OUR TRAVELS ~ UPOLU, SAMOA
For those who enjoy immersive island holidays with some soft adventure thrown in and a culture that is very much alive, Samoa should be on your radar. We were recently lucky enough to visit this little South Pacific nation, and experience island life at its most enchanting.
Located halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean, Samoa consists of 10 islands but embracing the art of slow travel, we opted to stay on Upolu, home of the capital city Apia, and really enjoy all the island had to offer.
From the lush jungle landscape, rich culture, laidback lifestyle, miles of deserted beaches and the opportunity to meet and interact with the local community and experience Fa’a Samoa [The Samoan Way] this Polynesian haven has it all.
Here are our tips for tribes wanting to experience Samoa and all of its hidden gems:
Although you can easily book guided tours of the island, we opted to hire a car and take our time exploring Upolu ourselves.
Car hire is affordable and it’s easy and safe to get around so we’d have no qualms about driving the island with the kids in tow. A lot of the streets aren’t really signed so its best switch to island time, go with the flow and not worry if you take a detour – or two.
The natural beauty of the island is staggering and we loved looking out the window, waving to beaming barefoot children, watching pigs, chickens and hermit crabs dart along the road and seeing the colourful public buses rammed with locals make their way along the jagged coastline.
We stopped to purchase fruit from road side stalls, chat with local families, lounge in fales on the beach and take a dip in the deserted blue lagoons while listening to cheesy 90s reggae tunes.
Located on the South East Coast of Upolu, a long lazy day on Lalomanu is a must!
The water is a brilliant shade of blue and you’ll find the Taufua Beach Fales and a casual café/restaurant right on the sand where you can eat sashimi and Hawaiian poke, drink Vailima beer and listen to reggae before snorkeling and swimming in the blue lagoon. It’s a perfect spot for kids - nice and chilled with the right amount of atmosphere - and adults alike.
To Sua Ocean Trench
To Sua is known as the world’s most magical swimming hole – for good reason. Located in the village of Lotofaga, the 98-foot deep waterhole was formed when volcanoes erupted on the island and much of the ground fell away. The images of To Sua were what drew us to Samoa in the first place and it is truly was more magical than the images we’d seen suggested.
Once you pay your 20 WST [10AUD] at a modest office, you can admire the beauty of To Sua from above or, like us, climb down the steep, slippery ladder – I’d seriously advise against this with tiny little kids as it dangerous - and dive into the turquoise water from a timber viewing platform.
The tidal surge can be strong so there’s a rope through the middle of the trench you can hold as you float on your back and admire the view. It truly was one of the most beautiful things we’ve done.
You can swim through the hidden underwater tunnels out to the Pacific Ocean but the local boys had kindly informed us that the last tourists who attempted it didn’t come out. Needless to say, we gave that a miss.
The waterfalls are one of many natural attractions on Upolu but if you only see a couple, put this hidden gem at the top of your list.
The entrance is in a local family’s front yard just off the Pass Road. We paid our host our 10 WST [5 AU] and walked five minutes along a muddy jungle track and through a flowing creek to a 55m high cascading waterfall.
A path to the right leads to the swimming hole and rapids at the top of the falls - if you’re brave enough to take a dip, which is probably not a great idea with the kids in tow.
Papase’ea Sliding Rocks
A trip to this natural waterslide is the best $2.50 [AU] you’ll ever spend. We had a fun few hours with a bunch of local kids taking on the small and larger – YIKES – rock slides. Papase’ea, located at Seesee in Faleata District, is an easy drive from Apia town.
Piula Cave Pool
This tranquil little oasis, located in the village of Lufilufi, was a very welcome relief from the heat on balmy day. A crystal clear freshwater spring pool, which originated from an old lava tube, Piula is safe for little ones and you can explore the underwater cave that connects to a second cave if you’re feeling adventurous.
Other sites worth a visit include: Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson’s sprawling homestead, the bustling local market, Marketi Fou and the Samoa Cultural Village.
In Samoa, most land and areas within a lagoon or bay is the property of a village or family so you have to ask permission to visit and often pay a small fee. If you can’t see anyone when you arrive, they will most likely pop up out of nowhere and ask for a modest entry fee. Don’t stress!
Owned and run by village Matai Joe Annandale, and his sister Sose, Sinalei is the ideal combination of luxury and traditional Samoan architecture and hospitality. We highly recommend Sinalei however if you’re travelling with kids 12 and under, you will have to look elsewhere. Our tip is to leave the kids with the hubby and pop into Sinalei’s Tui-I-Lagi spa for a treatment. It’s located right over the water so you can hear the waves lapping at the rocks directly below you. Bliss.
Next door, Coconuts Beach Club Resort and Spa is family friendly and offers Samoan-inspired accommodation. Like Sinalei, there are no high-rises, no phones and no televisions, so you can connect as a family and enjoy the natural attributes of the island.
For a super casual option, the Taufua Beach Fales on Lalomanu Beach are located right on the sand and the tariff includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Sinalei adopts a farm and ocean-to-plate philosophy of ‘fresh local and honest’ when it comes to food. Their waterfront restaurant Ava I Toga serves local dishes like Masi Masi Samoa [fresh fish wrapped with banana leaf, seasoned with coconut cream, lemongrass, ginger, fresh chilli, tomato and lemon basil] and Oka [raw fish in lemon juice and coconut cream].
A close Samoan/Australian friend of ours, Stevie Moors also shared her fave restaurants with us prior to our trip.
Try Bistro Tatau, Nourish Cafe for healthy vegetarian food, Home Café, Le Petite Café, Paddles and Giordano’s for Italian fare.
Samoa is little pricey and tricky to get to compared with other destinations like Hawaii. We flew from Brisbane International Airport to Upolu’s Faleolo International Airport with a stop in Nadi, Fiji, with Fiji Airways. Air New Zealand also flies to Samoa from most capital cities.