The flight from Auckland to Apia was fairly short. Friends was an option on the flights’ TV so of course I looked no further.
We landed in Faleolo airport (just outside of Apia, the capital of Samoa) and were smacked in the face with heat and humidity as soon as we exited the plane. Walking through the arrivals gate I realized instantly we hadn’t experienced a culture shock in quite some time so that overwhelmingly out of place feeling, like being the only one wearing a costume at a halloween party, really sped up my adrenaline and my adventurous bones awoke immediately. We were clearly foreigners and so every taxi driver and rental company tried to make themselves known to us. Luckily we had already pre-booked a rental car so we scanned through the crowd like hawks for our names on a piece of paper being held up as if we were waiting for our limo. We were handed the keys, a map of the islands and were sent on our way. No GPS, no smartphone (we denied purchasing a SIM card). Just a map and our internal compass, imagine that. Our mission was to make it to the wharf to catch the last ferry of the day to the other main island, Savai’i. We made it! Locals helped us tetris our hatchback onto the ferry and almost immediately I was swayed to sleep by the waves under the hot sun. Nearly an hour and half later we arrived to Savai’i and our next hour and a half journey to our accommodation began.
Almost instantly we were lost. I didn’t want to end up driving through a village un-welcomed and it seemed like that was the route we were on. There was just one main road that looped around the entire island so I had total faith in navigating, but that tiny bit of “what if” got to us and so we pulled over to make sure. Sure enough, our first instinct was right, we were on the correct path. But all those k-turns sure made us look good! The short glimpse in the evening of the island was incredible. There weren’t many signs for direction as it was just one main road, expect for every mile or so having a posted sign for each village and that is how we navigated. The main road was sporadically lined with rocks and a vibrant array of flora and fauna in every direction blowing our minds of pinks, reds, oranges, yellows and greens. The water was piercingly turquoise and looked so inviting. Locals were walking all along the street, some were carrying bags of coconuts on their back, families were playing beach volleyball, children were running and playing free. There were an endless amount of waves and smiles on our drive through and we immediately fell in love with Samoa and couldn’t wait to experience more of the culture in the next two weeks.
We arrived at Va-i-Moana Seaside lodge. We were immediately greeted, welcomed, and shown our sunset view bungalow. We were completely pleased and could not wait to relax from the days exhaustion, eat a proper dinner (not airport food), shower off the heat, and hit the hay in our clean white sheeted canopy bed…IN THE AIR CONDITIONING?! Amazing bonus.
We fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing right outside our balcony door and awoke to the same comforting sound and the sun shining through our windows telling us to get up and start exploring. But first, breakfast buffet. Every morning they had graciously and beautifully set out a breakfast buffet (included in the price of the room). There was coffee (packeted, but hey, its coffee), tea, and fresh lemon juice that they would refill basically every cup we drank. Creamy avocado, juicy papaya, and fresh slices of coconut. Pancakes, muffins and a coconut jam that I will dream about the rest of my life. Hot papaya porridge, toast and cereals. Everything was truly delicious, fresh, and in abundance. We wasted no time and immediately grabbed the kayaks and snorkels and ventured out to the little island across the bay. We were the only ones on the island and stared around in awe feeling so small in this big, huge, gigantic world. We snorkeled for a while, saw a dark cloud approaching and decided to head back just in case.
As I came back from the bathroom I saw Pasquale talking to another couple from the lodge, I joined, and the rest is history. We were the only four people (two couples) at the resort. I think naturally we would have felt obligated/inclined to make friends or sitting at a table two feet away from them breakfast/lunch/dinner for the next couple of days would have been incredibly awkward. But thankfully, luckily, gratefully and all other thank-goodness-ly words out there did we all click immediately. It was as if we knew each other for years and from that moment on we ate every meal together, adventured the whole island together, snorkeled, sat in the sun for hours waiting for turtles, dissed on our camping in New Zealand experiences (NZ 2018 Survivors), and made each other laugh hysterically. Beatrix and Jonathan – we love you and will never forget you! They are on their honeymoon traveling the world – check out their youtube channel here –
Bea & Jonathan!
Dinner, also included in the price of the room, never let us down. Every night it was different, local, fresh, and HUGELY portioned which after a long day was always nice (but Pasquale would always have to be my personal garbage can anyway). Us girls would douse ourselves in bug spray, because apparently the Samoan mosquitoes were only after female blood, and the boys would stare into and compliment each others eyes in the candlelight. The staff would set up tables and place us in different areas every night for dinner. The most memorable was when we all walked through resort, which felt like a jungle, to dinner and saw our table set up on the balcony over the bay. Lights were strung high between the palms, a fire had been started beside us, and the staff played guitar, picked a bamboo/bucket drum set-up, and sang for us. The sun was setting, glazing the evening with an orange and soft pink glow, the lights were glimmering, the music was soft and the singing was powerful. There was truly magic in the air that night and we all turned to each other and anonymously agreed that in 20, 30, 40 years we will all look back and be like, “remember that dinner on the balcony in Savai’i?”.
