It doesn’t spring to mind when Pacific islands are mentioned, but Samoa is still, well almost, the undiscovered gem of the region.
I say “well almost” because there is a thriving and growing tourism industry but on the other side of that coin is an otherworldly, laid back atmosphere not yet absorbed into the beach resort culture.
Samoa is small with a population of just 180,000 compared to, for example, Fiji with 800,000 so things tend to be scaled down which is just right for relaxation seekers. And with regular links to Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland and Honolulu, it’s accessible.
Just as Hawai’I is “big island” Savai’i in Samoan means exactly the same (a perfect example of the consonant shifting so prevalent among the Polynesian language groups) but the more populated and developed (and much smaller) island of Upolu is the main centre.
There’s a round-the-island road, a trans-island road and plenty of other all weather (mostly) roads in between. But even for the time-challenged traveller Shanks’s pony is still a perfect conveyance somehow in tune with the whole character of Samoan society.
Whether or not you choose to put up at the capital Apia’s legendary Aggie Grey’s Hotel – now linked with Sheraton but still very much part of the Grey family – it’s THE place to commence your walk along the sea front through the (very attractive) town and past the Tusitala Hotel of which more later.
The route takes you along the sea wall and you won’t be the only stroller – but a smile and a “hello” are the only passports you’ll need.
You’ll pass the yacht club where visitors are made more than welcome and you can watch the kids fly their hobie-cats around the short course in the afternoon between school bell and homework time. Like just about everywhere in the Pacific islands, children in Samoa occupy a special place in society and the club is usually happy to arrange lessons if you’re travelling with young ones who want to give it a try.
Journey’s end – or the midway point depending on your energy level – is Mulinu’u (yes, you pronounce the “u” twice) and Sails bar and restaurant, situated on the sea wall itself and home to some of the freshest and most affordable yellowfin sashimi to be found in the islands.
The staff there will be happy to arrange a taxi back to town or wherever else you want to go – but if you have strength left you can walk back the way you came or take the (slightly) shorter route back by the road calling at the Tusitala for hot or cold refreshment.
The name means “story teller” – we’ll find out why very shortly – and was previously owned by Japanese Hitano group before being bought by the Fiji-based Tanoa Group in 2009. It was all but gutted by a disastrous fire virtually on the eve of reopening after a major refit and renovation. Fortunately for us, it’s restored, operating and well worth a visit.
After a good night’s rest, the next walk concerns Tusitala himself. Robert Louis Stevenson, author of such classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde and many, many more, lived and died here. A wealthy man by dint of a phenomenally successful writing career - a nineteenth century JK Rowling perhaps - he was well known and much loved from Edinburgh to London, to New York and Sydney.
Having been advised to seek out a warmer climate for the sake of his delicate health – he’d suffered rheumatic fever as a child – he poked around the Pacific on his yacht before lighting on Samoa where he purchased a semi derelict property at Vailima (five waters for the streams that criss-crossed it) and set about restoring and building. The result is a quite magnificent house preserved today as a museum to the great man and in many ways much as he left it having collapsed and died there – almost certainly of a stroke – in 1894.
In the four years that he lived on Upolu, Tusitala endeared himself to the Samoans, at first possibly because of his ability to offer paid employment but he took a close interest in the affairs and welfare of the Samoans who repaid him in loyalty and love.
The Road of The Loving Hearts is testimony to this as the Samoans afforded him a funeral ceremony normally reserved for the great and good. His coffin was carried directly up to his chosen resting place at the summit of Mount Vaea. That they did not deviate from the direct route from Villa Vailima to the gravesite can be attested to by those who have followed the Road of the Loving Heart which exists today and is popular with visitors.
But it’s a tough climb. About an hour of very strenuous exercise brings the visitor to the gravesite (protected by special act of the Samoan parliament) with its stunning views, simple stone memorial and moving verse.
Fortunately for the less fit there’s a less demanding walk to the summit.
Staff at the Vailima museum and grounds are always happy to advise.
So far, we visited a tiny fraction of these islands. But that just leaves so much more for another day.
Published under license from Well Travelled.