Visitors Guide A
There’s a range of accommodation in Samoa to suit all tastes and budgets and even luxury on a budget if sleeping in a traditional fale separated from the warm, clear water only by white sand is your idea of luxury. Fales on the island of Savai’i like the Tanu Beach Fales offer a true Samoan experience for as little as $70 per night (AUD$35), per person, including meals. Other nice properties on Savai’i are Amoa Resort (previously Siufanga Resort) and Le Lagoto. There are backpacker hotels, boutique properties, places for surfers, honeymoon retreats, hotels and now a large full facility resort with the new Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Resort and Spa (below). The resort is just five minutes from the airport on Upolu. In Apia, Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Hotel & Bungalows (below) is the premier accommodation property. One resort deserving of special mention is Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa – a charming resort on the south of Upolo that’s pretty close to a perfect Pacific paradise, if you’ll forgive the alliteration. Coconuts Beach Club Resort & Spa, just along the coast from Sinalei, is also a lovely resort with the only overwater bungalows in Samoa. Seabreeze Resort is also a lovely boutique options with weddings a specialty.
Some people’s adventure can be daring to have a second colourful cocktail by a swimming pool but whatever your idea of excitement is you will probably find it here… deep sea fishing, snorkeling, diving, caving, yachting, playing golf or just exploring what’s around the corner. It’s easy to get about and everything is accessible.
Aggie Grey’s Hotel has been Apia’s most famous address for decades. Sitting opposite the harbour, the property is still Apia’s leading tourist hotel and it first became famous as a hamburger outlet for US soldiers during World War II. These days it is Sheraton Apia Aggie Grey’s Hotel and Bungalows. At the resort historical colonial façade meets modern design with a new lobby and complimentary wireless High Speed Internet Access. There are two swimming pools, a state-of-the-art fitness centre (24 hours) and pampering at the Shine Spa for Sheraton. Club guests have special access to the Sheraton Club Lounge for relaxing, complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’oeuvres, and a variety of beverage options plus business facilities. Here is a link to the resort website for more info.
Just five minutes from the airport is Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Resort. The resort has everything you need for a relaxing or productive stay. There’s complimentary High Speed Internet Access as well as a comfortable setting to catch up on emails, enjoy a board game, watch TV, relax with a good book, or make new friends. You can enjoy some fabulous pampering at the Manaia Polynesian Spa and relax and soak up the sun beside either swimming pool. There is a 24-hour Sheraton Fitness centre and the Dolphin Kids Club, complimentary for ages 12 and under. For drinking and dining options include casual drinks and snacks at The Solent Bar and The Pool Bar, Japanese fusion at the La Penina Clubhouse, local and international cuisine at the South Pacific Restaurant and buffet breakfasts and Friday cultural show and dinner in the Apolima Fale. Here is a link to the official website for Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Resort.
HIV/AIDS hasn’t swept through the Pacific as it has in some parts of the world and let’s keep it that way. Practice safe sex.
This is the Samoan term for family groups and is the basis for how society functions.
If you hire a car and the tyres look a bit flat you may have to part with $2 at a service station to inflate them. Not a big news item but in most parts of the world this is gratis and it just goes to show that some people can apparently live on thin air.
Samoa should get a huge tourism boost now that Virgin Samoa is flying direct from Sydney three times a week. Virgin Samoa is a joint venture between the Samoan Government (49%) and Virgin Australia Holdings(49%). The other two percent is owned by the Grey family mentioned above. It’s now easy for connections from all Australian capital cities via Sydney. Virgin Samoa also services Tonga from Australia and New Zealand. Air Pacific flies once a week from Nadi in Fiji and Air New Zealand has daily flights from NZ and weekly from Los Angeles. For those with an aversion to open water ferry travel (90 minutes from Upolu to Savai’i), there are daily 10-minute flights between these main two islands.
Faleolo International Airport is 35km west of Apia. Arriving is quite a welcoming experience with a band playing in the baggage collection area and friendly faces once through customs. If possible book transfers as part of your flight and accommodation packages but if you arrive and need a taxi to town, allow around $45 ($70 if heading to the south coast. There are a couple of money exchange bureaus and an ANZ ATM. The international departure tax is $40 – probably best to slip it into the back of your wallet so you don’t have to panic on the way out. When departing, the small gift shop upstairs is okay for unloading leftover tala on souvenirs but the duty free shop in the departure lounge is not particularly good value.
Airport Bus Service
There’s an airport to Apia accommodation service run by P&F Schuster Tours. Phone 23 014.
In general alcohol isn’t expensive, especially the local beer, Vailima Lager which is also a very pleasant drop.
Because Australian and New Zealand wines are imported they are on the expensive side (not outrageous though) – think around $40 to $50 a bottle (remember Samoan dollars here!) – so probably worth bringing in a few duty free bottles if vino is your taste.
