This month, Samoa Planet marks one year since our official launch in Oct 2016. It’s been an exciting year (with many lessons learnt!) and many great stories shared with our growing international audience of readers. We look back over some of the story highlights from our exceptional contributors and writers, and celebrate what makes Samoa Planet special. Thanks for supporting us and we look forward to another fabulous year.
There is something about the wailing sound of a conch shell in the evening that soothes me. The local village curfew occasionally I have heard described by some as a bit intimidating, but in actual fact it is just a protection of time of prayer in the village and is far from hostile. To me it is a reminder of a sense of community and tradition. An age old practice of Taulealea (young untitled men) along side Matai (Village chiefs) honouring a decision made in a village council, to protect a time of prayer for the entire village. A silence often cloaks the village at this time with scattered choruses of various hymns drifting from different homes, is actually quite hypnotizing. I enjoy seeing all the village men out in uniform, some holding a large impressive conch shell while some ironically are texting on their phones or chatting lazily with each other.
The evenings in Savaii are the best. If you have nothing else to do…go for a walk or a drive through the villages and smell the air of a simple and relaxed life! Even their “town” Salelologa shuts down after 4pm and if you are after a bustling city experience – Savaii is not the place to come.
Often as the heat of the suns rays disappear, people venture outside to enjoy family and village time. The older women you will see weeding in front of their gardens, meticulously pulling even small shreds of grass growing along side the road which threaten to spoil a well fringed and plotted colourful garden. The village youth are often out playing Volley or rugby. Anywhere from a handful to an army (sometimes >20 ) of people per team. You will often see them laughing away, cheering, jeering and if they catch you staring don’t be surprised to get a big “HALLO” or if you’re unlucky like me, a mistaken “HI PALAGI!”
On the hottest of days, a swim at Savaii’s Afuaau waterfall is a must. When I was first introduced to this wonderful secret of Mother Nature, we had to take a 4WD through a plantation. This included crossing a river, then you had to get out and walk the rest of the way through knee-high grass with the odd munching cow watching you lazily. You had to dodge hidden mini mountains of cow dung. At the end of this hike the earth cracks open and there is an opening in the ground revealing a river, turning into a waterfall with a perfect natural swimming pool at the base surrounded on either side with nature’s foliage, tropical ferns and the caked earth of a valley. One had to be courageous enough to climb down a rickety rope ladder if you wanted to get to the bottom but upon arrival, the cool mist of the crashing waterfall and absolutely clear and beautiful water is magical.
Nowadays, the long walk experience has been replaced by a road that the villagers have carved out alongside the river, that allows access to the swimming hole a lot easier now by car, and they’ve even constructed a few small changing fales and bathrooms. Though every heavy rainy season these appear to be washed away by sporadic raised levels of water and the villagers are quick to make amends and reconstruct something effortlessly again.
If wind and rain threaten to spoil your idea of sunbaking, these are actually ideal conditions to head out to the famous Taga Blowholes. If you ever have the privilege of meeting our local geologist Warren Jopling, he will enthusiastically tell you that there is nothing else like them in the world. And he has travelled quite a bit! He will tell you there are other Pacific islands with blow holes but he has seen them all and they are pathetic compared to the force of Taga. And a force indeed it is. Jetstreams of seawater will fire out to maybe the height of a 2 or 3 storey building or more (don’t know- has anyone measured??) and a local villager is usually on standby to throw a timely coconut in for a price. I wouldn’t get too close to the openings in the lava though as there are a few and one never knows exactly which way it will blow. Best not spoil your hairdo or lose your hat to put it mildly!
Although you can circle the entire island in a day, my advice would be not to. Remember that Savaii is the largest of our Samoan islands so it really is a disservice to fly around the island and take pictures out of your car without really appreciating all the Savaii is and has! Having lived in Savaii for several years now I have carved out my favorite places and things to do going in either direction. There is only one main road going right round the island so you will either go left or right and whichever way, there is a treasure hunt in store. The southern side of Savaii is known to some as the iron coast. This is because much of the coast is lined with cliffs of lava that drop off into the great Pacific ocean. Most Samoans will have heard of Lover’s Leap, a picturesque spot where legend tells of a shark and a turtle and their previous human forms.
This coast is also known as the Surf Coast, and if you are a keen surfer, Keith and Lanu of Aganoa surf resort are a wealth of knowledge and the go-to people if you want a true Savaiian surf experience. Keith is an avid surfer whose sons have all taken after him and have represented Samoa now in many international surf competitions! Of interest, they have a son named “Hurricane” who was born amidst the wrath of one of Samoa’s great hurricanes, an interesting name with a cool story behind it.
Satuiatua Beach fales is the only beach fale along this coast and Phila and her gang there, run a top notch operation. They have bigger then normal fales set amongst lovely huge shaded trees and run a scrumptious popular restaurant. Always a favorite stop when we are down this way and the kids love their long shady swings under the pulu trees overlooking the ocean!
Heading up north, you hit Manase and this is our Sunshine coast. This is the Hawaii of Savaii with multiple choices of places to stay and explore . Certainly no high rise fancy resort community – one must not forget that 90% of the accommodation operators in Savaii are locally run and owned. So literally almost every hotel/beach fale will have their owners living right there on site or across the road and their properties are more an extension of their Samoan sitting rooms. The beaches up Fagamalo and Manase are white and long. The water is clear and the turtles are frequent. There are several pretty inexpensive beach fale operators to chose from who vary a little in choice of room style but all dish up the same happy Samoan hospitality.
