The South Pacific region had always seemed like a tropical destination; with the crystal clear oceans and palm tree-lined beaches, it seemed like the perfect getaway for a relaxing holiday. Although generally, I’m not one for a relaxation style holiday as I can easily get bored, I need to stay active most of the time. So when I was looking at self-driving around Samoa, I thought it should provide a decent mix of exploration and relaxation.
I’m also not one for the mainstream tourist destinations and cities; I’d prefer less explored locations to see the uniqueness they offer.
The country was made up of two islands Upolu and Savai’i, and seemed the perfect destination for another one of my solo self-driving adventures.
When arriving at Apia, you instantly feel welcomed by the locals; from the moment I stepped foot in the airport, I could feel the locals’ warmth and hospitable nature. They were playing musical instruments and singing in tune. It was a very peaceful and welcoming feeling.
You soon learn about “island time” when getting around the islands, with nobody having any major urgency driving or carrying out activities. Even to the point where locals drive 10km/hr. So it’s a great destination if going slow is your style. You’ll often see people playing volleyball during the midday heat on their front lawns or people attending to their gardens. Within my first day, I was thankful I had hired a car with air conditioning, as the midday sun and humidity was quite hot on a few occasions.
Self-driving around the islands is very easy, even the transit from Upolu and Savai’i islands on the ferry was easy to organize and understand. Although I had to confirm, I was parked in the correct queue a couple of times, yet the ferry staff ensured I was, which was reassuring. I wouldn’t want to miss the one ferry trip per day and lose valuable exploration time!
Depending on which ferry you take, the smaller ferry takes 2 hours with one level, so you remain in your vehicle for the trip across. Although it has two levels, the larger ferry is slightly quicker; cars are parked like sardines down below, so people walk around up on the top level. Be sure to collect what you need from your car for the ferry journey, as you cannot get to your vehicle during the trip.
Be mindful of topping up with fuel when you see a petrol station, as they are not signposted, nor located in each village. So I made sure to refuel whenever I had the opportunity to, as I wasn’t sure the country offered a towing service!
I soon learnt to be on guard when driving, as we’ve heard of a chicken crossing the road, well in Samoa, they have pigs cross the road!
Savai’i being a volcanic island, you can explore Maugu Village Crater, where lava fields replace what once was natural vegetation. And swim in the unlimited locations surrounding the islands and lagoons. The water surrounding Savai’i I found was more transparent and bluer than around Upolu, yet both were still stunning though.
Thankfully, I had researched before arriving on the island what attractions to visit on both islands. I soon discovered the places of interest on the island were not signposted; instead, you needed to venture down a road to see what was there. Needless to say, I carried out a few U-turns whilst driving trying to locate the places to visit. As the Samoan people are religious, all local shops are closed on Sundays, so be sure to use that day as a rest day and soak up the sun or go for a swim in the natural waters somewhere.
During one of my swims, I got to witness my first sighting of an octopus swimming in the ocean!
As most natural attractions are located on private property, you are expected to pay the property owner an entrance fee, which usually costs $5. After learning early on when trying to pay with $20 expecting change wasn’t an option, I soon learnt to carry small change on me every day in anticipation of the entrance fees.
The waterfalls in Samoa are naturally gorgeous. They are located in pristine wilderness locations that are undisturbed and surrounded by lush green vegetation. They are like scenes from the jungle book. Be sure to pack swimmers everywhere you go, as all the waterfalls provide a great location to have a swim and cool down during the humid weather.
Most of the time, you’ll have the waterfalls all to yourself too. Not another person in sight!
One major attraction in Samoa is the Sua Ocean Trench, a hidden cave-like pool that is magical and something you’d imagine from a storybook. Once you overlook the surrounding grounds of cheap picnic benches and a souvenir store, the ocean trench itself is stunning. Climbing down the timber ladder to the pool and swimming around, looking up to the sky above, is lovely. Although be sure to hold on the rope when the tide is going out, as the water can be strong, I’ve been told.
I highly recommend staying at a Fale when you visit Samoa, as the accommodation style provides the raw no-frills that match the country to a tea. Simple, yet comfortable and welcoming. The perfect way to relax by the beach and fall asleep at night listening to the waves hit the sand. A sound I never tire of.
Regardless of your accommodation preferences, the oval-shaped Fales do come in different styles to suit. Either completely open with no walls, just a roof overhead and mattress on the timber deck and a mosquito net. Or another option has walls and windows opening onto the beach, so you can still experience the openness, yet with some privacy.
I spent just over a week self-driving around Samoa, exploring both islands of Upolu and Savai’i, all with ease and not a care to worry about. Meeting friendly locals along the way, who are up to chat anytime whilst provide information on the country. I could’ve spent another week there, although I might need to take a couple of books next time to absorb the downtime relaxing by the water.
It’s pretty good that tourists don’t highly visit Samoa, as the country would lose the traditional feeling and untouched natural beauty. Samoa wouldn’t be Samoa without its natural laid back vibes.