Upolu Island, like Savai’i Island, is the epitome of tropical paradise.
Because Apia (the capital city) is located on this island, it is slightly more built up to the North. However, when you get out of Apia the island is very similar to Savai’i and remains quite untouched. There are plenty of beach fales and other accomodation options. So many, that the majority appeared to be quite empty.
We stayed at Sa’moana Beach Retreat on the South coast. It had been flattened by the cyclone last December and was still undergoing some repairs while we were there. That definitely did not affect our stay. It even meant less guests were staying there. Most of the time we were the only two there!
Each fale is set up on the beach, overlooking the coral lagoon with surf breaking on the outside.
The highlights of this place were the lava rock infinity pool and our lava bathroom.
Yep, that’s an open air bathroom, walled by lava rocks. We even had a resident crab that liked to steal soap. Cleanest crab in Samoa!
Many of the staff at Sa’moana were from Salumumu village, where the retreat is located. They were always happy to share their culture and show us how they make the most of their land, and their time.
They showed us their traditional umu (an above ground hungi).
To make the side dishes that go with the whole pig they cooked us, we needed to get the cream out of the coconuts. Ryan’s job was to scrape the coconuts.
Squeezing all of the cream out of a full basket of coconuts only provides about 300ml of coconut cream. It gave me an appreciation for canned coconut cream and huge respect for Samoan cooking.
We experienced an Ava (Samoan Kava) ceremony, in which there is a lot of yelling…
And some of the national representatives for Samoa in fire twirling came from that village. They showed us their amazing skills.
There came a time when we had to explore other parts of the island. Hiring a car for two days provided the best way to get around.
The saying “everything is slower in Samoa” proved especially true when we were waiting for our car. Half a day was lost, but did not affect our somewhat lazy plans. That was enough time to drive across to the North of the Island and explore the areas surrounding Apia.
Remembering that each village and sight charges around 5 tala for entry, we set off with enough small change to get us through.
First stop: Papapapai-Tai Waterfall
This 100m waterfall was spectacular to see from the platform (cliff edge) along the cross-island road. It was our first stop because it was on the way to Apia, and I loved saying the name repeatedly until we got there.
Second stop: Papaseea Sliding Rocks
The name tells the story. Rocks that have formed the shape of a slide. With various pools, you can make your way down these waterfalls by sliding on your bum!
The cyclone had moved some of the rocks around, making some areas a little bit shallow. It was fine for the fearless children who weigh the same as a feather. For us adult sized humans, we played it safe and only stuck to the first slide.
It was definitely a spot that would be great for a hot day with friends and a picnic.
If there’s one piece of advice I can give, it’s to have a proper map of Apia in order to find this activity. We didn’t, and it was actually a miracle we found it.
Third stop: Palolo Deep Marine Reserve
Being just on the outside of Apia Harbour, we were a bit apprehensive about snorkeling this marine reserve. However, it was meant to be amazing so we went anyway.
We arrived at exactly the same time as a thunder and lightening storm. Great! It didn’t look like it was going anywhere so we got in the water anyway.
The swim out is rather unimpressive. It’s just shallow with a weird seaweed bottom.
They tell you to swim to the white post, where the ocean floor drops off into a hole full of coral.
We swam, and swam and swam. Looking back at the land drifting further and further away, we began to wonder whether this thing actually existed. The further we went the closer the lightening was getting.
Turns out we didn’t look up early enough. We had gone past the white post and were heading out to sea after some other post. The one we were going to was actually quite close to the beach.
It pays to look up to where you want to go when snorkelling!!
We eventually found the hole. It was impressive in the sense that the weedy ocean floor had opened up randomly into a coral pit full of fishies. However, it was not any better than snorkeling the other reefs all around the island.
As we first dove down into the hole, a crack of thunder sounded right at the same time as an impressive lightening strike. We looked at each other wide eyed. I have never ever snorkeled back to land so fast in my life. My calves were actually hurting the next day!
We really didn’t get a good chance to properly explore the hole.
After a bit of a drive along the North coast, East of Apia we had a look around the town.
