rain forests is O Le Pupu-Pue National Park on Upolu, which runs from the southern coast up into the mountainous interior of the island. One very special rain forest on Savai'i is the low-lying tropical Falealupo Rain forest Reserve in the northwest of the island. This serene piece of paradise truly reminds you of what Adam and Eve must have lived like. The highlight of the preserve is a treetop canopy walkway built about 40 meters above the ground among giant Banyan tree.
Take the scenic walk through lush rain forest up to the top of Mt Vaea where the famous Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson rests in peace – the views over Apia and bay are simply stunning. In the village of Vailima, at the bottom of the track, you’ll find the beautifully restored colonial homestead the TB-ridden Stevenson and his family lived in for the five years prior to his death. Known to the Samoans as Tusitala or teller of tales, the author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Treasure Island fame became intensely involved in the lives of the local folk and their plight to retain their cultural identity.
Samoa is hot and humid most of the year although the edge is taken off by the southeasterly trade winds blowing from April to October and intermittently in between. The wet season is between November and April, and the dry season between May and October. Independent Samoa lies in the cyclone belt and is periodically buffeted and bruised by cyclones, especially in the months between November and April.
The Samoans believe themselves to be the cradle of Polynesian culture, a race of people created by the God Tagaloa while he was cooking up the world. In fact the Samoan legend of the beginning of the world is startlingly similar to that told in Genesis. The Samoan language is spoken at home, but most residents also speak English. Tattooing is a significant rite and at the age of 12 or 13 Samoan males go to the tufuga (tattooist) and get tattooed from waist to knee.
The fa'a Samoa, or traditional Samoan way, remains a strong force in Samoan life and politics. Despite centuries of European influence, Samoa maintains its historical customs, social and political systems, and language. Fa’a Samoa has three key elements – the matai (chiefs), aiga,( the extended family) and the church.
Matai are the heads of the extended family unit and their role is very complex covering family, civic and political duties in the village. The aiga is made up of parents, siblings, children, grandparents, cousins, nephews and nieces all living together within the village.
As the sun rises in the east, young men are paddling their canoes out in the lagoon to catch fish, while others have gone into the plantations to cultivate and harvest what is needed for the daily meals. The bounty of the ocean provides crayfish, snapper, masimasi, octopus, tuna and more, caught that morning and served that evening.
Food in Samoa derives mainly from tropical crops and root vegetables such as yams and taro. Samoan food is not heavily spiced and in the villages is still cooked on fale where the umu(earth oven of hot stones) is laid. Food is wrapped in banana leaves with freshly made coconut cream poured over, pork and chickens are cooked whole, and tucked in the gaps are taro and green bananas ready for baking, and octopus in coconut cream placed in half coconut shells.
Once the stones are red hot and the food placed on them, banana leaves are placed all over the food to seal in the heat and two hours later the umu is lifted, the piping hot food is served, no artificial flavors and additives used here. Delicacies on the Samoan menu include palusami (young taro leaves baked in coconut cream) and oka, (raw fish in coconut cream), both are must try dishes on any holiday.
The main island in Western Samoa is Upolu with its mountains, traditional villages and gorgeous beaches along the entire southern coastline, and refreshing waterfalls in the interior, exploring Upolu is easy.
The capital of Samoa, Apia, sits in the heart of the north coast of Upolu and is a charming town overlooking the harbor and tropical hills. One of Apia's traditions is its early morning Police Band parade and flag raising ceremony at the government buildings when all traffic and anything else moving comes to a momentary stop.
Markets are great places to meet the locals and buy fresh produce and Apia boasts three, along with a flea market. Nightlife in Apia is thriving with lots of atmospheric fine dining restaurants and good drinking holes.
The north east coast of Upolu between Falealo Airport and Apia Town is the most densely populated region in Samoa with an almost endless parade of villages lining the coastal road. Here you’ll find traditional village life, but no tourist accommodation ... Samoans only.
The south east coast of Upolu is one of the most popular tourist locations for its numerous gorgeous beach settings, excellent swimming and snorkeling and razor sharp mountain views. There are also four uninhabited offshore islands with protected bird sanctuaries and rich in marine life.
In the heart of the south coast there's a selection of remote and wild beaches, excellent surfing and waterfalls in tropical forest parks. Off the coast is Nuusafee Island, a tiny deserted coral atoll a deserted atoll looking much like the romantic idea of a South Pacific Island with a beautiful secluded beach.
O le Pupu-Pue National Park has several lovely hiking trails that meander inland through the forest and towards the coast through low-lying vegetation and leading to more secluded beaches. The lovely setting at the Togitogiga waterfall where several small falls run into deep pools and are excellent for jumping into.
The road along the north east coast of Upolu meanders around bays and over ridges, hugging the mountainous coastline. The valleys and waterfalls in this region are spectacular and there are several nice beaches and beach fales and a few small villages. Off the main road is the spectacular and remote region of Fagaloa Bay with secluded valleys and very traditional villages - the ideal place to immerse you into the local culture.
