Updated: Sep 13
Upolu and Savaii, the two main Samoan islands, are real gems. In our previous post, ' A culture of community', we focused on the people and culture of Samoa. This time around we try to present the natural beauty of the islands and the best spots to visit in Beautiful Samoa.
First though, we arrived in Samoa in the midst of an International Paddling regatta. The beach in front of Aggie Gray's hotel was covered in canoes and the town was full of athletic looking islanders.
There was plenty of drama for the spectators. The 'blue riband' event was saved as the last race: the Men's Open, over 24km. Coming back into the bay, a Tahitian led comfortably but, with just a few hundred metres left, he 'blew up'. As he struggled to complete the course, the Hawaii boat passed him, winning by a matter of seconds.
There are several interesting hikes on the islands. For the more adventurous, book a guide with the Samoan tourist board for a 3 day hike to the top of the highest volcano on Savaii, staying in Samoan villages along the route.
We were more conservative but still enjoyed a (rather muddy) hike to Lake Lanato'o, Upolu (see top picture, courtesy Susan, SV Freya).
On Savaii we hiked to the crater of Mount Matavanu. The trail to the crater rim was built by 'Da crater man' who, single-handedly, turned it into a tourist attraction. For 25 years, until 2019, he led almost 1000 guided tours to the rim. Unfortunately he is now sick and confined to his Fale (house) in the village at the base of the mountain. We paid him a visit to hear his stories. The opportunity to have his picture taken with Annick certainly seemed to cheer him up!
The hike itself could be either easy, medium or hard depending on the starting point. With a four wheel drive it is possible to get within 500m of the crater rim, leaving only a short stroll. Alternatively, you can drive/take a taxi along a bumpy track to within 3.5 km, leaving a 2-3 hour round trip hike. Finally, you could start from the last village and enjoy a 7hr, 18km round trip. We chose this option and enjoyed lovely views as the track took us inland past coconut and banana plantations followed by farm land used for grazing cattle. Although still passable, the final 500m of the hike has not been 'tended' since 2019 and is starting to get very overgrown in places.
Whilst we were on Savaii we also visited the lava fields created when Mount Matavanu erupted (1905-1911). They cover an area of around 50 km2 on the north part of the island. As well as several villages, the lava engulfed a London Missionary school
There is also the 'Virgin's Grave'. A chiefs daughter died young and was buried in one of the villages which was almost completely covered in lava. Except the Virgin's grave. The lava inexplicably flowed around both sides of the grave leaving it untouched - or so the story goes.
Savaii is also home to the Alofaaga blowholes. Lava flows have created a series of tubes connecting a flat clifftop of lava rock with the ocean below. Waves breaking against the lower end of the lava tubes send water at high pressure up through the tubes, creating fountains that spray every few seconds.
In order to visit Savaii, we left Skyfall in Apia, took the ferry and arranged accomodation on the island. Throughout Samoa there is the budget option of staying in tourist 'Fales' (houses), typically on the beach. More like a beach hut, the blinds come down to offer some privacy and you get a mattress and a mosquito net, all for about $20 per couple per night.
We chose to use a more up-market resort complete with air conditioning and swimming pool. Who says I never treat Annick! The sunsets from either were great.
Back on Utopu, perhaps the best known tourist attraction is the To Sua Ocean trench. The name “To Sua” literally means ‘big hole’ – it is an amazing place to take a swim or just to look at. The 30 metre deep sea water is accessible via a rather large ladder that is not for the faint hearted. Water flows into the deep holes through a lava tube tunnel.It is connected to the main sea nearby. As with many of the other natural tourist spots, the surrounding area and grounds are well kept, with small fales where visitors can relax or picnic.
There are multiple impressive waterfalls on both islands. On Upolu, we visited the highest:Papapapaitai, Sopo'aga and Fuipisia Waterfalls. However, although not so high, the nicest were surely Sauniatu Falls because we liked swimming in the pool below the falls.
Upolu also has a lava field on the coast and their is a coastal walk linking lava tubes. We had to try twice to do this as, the first time, the area had been closed off for filming of the 'Survivor' TV show. Second time around we got lucky. Lava, because of the way it cools, is typically much harden on the surface than below the 'crust'. This means that, once erosion penetrates the crust, the rock can erode quite quickly. As a result cliffs can be steep and there is often 'undercut' and arches. Having the black lava rock set against the white, foaming water as the waves rolled in was quite spectacular.
Whilst snorkelling, we had encountered colourful clams on many islands. But Samoa has Giant clams which are on a completely different scale. Around one metre across, these things supposedly weigh up to 200 kg. They are now endangered (people like to eat them) but there is a Giant Clam sanctuary on Upolu, which is where we saw them.
As on many islands, coconuts are everywhere. In Samoa the Coconut tree is refered to as the 'tree of life'. Roots have medicinal uses, trunks are used to build house, leaves are used for weaving baskets, dishes and as roof material. The liquid inside 'green coconuts' (still on trees) can be drunk in place of water. Once the coconut is brown and the flesh has thickened, the flesh can be dried and becomes 'cupra', which is squeezed to make coconut oil. Alternatively the flesh can be grated and squeezed to make coconut milk, which is the basis for most traditional Samoan dishes.
We also liked Samoa because we rediscovered the pleasure of frequenting bars and restaurants. After three months in French Polynesia where restaurants were either non-existent or too expensive, it was great to find multiple restaurants and cafes within budget. Traditionally, sailors frequented Aggie Greys, a hotel in a prominent position on the front. But it has been bought up by the Sheraton chain and is undergoing refurbishment. When it emerges from beneath the shroud of scaffolding, I doubt it will be catering for cruisers. Fortunately multipe restaurants, cafes and bars have sprung up in the last ten years. We are told this is due to Samoans returning from periods in Oz and New Zealand, demanding something better. The nicest restaurant by far was Paddles. I do not think we have eaten so well since we left Galicia. We also found the Nourish cafe with nice cakes and excellent cappuchino. Annick was in heaven!
Now our time here is over and it is time to move on to Tonga. We have really enjoyed our time. There is probably no better way to sum up the country than to use the slogan adopted to 'market' it: Beautiful Samoa