With a 3 hour direct daily flight from Auckland and their time zone just 1 hour ahead, Samoa has proven to be a fantastic holiday destination for our family (with children aged 8 and 10). Our 12 days away was a mixture of time in Apia, Lalomanu Beach on the northern coast of Upolu and a few days on the larger, but less populated island, of Savai’i.
Arriving into Apia, you’re around 45 minutes from the city centre which is quite compact with food and goods markets and a few interesting buildings to look at. We visited Robert Louis Stevensons house and gardens which sit on the hill above the city centre, Villa Vailima and this is well worth a visit. Tourists can also enjoy local fire dancing shows with a dinner, or visit the Samoan Cultural Village. We also visited the Papase’ea Sliding Rocks which were a wonderful to cool off and have fun whilst here. These beautiful fresh waterfalls, flowing over smooth rocks which you can slide down, are fun for all the family and just 10 minutes from the centre of Apia. There are some great local restaurants in Apia, ask your resort or a local for recommendations. We ate at a great Chinese restaurant which I would have driven straight past if we hadn’t known about it!
You’ll notice very quickly how many churches there are on this island nation. Christianity is a huge part of life here and is especially obvious on Sundays. Unless you’re planning on spending your whole time in a resort, then Sundays are a day of rest. Village life is very quiet with everyone at church in the morning, returning home for lunch together and then it is nap time. Almost no shops or cafes are open on Sundays until around mid-afternoon, at the earliest. Most places will be closed for the whole day. If you are planning on exploring outside of a resort whilst here, then it is recommended that you dress conservatively out of respect; eg. t-shirts and longer shorts/skirts/sarongs rather than singlets and shorts. To attend a local church service, you must have your shoulders and knees covered at a minimum.
From Apia, we headed northeast to Lalomanu, arguably the best beach on Upolu. It is around a1.5- 2 hour drive, as island time is real! Driving is easy, albeit slow. Even in our winter, their dry season, I’d recommend something not too small (we had a Toyota Hilux) as just a night of heavy rain left us with two ford crossings on the main road of Savai’i! Or if you don’t plan to move about or explore much, then resorts can always organise transfers or a taxi for you. Of the two main roads which can lead to Lalomanu, you can easily include stops at waterfalls, scenic coastal walks, or detour to visit To Sua Ocean Trench. Both the beach locations we stayed at, had reefs a good distance off the beach which meant that the swimming from the beach was wonderfully calm and safe. We never had to worry about our two children being in the water; and the water temperature is incredible. Our children only left it in order to eat 🙂
At Lalomanu, we stayed at the Taufua Beach Fales, a 2-3 star property with a mixture of simple fales right on the beach to air-conditioned units just across the road. Breakfast and dinner is included here and was excellent. We never went hungry.
From Lalomanu, we stopped back to visit family in Apia, before heading across to the island of Savai’i. The ferry terminal is around another 10 minutes past the airport and the ferries go every hour and take an hour (slightly less often on Sundays). If you’re taking a car, then this has to be pre-booked but foot passengers can only buy tickets when they go on sale 1 hour prior to the ferry departing. We took our car across, and headed straight up to our next stop which was the Savai’i Lagoon Resort on the northeastern side of the island. It was around a 40 minute drive from the ferry terminal. If we thought Upolu was quiet, than Savai’i feels even more remote. Both islands are incredibly green and lush with stunningly bright flowers and houses lining the main road around each island.
Arriving at Savai’i Lagoon Resort took our breath away. It is a very tidy 3 star property with air-conditioning. It is owned by a Kiwi/Samoan couple who are very hands on and available for anything you need to know. It shares a beautiful golden sandy beach with Le Lagoto, the only 4 star resort on the island. Both have very good restaurants. We were blown away by how calm, safe and peaceful it was here. The coral reef is just off the beach and we spotted a turtle here on one of the days and plenty of fish. The resort has kayaks you can use for free and the little convenience shop across the road sells snorkel sets. We found it very easy to just while away our days here, but you could drive around the whole island in around half a day without stopping. There are lava fields, cocoa plantations and on the western side, good surf to stop in and visit.
From Savai’i, we stopped back in Apia for another couple of nights before flying home. Weather in July was hot and sunny, with the only rain at night whilst we there. Temperatures averaged 30 in the day and mid-20s at night. So used to only paying by card in New Zealand, there were a few times where we found ourselves short of cash which you need everywhere in Samoa (outside of a resort). ATMs are most easily found at the airport and in Apia.
We wouldn’t hesitate to visit Samoa again for a winter break. It is an authentic South Pacific destination without feeling too busy or touristy and breathtakingly beautiful.