From Piula travel inland to the picturesque Falefa Falls and then on to the village of Uafato, the home of Samoan wood carvers. The main highway by-passes this wonderful remote area and heads inland weaving up the mountains and over La Mafa Pass and the highway rejoins the coast at the south-eastern point of Upolu. This stretch of coast is very traditional with pretty seaside villages, steep mountains and views of the four uninhabited Aleipata Islands which sit a few miles offshore.
The Aleipata Islands is a group of four uninhabited islands. Nu'utele Island consists of volcanic tuff ring and is the largest of the four islands. Together with Nu'ulua, a smaller isle in the Aleipata group, the two areas are significant conservation areas for native species of bird life. Ownership of both islands rests with customary chiefly titles in the villages of Aleipata.
Namua and Fanuatapu are at the outer edge of the fringing reef of Upolu, declared as a “Marine Protected Area”, both islands are accessible from the lagoon. There is a lighthouse on Fanuatapu and only Namua is open to the public, a 10 minute boat ride from Upolu and has beach fale accommodation.
On the south-eastern tip of Upolu facing Nuutele Island is the picturesque beach at Lalomanu in a truly spectacular setting with stunning mountains, offshore islands and fine white sands. The coast between Lalomanu and Saleapaga is one of the most scenic in Samoa with views of the razor-back mountain ridges and of secluded wild beaches.
The south west coast of Upolu has a few small traditional fishing villages off the main road which are great places to experience traditional Samoan life. At Saanapu, there's a peaceful board walk across protected mangrove beaches and snorkeling lagoons. This coast is inaccessible by road except for one small track to Salamumu Village and offers a truly pristine beach environment.
The largest island is neighboring Savai'i, an hour by ferry from the west tip of Upolu, or a 20 minute flight from Apia. Savai’I is the last place in the world to see the sunset each day, and what a sunset it is!! Savai'i has an even more traditional village society and has some beautiful natural attractions including blowholes, virgin forests canopy walks, waterfalls and lava fields making this a geologists haven. On Savai'i, you’ll get a true insight into the traditional Samoan way of life.
The south coast has few villages and lots of open space. There's a nice beach at Satuiatua, the tapa cloth making village, and a little further along the coast is the "must-see" Alofaaga blowholes and coastal walk. The greatest attraction of the region is the Tafua Peninsula to the south of town with its huge accessible crater and splendid wild coastal views.
On the south-western side of the peninsula is the lovely Ananoa Beach with its excellent offshore surfing and a few miles on is the turn off for AfuAau Waterfall. This refreshing waterfall plummets from virgin forest into a deep natural and fresh swimming pool.
The east coast of Savaii is the most developed stretch with some lovely traditional villages, extraordinarily large churches, and several picturesque beaches and snorkeling lagoons.
The north east coast of Savaii has the regions most varied landscapes with fine white sand beaches at Manase and Lelepa and the dominating Saleaula Lava Fields to the south. Here you can walk over the black lava fields and visit the old village of Saleaula with its lava filled church relics and interesting legends.
Beyond Manase is the quaint village of Safua with its huge dominating church and further on another huge lava field has made the coast inaccessible.
At the very western tip of Savai'i is one of the most scenic areas of the island. Falealupo Rain forest Preserve is a natural low lying tropical forest with peaceful trails and an amazing canopy walkway between two huge banyan trees with breath taking views overlooking the forest below.
The Alofaaga Blowholes at Taga are one of the great sites in Samoa with plumes of water up to 30 meters high and wild coastal walks. To the west of Taga is more wild and windswept coastline with some great coastal views and the Nu’u black sand beach.
Between the two main islands are two smaller islands. Apolima is a collapsed volcano crater with a rugged coast and steep cliffs. There is just one small village of 60 people and access to the island is extremely difficult.
Manono Island takes 20 minutes by local ferry from the Manono-uta wharf. Manono is a small volcanic island, just 3 sq. km in size with four small villages and about 1000 residents. The island is the most laid back in all Samoa, with no cars, no dogs, a few small shops and one beautiful traditional accommodation.
It takes a leisurely two hours to walk around the Manono Island coastal track, passing several palm fringed beaches and you will pass all four villages in the process. On the way you can stop for a swim or snorkel in the marine-protected lagoon. Inland there are tracks leading up to archaeological sites. At Lepuiai Village there are the Grave of 99 Stones, each stone represents one of the wives of the great chief Vaovasa.
On the far side of Manono, at the village of Apai is one of the most stunning views in Samoa - from here you can look down the coast of Manono across to the tiny island of Nuulopa, silhouetted against the larger Apolima Island which is silhouetted by the even larger Savaii Island and its high mountain peaks.
The islands greatest attraction is its simple lifestyle and the opportunity to interact with the locals and learn about their life of planting, weaving, fishing and kicking back.
Sunday on Manono is extremely quiet and most activities are restricted due to religious beliefs. The only thing you'll be able to do is to walk to church and back again - not that there's a great much more to do on this truly laid back island in any case.
By now you must be totally in love with Samoa, her islands and her people. Living here among such friendly, kind people you will be able to completely unwind from the stresses of the modern world and immerse yourself into island living.