Smitten by Samoa, Kay O’Sullivan gets more than she bargained for.
Sometimes a place inveigles its way into your heart and it happens when you are least expecting it; A bit like love really.
I certainly didn’t expect to be so smitten by Western Samoa, yet this tiny cluster of islands in the South Pacific had me in its thrall within an hour of landing.
Until I lucked upon Samoa, I had a jaundiced view about so-called island paradises. I’d been let down many times before. Too many promises, not enough delivery. But Samoa really, truly, deeply deserves the moniker ‘island paradise’.
Or perhaps that should be it fits my idea of an island paradise. Let me explain: I live in a big city so when I’m craving a beach holiday I want it au natural. Which goes some way to explaining why I fell in love with Samoa on the drive from the airport to our accommodation on the south coast of Upolu, the main tourist island.
Upolo is lush and verdant. The jungle spread across the highlands of the interior is almost impenetrable, closer to the coast it thins slightly but not much. Once you get beyond the capital of Apia signs of life are few and far between.
Tourism is the Samoa’s economic lifeline, but it differs markedly from its South Pacific neighbours in that it is low-key, entirely in keeping with its surroundings, and there is strong local involvement. There’s no highrise beyond quaint Apia. And while the word resort is bandied around in guide books, the accommodation is cast in the Samoan village tradition – fales (beach bungalows), a hammock strung between coconut palms, sand between your toes – yes! – a communal dining area with a deck overlooking the sea. Perfection.
You couldn’t take a dud photo of Samoa even if you are still using a Kodak Box Brownie camera. The whole island is a riot of colour with every imaginable shade of blue and green and then some in between.
The buses that circle the island that are full to brimming with passengers are painted in vibrant hues, so too, are many of the fales in the villages strung out along the coastline. The kayaks at our accommodation, SaMoana Resort, were a collection of brilliant hues, the curtains in the beachside bungalows had gobsmackingly beautiful floral prints that mirrored the vivid blooms outside the windows.
And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better or brighter, a spot of snorkelling out front of the resort revealed a kaleidoscope of colour, courtesy of coral and tropical fish that rivalled some of the best dive spots on the Great Barrier Reef.
Salamumu, with its white sand, black lava and azure water, is reputedly the loveliest beach across the 10 islands that make up Western Samoa. But every traveller we encountered told the same story. They had discovered the world’s most beautiful beach whether it was on Upolu or across on Savaii, the other island popular with tourists.
But as beguiling as the externals are, there’s something else about Samoa that sets it apart and draws you in. It’s called Fa’a Samoa, the Samoan way. The X factor, if you will. It’s a rich tradition of family, care and concern that is the bedrock of Samoan society, and extends to those that come to their homeland.
The truth and beauty of the Samoan way became a reality for me when Cyclone Evan swept across Samoa during our stay. All through the hours of rain and wind, and it must be said, fear; the Samoan staff reassured us and did all that was necessary, even at risk to their own wellbeing, to make sure their guests were safe. Even after Evan had moved away, they refused to leave us, calling in their families to clear the roads so we could get out. Truly inspirational and totally unforgettable.
I am not the first person to fall in love with Samoa. Robert Louis Stevenson – he of Treasure Island, was similarly smitten. So, too, was James A Michener who penned Tales of the South Pacific.
While the siren call of the beach is compelling, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t get out and about and do some exploring. You will be richly rewarded, perhaps even leave a little bit smitten by what you see and encounter in Samoa.