Arriving in Samoa in time to watch a luminous tangerine sunrise is the perfect way to start a holiday. Hearing the harmonic tunes of ukulele and pitch-perfect voices like honey singing you a welcome is the icing on the cake. Talofa, you have arrived in paradise.
I admit to being slightly anxious about having to get to the largest island in Samoa, Savai’i by catching the car ferry. Walking onto the ferry with our luggage and three kids under 5 was a bit of a challenge and took a little coordinating. It is also important to note there are two car ferries. The larger ferry which leaves ‘Upolu at 8 am, midday and 4 pm, and from Savai’i 6 am,10 am and 2 pm is the more comfortable option when travelling with children and takes around 90 minutes.
Our first true experience of fa’a Samoa ( the Samoan way) was on our arrival in Savai’i. Having caught an earlier ferry than expected our hotel transfer was not waiting for us as expected at the port. When the taxi drivers began circling we were waiting for the usual offers to take us to ‘the best hotel on the island’. Instead, they politely asked which hotel we were staying at then rang the hotel for us to organise our transfer to pick us up early.
Le Lagoto Resort & Spa
Samoa has accommodation to suit everyone, from family-friendly resorts to beach fales. As much as we would have loved to stay in one of the divinely basic fales, practically took hold but luckily we stayed in the equally divine Le Lagoto Resort & Spa.
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The first thing you glimpse as you step from the foyer is the hotel's one and only restaurant where you will be forced to eat for your whole stay watching over the beach as the turquoise blue waves lap onto the sand. It’s a tough gig.
As a larger family, we stayed in house rather than the smaller beach bungalows. This was a little bit run down compared to the gorgeous bungalows but had plenty of room for the kids to play and was comfortable with a home away from home feel. We had a garden full of hermit crabs to enchant the children, gorgeous views and were now some of the first people in the world to see the sunrise for the day.
The food at Le Lagoto was delicious although like most Pacific Nations more on the expensive side. As usual, I brought a small suitcase just of snacks for my hungry horde, then splashed out on main meals. Included in our room was a Tropical Breakfast full of mouth-watering seasonal fruit and a different main each day. This varied from fluffy pancakes to omelettes.
fa’a Samoa ( the Samoan way)
Every evening you are here you will hear the blowing of the conch shells. Missionaries who visited in the 1800s were enormously influential and Samoa is now a devoutly Christian culture. The shells are blown around 6-7pm and mark the evening prayer curfew.
Listening to the harmonious and powerful voices of the locals sing the vespers was a haunting way to welcome the evening. Please show your respect during your visit and avoid walking through villages at this time.
Being devout Christians, Sunday is a day of worship. All stores will be closed as this is a day to be spent with family and no work is to be done. You can still visit most attractions but if you go through a local village show your respect by keeping the volume down and travelling slowly.
Savai’i may be the larger of Samoa’s islands but it is least populated. Here you will find an unpretentious way of life that is still deeply traditional.They respect their 3000-year-old culture, their environment and live in harmony with each other and the world around them. Samoan mythology tells that they were descended from the gods, sent from heaven to inhabit the emerald and aqua isles of Samoa. Experiencing one of the most authentic cultures in Polynesia it is easy to believe these tales. Samoans are such a genuine people with big smiles and hearts that match. And they adore children! Even cranky overtired ones.
Savai'i Island Tour
Although you can hire a car we decided to take a private tour of the island through the hotel. The whole island is encircled by a paved road, making it easy to explore. If you do this solo remember a lot of the island is still owned by the locals. Make sure you ask permission and be prepared to pay a small fee for some of the sites.
We drove through gorgeous brightly coloured villages that are cared for with evident pride. Each village you pass seems to have chosen its own candy store hue as its theme. In the villages, you will see at least one traditional fale. These oval-shaped buildings are often the village meeting house. The more impressive the fale in a village, the higher the position and power of its inhabitants. Each thick pole holding the thatched roof up, holds its own significance. Sitting with your back against one of this poles shows your ranking and importance within the village descending from the chief, or matai down.
The open walls of the fales let in the cooling breezes off the Pacific Ocean as well as allowing noisy tourist to see the huge flat screen TVs looking out of place in these traditional buildings.
If a local invites you into a village please ask your host what traditions and protocols you need to follow. When entering fales you will need to remove shoes and show respect by not standing when elders are sitting. Another thing to remember is to not point your feet at people while you are sitting.
If you really love the fales there are opportunities to stay in some great spots. Facilities are basic so it is for the adventures souls.
During our tour, our guide told us tales of adventure, love and history. We learnt about Mata o le Alelo Pool, which is the site where the first coconut grew. Legend tells of it growing from the head of an eel. The guide assured us that Samoa was the first nation to have coconut trees. These travelling over the seas from Asia.
The children jumped up and down when they saw dolphins at Sea Arch and sharks at Lovers Leap. Each destination coming with its own local tale. Their favourite stop was the Alofaaga Blowholes. Here our guide and driver entertained us and some passing backpackers with a show of throwing coconuts into the blowholes. Watching them shoot up like rockets up to 30 metres in the air caused fits of giggles.
Afu Aau Falls
We had a refreshing quick dip in the azure and deep turquoise waters of the Afu Aau Falls. You must take a dirt road up to this location and once there you seem lost to civilisation. The roar of the falls tumbling into the fresh-water swimming pool and lizards chirping in the lush vegetation near the pool chasing away any remaining stresses of life. At least that's how I would imagine it to be. Unfortunately, the falls had dried up for our visit. The pool was still a place that left you speechless.
Saleaula lava fields
Our next stop were the Saleaula lava fields. While wandering through a local church that has black lava pouring in through the front door and windows in shiny ripples, listening of the eruptions of Mt Matavanu from 1905-1911 the hairs rise on the back of your neck. Tiny bright green plants pop up around the fields forcing new life between the gaps of these black waves.
50 square kilometres of land and 5 villages are buried by these lava fields, all except for the Virgins Grave. Following a lava path to the grave, the guide told us legend states this spot was untouched through all of the eruptions because the lady buried here was pure and good.
We ended our tour with a trip to the turtle enclosure in Satoalepai. I had no prior knowledge of this attraction before we visited and I have since done some research. The centre says its focus is on conservation, from other articles this seems debatable. While we were at the centre all the animals seemed well cared for. They were however still in captivity, seemed overly unconcerned about contact with humans and were being fed fruit rather than their natural diet. Not feeling like I know enough about this topic I will let you make your own opinions. If we were to travel to Samoa again I would not visit the centre as we are working hard to try and travel more responsibly as a family.
If you would like to find out more about this try reading this great article
Paradise on Island Time
Adopting a much more laid back pace, we converted to island time for the rest of our stay on Savai'i. Spending precious hours doing nothing but enjoying the moments, lazing in azure waters, walking along local beaches and soaking in the sunsets.
Having seen my fair share of sunsets as a photographer I can promise the ones in Samoa are worth travelling for. Balmy skies splashed in all the hues of the tropical fruits you enjoyed at breakfast, luscious papaya, sweet mango and watermelon. Sitting underneath a palm tree listening to the fronds faintly rustle overhead from the cool ocean breeze, it’s hard to imagine having to ever leave.
Have you been to the South Pacific Islands? Share which is your favourite in the comments.
Travel With Meraki - Do a little research on attractions before you visit. Some wildlife experiences may not be what they appear to be and are not in the best interests of the animals. Try and visit authentic places that care for and protect the animals in their care.
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