The blowholes are near the village of Taga (south Savai’i). Waves crashing against tubes formed by lava flows cause these fountains to shoot up every few seconds. It’s a favourite pastime of the locals to throw coconuts into the blowholes and watch them shoot up into the air, definitely a lot of fun to watch. Just make sure you’re not under them when they fall back to earth! If you like this area, you can even stay in this area at the local huts on the beach (called fales). Following the coastal track west for a few hours will take you to the ancient village of Fagaloa. When pronouncing places that have a ‘g’ in them, insert an ‘n’ in front – e.g. Tanga, Fangaola and Alofaanga. Speaking of which…
There are only 14 letters in the Samoan alphabet – the vowels and consonants p, t, m, n, g, f, v, s and the glottal stop, ‘ used to separate syllables. The language ‘borrowed’ the letters k, h and r. The vowels are pronounced in a similar way to Italian or Spanish – so ‘talofa’ (hello) is ‘tah-loh-fah’ and ‘fale’ is ‘fah-lay’. Everyone speaks English but greetings and pleasantries like please and thank you in Samoan will please your hosts and enrich your experience. And so, a few…
- afakasi: half caste
- afu: waterfall
- ‘ai: eat
- aiga: extended family
- alia: catamaran fishing boat
- alofa: love
- ‘ata: laugh
Amoa Resort is on the east coast of the northern island of Savaii and is the most up-market accommodation property there. Located at stunning Faga Beach it has a range of accommodation with the ‘superior’ fales ideal for couples – comfortable and tastefully furnished. For more information or bookings, email here.
Apia is Samoa’s capital and is north and centre on the coast of the island of Upolu. With a population of 39,000 it is the country’s only ‘city’ – the rest of the inhabited areas are villages. Apia even has traffic lights – which is probably not a bad idea as the streets in parts are very wide. There’s also a McDonalds just off main Beach Road – I mention this because if you are ever in need of an urgent toilet stop, you know the bathrooms will be clean. If anyone mentions the toilets are for patrons only, just say you didn’t use them last time you bought a meal, so they owe you one. Despite the taller banks and office blocks there’s still an atmosphere of a colonial trading town in Apia. Have a wander and let the town unfold – you’ll come across the Flea Market, fish market, the John Williams Memorial, the old courthouse and interesting churches. Up from the courthouse (Ififi St) is the European cemetery, testament to the early German settlement in Samoa. Apia arguably has the best nightlife in the South pacific with a range of restaurants, bars and nightclubs but don’t leave going out too late because everything will pretty much close at midnight. Do include the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum on your list of things to do – it is highly recommended.
Samoa’s fourth largest island is on the rim of a volcanic crater between Upolu and Sava’i. There is one village that is home to around 150 people. Apolima Island is somewhat remote compared to the other islands of Samoa, and because of this it is probably the closest place you can come to seeing what a tradition Samoan village is like.
Art and Artefacts
You will find woven mats – some of these are extremely finely woven. Tapa cloth makes for a good souvenir. The cloth is decorated in inks (usually brown/black) with designs based on natural objects (fish, turtles). You’ll also find carvings – war clubs, drums and tanoas (kava bowls). Unlike those found in Fiji, Tonga or Vanuatu that have four legs, Samoan ones have a dozen or more round legs. You may want to take home a kirikiti stick – the local three-sided cricket bat. If you’re not impressed by the quality and range of handicrafts, keep in mind that Samoan culture is expressed far more in dance, song, story telling and tattoos. Tikis are not part of Samoan culture so save your purchase of these for trips to New Zealand or Hawaii. The Flea Market is a good place to find handicrafts and there’s the Aggie Grey’s Gift Shop next to the hotel.
Automatic Teller Machines
There are ANZ ATMs at the airport and outside the banks in Apia. Westpac has ATMs front and rear of their branch in Apia. There is three ATMs on Savai’i – there are ANZ and Westpac ATMs near the markets in Salelologa an d an ANZ ATM at Manase on the north side of the island. These accept most international EFTPOS cards and are open 24/7.
This is the Samoan spelling of kava (probably because the ‘k’ is an introduced letter to the language as mentioned above). Unlike Fiji where kava ceremonies happen all the time (at resorts or a visit to a village), or in Vanuatu where you drop into a nakamal, Samoan kava ceremonies are an important part of tradition and culture and usually reserved for special gatherings of the matai (head of the extended family). If you are invited to partake, it is worth remembering that kava shells are like breasts or martinis – one is too few, three too many. While not strictly an opiate it has a numbing, relaxing effect and some medicinal qualities. The Samoans you see sleeping through the day however are probably just having a rest, not the result of overdoing the kava. Over-exertion is not part of the Samoan way unless it is time to dance at a fia fia (Samoan feast).