There are a few more upmarket choices as well, and Lelagoto is one of Savaii’s best, built lovingly through the hard work of local owners Kuki and Sara Retzlaff. Many years ago my parents brought our family out here and at the time, this was a small beach accommodation operation of a few simple fales and a very busy couple doing everything as usual (as we do in Samoa- owner/driver/tour-guide/cook and cleaner might be all the same person, but let’s call them managing director instead). From their simple beginnings, a now grand and glorious Lelagoto stands. Rooms are all Samoan themed and airy and their restaurant has an impressive roof and layout. Across the road their daughter runs Leilanis pizza which serves thin crust scrumptious pizza unlike any other in Samoa. If you are a carbs person like me then do try their garlic knots which are awesome and I could eat a basket all by myself for lunch (shhh).
Although a little way further, the absolute farthest corner of Savaii will not disappoint. All Samoans will tell you that our “Sunset” coast is the one with most history. From old towns and wharves and ports to a significant number of myths and legends. Falealupo Canopy walk is always an adventure and an awesome view is afforded at the top of a climb up the banyon treetops.
My favourite places on this side of the island are several. There’s Vaimoana Lodge, reborn of an old ‘camp’ which housed staff of an old Mill owned and operated by the Vaai Family. Although there are lots of “old” remnants of things on this coast Vaimoana is actually pretty young. Its resurrection by owners Sale and Rosie Vaai, is a testament of love and the atmosphere is relaxing and rejuvenating. From a lovely beach and deck, to a choice of various accommodation, and a lively restaurant and bar, the staff here are often smiling and humming and its almost as if the speckles of sun on the ocean reflect into them giving them a twinkle in their eye (I know huh but seriously, go there and you will see). Nothing is too much trouble and people just want you to sit back relax and enjoy. There is something about string bands that make me feel like I am in someone’s fale, amongst cousins and uncles and we are all just having a serenade into the night! If you are lucky and Sale is on the floor, ask him to break out the ukulele. This place is particularly good for food and APTC trained cooks are in the kitchen so you will be looked after.
Just around the corner, is Vaimoana’s cousin – Vaisala Hotel. Vaisala is one of Savaii’s oldest and has probably seen finer days building wise, but this place has a rustic charm which is perfect just the way it is. Their beach is one of the grandest in Samoa and is a photographer’s dream. When I’m there, I can’t help but feel like I am on the set of a grand old movie set in the islands. Self-contained rooms. A good restaurant, and sand and beach galore. Fair to say, that being the furthest from town, all you will hear in the early morning is the distant crash of surf, the humming of birds and the sound of relaxation. Bring a book and be prepared to turn off your busy switch when you get here because this place is about recharging.
When you head back into town, don’t forget your bucket list. Matavanu crater is the unimpressive perpetrator of the early 1900’s Volcanic eruption in Savaii spanning most of Saleaula. Its base has now sprung with a tropical carpet of wildlife and to get to the top you will need a 4wd and some sturdy shoes. Mr Craterman is a well known funky caretaker of this place and if you’ve come from a place he hasn’t heard of yet, he may just spring a sign up and ask you which direction. A good friend of mine returned absolutely ecstatic- “he’s put a sign up for IRAQ!” (her homeland) she exclaimed excitedly “I don’t know if it’s pointing the right way though!”
There are a few more lava tubes to explore along the drive and Paia Dwarves Cave, Letui Peapea Cave and the recently opened Aopo Cave (a leisurely walk through an old mahogany plantation to get to a large seemingly endless lavatube) – are all excellent places to stop by offering different experiences.
If you need to spend a night close to the wharf, then I would highly recommend both Amoa Resort and Savaiian Hotel. Amoa you may have heard of, was previously Siufaga. New name and new makeup (very nice!) same owners ,same charm. Beautifully upgraded earlier this year, Amoa offers fine dining with traditional fare that has people raving. The blue lagoon across the road has been the spot of many photo shoots and many images of Samoa publicized on overseas marketing adds are set in this very lagoon. I don’t need to tell you that they will look after you because Lis the manager and her team thrive on just that, looking after you. Go there. You won’t be disappointed.
At the Savaiian you will find local charm of local people just happy to host and help you out. Built over 20 yrs ago by Englishman Roger and Samoan Wife Ama – another labour of love like many in Savaii. Originally 10 rooms and now 15, it has a popular local restaurant with very reasonable prices, making it a popular spot to grab a bite before departing Savaii. There’s a pool and spectacular views of Upolu and Manono and Savaii islands are afforded here. This side of the island, is aptly known as the Sunrise Coast. Nothing like a glorious sunrise to remind you that you are in Paradise.
All in All- Savaii is the forgotten part of “Samoa” that winds at its own pace. Local people go about their merry business which mostly revolves around community and tradition and the Fa’asamoa is truly evident and upheld here. It’s not your Fiji or Cook Islands and that’s evident in the relaxed way that people go about their business. But when you come to Savaii, come to do as Savaiians and just plan to take your shoes off, put your feet in the water and let the grains of sand run through your toes. Soak up the sun, the laughter, the smell of umu on a Sunday morning and let the people give you hospitality in the way that Samoans do. With a toothy grin. Explore, adventure, and nature’s finest are easily accessed here and rent a car or book a tour with a local guide to ensure you get to see all and everything that Savaii holds. We like to say on our Big Island, you have not been to Samoa, until you have been to Savaii.
This was originally published on Samoa Planet, November 2016.