For Samoa is so sleepy that dogs in the middle of the road don’t even bother raising their head as I drive past at 50kmh, just a metre or so away. And as I drive through villages (plenty of locals still live a simple life in villages of open-walled huts called fales), I feel like some sort of western-world voyeur because I see entire families all asleep together, completely unaware of my presence.
Samoa is Polynesia the way Polynesia used to be, long before the colonial powers took over. I grew up there but I’ve never seen it look quite so tranquil, or ‘traditional’ as it does in Samoa.
There’s barely any traffic at all, in fact, except in Samoa’s capital, Apia, you really won’t see another car. Locals live simple lives with extended families in villages ruled by paramount chiefs who hold more sway here than any policeman.
Samoa mightn’t receive the plaudits of its more famous Polynesian and Melanesian neighbours - but it should. The entire southern coast of Upolu feels like an uncharted piece of perfect Polynesia, with bays and clear lagoons where forests grow right to the water.
There’s never really another tourist in sight. Along this coastline, some of the Pacific’s best waves break and in a world overrun by surfers seeking that all-elusive perfect swell, it’s possible to still feel like a pioneer.
I stay in rooms just a few metres from the waves. In the morning, we take small run-abouts out through gaps in the reef and surf till we’re sunburnt and sore. Most days I won’t surf with anyone but my guide and there’s still breaks that aren’t on any map waiting for someone to find them.
But be warned, there’s no sand bottom breaks here so don’t consider learning to surf in Samoa.
There are deserted bays all along Samoa’s coastline – fringed by blue lagoon and green mountainous hinterland, though I find as many options for swimming away from the coast.
Samoa is blessed with the South Pacific’s best waterfalls – from 80 metre-high cascading falls to gentle, family-friendly swimming holes.
I take a ‘waterfall crawl’ on Upola’s south coast taking in Papapapai-Tai, Togitogipa, Sopoaga and Fuipisia Falls. It’s on Savaii – 45 minutes from Upolu by ferry – that I find the best waterfall in the entire South Pacific in Afu Aau.
Like most attractions in Samoa, Afu Aau is on local’s land, so after I pay a few dollars to visit, I walk around a corner and find a series of cascades falling into a huge waterhole blocked entirely from the outside world by rainforest.
Savaii is my favourite island in Samoa. It’s the epitome of that south seas escape Hollywood’s tried its darndest for generations to capture; there’s more pigs, goats and horses here than people, and there’s just one road that circles the island, though you’ll find more dogs sleeping on it than cars driving on it.
Paw-paw, mango, breadfruit and guava grow right to the lagoon, while extinct volcanoes loom high above me when you swim in the ocean. At night I swim in the lagoon, lying on my back in the water and watching the stars shoot high above in the clear night skies.
Life is gloriously simple here. One Sunday I join locals preparing a local feast, grating coconut to make coconut milk which is the staple of any Polynesian meal, and helping build an underground oven for fish caught by our neighbours the previous night. Food’s so important in Samoa that the entire country shuts down each Sunday just to eat.
I go to church with the locals to hear them sing, then spend the rest of the day feasting and napping though there are far more energetic activities on Samoa if you’re feeling lively, from swimming with endangered turtles to taking bike rides that circumnavigate both of the main islands of Samoa (Upolu and Savaii). Savaii’s also one of the best places in the world to learn to dive because of its range of beginner dive sites and great water clarity. And there’s golf, kayaking, sailing and deep-sea fishing.
But doing nothing is a bona fide tourist attraction here and it comes very highly recommended. I find myself becoming quite an expert at it, spending entire days between my room, the beach and the lagoon; teaching myself slowly to stop planning my days out until I begin to live as the locals do - living each day with the sun and the tide, and being sure to fit in a morning nap,and an afternoon nap and a nap before bed.
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Published under license from Well Travelled