The week long Teuila (their national flower) Festival had just begun and the place was busy.
On the outer edge was the marina. We thought we would check it out and see if we could meet any cruisers. There were about 5 cruising boats berthed, but no cruisers in sight.
That called for a cocktail stop. “Cocktails on the rocks” seemed like the most appropriate choice. Well, that depends what you’re looking for. Turns out this was the place where the old crazy expats hang out. It was quite interesting listening to them carry on, but really left us wondering whether spending years on a tropical island is actually good for mental health!!
Day 2 saw us driving along the South Coast from West to East. We already had the car, so at least we didn’t have to wait!
I initially wanted to make our first stop at Togitigiga Waterfalls. However, our local fa’afafine looked at me weirdly when I told her and told me “that’s a gay pool”
I had read that the falls have beautiful swimming holes. Despite being nervous about perhaps causing offence by going there, I still though we might go check it out. We drove past the general area and couldn’t see the sign, so kept on going.
First stop: To Sua Ocean Trench
I had been looking forward to this since before even leaving Australia. This is one of those sights that made it onto the list of “places to see before you die.”
I’ve never seen a hole in the ground that is so inviting! It’s a long climb down into the turquoise water, but totally worth it. We made sure we were there at low tide, which meant we could dive through the cave on the side of the cliff and end up in the open ocean!! I could have spent all day playing around in there.
The grounds surrounding the trench are kept in pristine condition, with well kept amenities. There are fales for resting, reading and taking in the stunning view.
If we had not been overrun by a school group, we would have stayed for hours.
Second stop: lunch along the coast
Driving along the coast is a sight in itself. I can’t get over how lush this country is. The tropical green mountains falling straight down into the blue water, with a trim of black lava rock. It leaves me breathless just thinking about it.
There are so many beach retreats and fales along the coast that we decided to pick one randomly and have lunch at their restaurant. The view was the same no matter where we went. Or so we thought.
We ended up at a locally owned hotel/fale retreat. The menu consisted of whatever they were cooking that day, which was beef stir fry with a couple of sausages.
We later learned that we would have had more choice at our next destination (looking over a top 10 beach), but in hindsight I am happy we supported the locals. That part of the coast had been wiped out by the tsunami in 2009. We were told about how everything had been washed away. They had no warning, but when they saw the water draining out they knew to run up the mountain. It had taken them years to rebuild from the devastation.
Our final destination: Lalomanu Beach
This is the spot where we saw the most tourists out of anywhere in Samoa. I guess the fact that it has been rated one of the top 10 beaches of the world by Lonely Planet helps!
There are a number of resorts and restaurants along this beach, ranging across all budgets. We had already eaten, so settled with paying 30 tala to sit in one of the fales, read and frolic in the water. Yet again, there was a beautiful reef for snorkeling. It was yet another beach where we could just laze about.
But wait, there’s more
Although we only spent two out of our ten day stay actually exploring, there were many many more sights to see. Those that I would have loved to see are:
1. Lake Lanoto’o – a wild goldfish lake in a volcano crater. The goldfish were introduced by German settlers. It requires a 4WD to access and a 3-5 hour walk. We just didn’t have the time (whilst we had the car that is)
2. Piula Cave Pools – the name says it all. Beautiful natural pools and caves to explore. Had we gotten our hire car on time, this would not be on the “to do list”
3. Peapea cave – this was is up a 4 hour trail, which again we had no time for. It is a lava tube, which sounds similar to the dwarf cave we manage to see on Savai’i anyway.
4. All the other waterfalls of course!!
What did we do the other 8 days??
Surf, Kite, Kayak, Snorkel, Read, Relax.
In order to surf, you need to be at least an intermediate surfer to deal with the shallow reefs. Hence why I was the photographer.
Ryan was the first person, EVER, to kitesurf out the front of Sa’moana. It made him somewhat of a celebrity.
The kayak picture above is from the location where survivor Samoa 2008 was filmed.
I love all of the Pacific Islands I have been to, but these days, if anyone asks me where to go the answer is definitely Samoa!