Those that know the South Pacific say it isn’t like it used to be. And then they go to Samoa.
Author Robert Louis Stevenson came and never left. They buried him on Mount Vaea, overlooking the capital Apia. His house is still there, saved from decay by a wealthy philanthropist, offering an evocative glimpse into the past. But the allure that cast its spell over Stevenson is as evident today as it was then. This isn’t a land that time forgot, it is simply a land that forgot time. Things run at their own pace, in a good way. We all talk of “island time”, but in Samoa that’s a positive. Rushing here would be akin to madness. What are you rushing to when the moment now is just so perfect?
Talking time, around two years ago Samoa got the date line shifted, so instead of being the last cab of the clock, they became the first to see in each new day on earth. They also changed from right to left when it came to driving. This wasn’t a whim, Samoa was simply aligning itself with its natural tourism markets – Australia and New Zealand.
So what’s on offer? The good news is there is an extensive range of accommodation, from 4- to 5-star corporate accommodation with meeting facilities to match through to boutique resorts perfect for incentive groups seeking exclusivity and privacy. The main conferencing hotels are all in the capital Apia. For those seeking a global brand Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Hotel & Bungalows ticks all the boxes, but it’s not the only hotel that will please a corporate crowd, with Tanoa Tusitala Hotel and newcomer Taumeasina Island Resort meeting international expectations in terms of service and facilities.
Head away from the capital and things slow down somewhat. Stay on the main island Upolu or take the ferry across to Savaii for a wide spectrum of accommodation, nestled against a backdrop of lush hinterland and beautiful lagoons. The south coast of Upolu has some stunning boutique resorts that really let you “get away from it all”. Seabreeze Resort, Aga Reef Resort, Sinalei Resort & Spa, Coconuts Beach Club Resort & Spa and Saletoga Sands Resort & Spa all offer a slice of South Pacific magic in their own way. Some are run by ex-pat Aussies and Kiwis, some locally owned and managed, but either way the facilities will please even seasoned travellers looking to unwind. Beachside bungalows abound, but no matter where you unpack your towel you’re never far away from the water which is where most want to spend some of their day. Water activities are a must, and with the reef protecting most of the shore, swimming, snorkelling and kayaking are all an easy fit for any fitness levels.
Adventure seekers are also catered for with ample diving and surfing opportunities in what is for most unexplored territory. Hop on a ferry to Savaii, which if possible, is even quieter than its more populated neighbour. Again there is plenty of accommodation to unwind at such as Amoa Resort, and with just one road you can never get lost.
The stunning natural beauty of Samoa is enough of a drawcard in its own right, but the Samoan culture itself is really the hero of this piece. Stevenson clocked up a fair few miles on his travels, spending time in Tahiti and Hawai’i, but it was the Samoans who won his heart. Life is still lived in the traditional way here. Families live together, often sleeping in the open air under their ‘fales’. Children are happy to walk unaccompanied, usually with a wide smile only glance away, and Sundays are a feast for the eyes as everyone dresses up and heads to church. A “hello” in Samoa comes from the heart. And chances are it comes with a song. There is no reason too small not to pick up a guitar and serenade, and before you know it 20 other people have joined in. Samoa is about living in the moment. That’s worth the trip on its own.