Being that we were the only four people at the resort they could have easily slacked off, but instead they strived to make us as comfortable as possible, gave us many options for entertainment, and were so incredibly welcoming and friendly. One of the staff members/locals, Taka, took us on a walk showing us around his village describing day to day life and answering any questions about the culture we had. All of the children constantly waved to us and smiles were abundant. Taka also did a coconut demonstration showing and involving us step by step in the process of opening and working with a coconut all the way down to the cream. We all cheers’ed our coconuts and happily drank it all. He showed us how to weave a basket out of palm tree leaves and gave us a basket each that would later be the hardest souvenir I had to leave behind.
Our journey around the island was very peaceful, except for realizing the car was infested with cockroaches, other than that, my eyes were constantly feasting and overwhelmed with how beautifully untouched this land was. Fields of palm trees soaring in the sky, blowholes locals would toss coconuts in so we could watch them shoot into the sky, lava fields with the most amazing patterns that looked like it hardened within five seconds of it flowing freely, those turquoise waters (again and again and again), the classic “fales” around every bend to take shelter from the sun or to gaze out at their postcard of a backyard view, loads of pigs and piglets scurrying to their mamas, wild dogs roaming everywhere, brightly colored architecture and houses to match the saturated landscape, and the four of us creating an endless laugh-fest the whole way. The owner of the resort even invited us to join their family in the traditional Samoan Sunday family lunch (we did, and we ATE).
If saying all of that doesn’t give a sense of how heartbreaking it was to leave this island, this lodge, and the people, I don’t know how much further I could convince. We ate our last breakfast together, basically drank the bowl of coconut jam that I looked forward to every morning, packed our bags, and said our goodbyes. Upon our departure they placed a lei around us handmade from palm leaves and local flowers by one of the staff. We gave and received genuine hugs from the staff, said our goodbyes to Beatrix and Jonathan, waved goodbye from the car choking back tears and began our journey to the wharf to await our ferry back to the island of Upolu. There was so much beauty on this island and at the lodge. So much was in the detail and it is what makes this island so special. I would go back in a second and it will surely go down as one of the best places in my life I have experienced.
At the wharf we were told the tickets were sold out and we would have to wait on standby. We were to sit, wait, and hope to board the next ferry in two hours. With no choice, we sat, we waited. Once back on Upolu, we swapped rentals cars (by having called the company back on Savai’i) to one that was cockroach free! We then travelled onward to our second accommodation. We were extremely nervous about this having had such an unforgettable experience on Savai’i. We tried not to worry, build any expectations, or be “negative”. But to be honest, how could anywhere possibly top what we just experienced?
Upon arrival, it immediately felt different. The owner was clearly burdened about welcoming us. It was basically a, “hello, heres your room, this is when the kitchen is open, heres this, okay? bye.”. Our bungalow was, OF COURSE, beautiful, picturesque and I would probably be seen as ungrateful for bashing it. BUT, its not like this accommodation was cheap or easy to get to. We, along with anyone else, had to pay a lot of money and give a lot of time to get here. The resort was beautiful, but it seemed the owners relied on that alone. The hospitality was, on a scale from 1-10, a 1 from the owners, and a 10 from the staff/locals. They constantly said good morning/good night, asked how our food was, asked how our day adventuring was, asked if everything was okay. They did such an amazing job at making us feel welcome being SO far from home. The owners never asked us once if everything was okay, if we needed anything, or even a friendly chat. They would walk by us constantly and never glimpse at us, let alone say anything. You could tell this was clearly all business for them and their hospitality game was incredibly weak and disrespectful. Side note: the owners were not Samoan. Had I known this before booking, I wouldn’t have booked. I truly wanted a cultural and local experience and would have been much happier at a less fancier place and given my money elsewhere. This is just our personal experience and if you are interested in going to Samoa for the culture this resort would be a terrible option. The only food included was breakfast – which was the saddest most embarrassing set up I may of ever seen throughout all of my travels. We had to buy all other drinks and meals and given that we paid the exact same price for each accommodation it was truly heartbreaking to have to spend EVEN MORE money than we already did for this resort. The food and drink were basically NZ prices/inspired which means expensive and small portioned. There were SO many let downs and I sincerely believe our thoughts would not of been different even if this were the first accommodation we experienced in Samoa.
BUT – props to the amazing infinity pool, the outdoor shower area in the bungalow I will now be inspired by to make a necessity in my future dream home, the free use of kayaks/SUP’s to gaze down at the coral, and super friendly local staff. We left the resort to adventure the island many days and fell back in love with Samoa every time.
We went to flea markets full of souvenir’s that made us regret our small luggage instantly, dove into the wondrous To Sua trench, went sliding down huge slippery rocks into pools of water, explored local products in grocery stores and made our super exotic purchase of giant beers to bring back to the resort at 1/5 of the cost, got pulled over by police and talked our way out of a ticket, and soaked up every last moment together as at the end of the week we would be flying off in different directions of the world for the first time in a year and a half.
All in all, Samoa was incredibly beautiful and breathtaking and is for the more adventurous in the Pacific Islands. We felt blissfully secluded as it was the perfect place, after our super stressful trip around New Zealand, to relax, unwind, and also be eaten alive by mosquitos. To of been able to experience a land so untouched, vibrant, and beaming with smiles was truly remarkable, worth every effort and penny, and was an absolute unforgettable oasis.