An adventure in picture perfect Samoa.
Words Rebecca Stirnemann
Remote and beautiful, the islands of Samoa boast dazzling sands, perfect palm trees and waters so blue they glow. It is also a glorious place for an adventure. Arriving in the morning gave us a magnificent bird’s eye view of how green the Samoan islands are. I landed with friends for a week of sand, sun and adventure. The south coast of Upolu is an area with beaches that are so stunning you would think they had a beauty filter. To get to there is an easy drive on the same side of the road as New Zealand. We passed colourful village houses in bright pinks, reds and yellows, flawless gardens and friendly people waving at us with big smiles. Our destination was Vavau Beach – a sheltered stretch of golden sand, dotted with coconut palms and with azure waters that surround a small emerald island. This protected lagoon is perfect for snorkelling. Snorkelling in Samoa was a surprise. The calm flat waters belied the riot of life going on beneath. Colourful fish peeped out at us from even brighter coral. Little blue neon fish darted around hiding in the black coral rocks. Triangular trigger fish eyed us suspiciously guarding their sandy nests. A mass of long blue staghorn coral tips glowed a blue neon colour that’s so unexpected in nature. After snorkelling, we relaxed in a beach fale – a small thatched beach hut – drinking fresh coconuts and munching on fresh village fruit purchased from the roadside stalls. Our next discovery was just down the road, To Sua Trench. Formed during a lava eruption, To Sua consists of two large holes joined by a lava tube cave. The main swimming hole pool is filled with seawater from an underground lava tube that is connected to the pounding surf metres away. To Sua has to be one of the most unusual places to go for a swim on Earth. The almost perfectly symmetrical swimming hole is surrounded by lush green vegetation draped over pitch black volcanic rock. The only access into the calm, emerald waters of the swimming hole is a steep climb down a 30-metre ladder to the small platform below. While my friends jumped o the ladder at varying heights. I floated serenely, feeling like I was in the middle of paradise. That evening the sounds of the forest were incredible. The change from day to night saw a crazy chorus of insects and birds. As we listened to the birds, we formulated our plans for the next day. We would leave the beaches behind to explore the jungle on a guided waterfall walk in the village of Falease’ela. The next day, as we climbed the black volcanic rock river, our guides Olsen and Fly directed us where to put our feet and lent a strong muscled arm where needed. Soon we stood in a waterfall canyon complete with emerald moss-draped sides. It had been well worth the early start. Large blue dragonflies darted above our heads and green pigeons hooted from the surrounding trees. In the water around my feet tiny freshwater fish darted, as colourful as those found in the tropical ocean waters. Olsen told us how his village set up an environmental group to ensure the water stayed clean and continued to flow. “We also have to restore the forest to bring back endangered bird species,” he explained, “especially the princess of the forest, the Manumea bird”. Found only in Samoa the Manumea, or tooth-billed pigeon, is a close relative of the now extinct dodo. There are currently thought to be less than 300 surviving birds. Olsen explained that you can still be guaranteed to see a Manumea in Samoa – all you need to do is to look at the Samoan 20 WST bank note, which has a picture. But to see a Manumea in the wild in Samoa you have to be very lucky. For the rest of the trip, I kept my eyes peeled, peering into the trees as we walked by just in case, listening out for the cow-like call the bird makes. At small waterfalls under our guides’ encouragement, we surged up on the black lava rock and leapt into the deep sparkling water below, adrenaline spiking. At the very end of the hike was a giant high waterfall. Fly climbed up the sheer rock face, defying gravity, instead of using the path. Like an Olympic diver he jumped from the rocks and resurfaced with a smile in the deep pool metres away. Upon our return, we had a welcome rest at the traditional thatched fale at Olsen’s house, where we sipped on fresh coconuts as small colourful parrots fed on hibiscus flowers nearby. Olsen explained how, like in New Zealand, introduced predators such as cats, pigs and rats have impacted bird species in Samoa. To combat these impacts there are two pest control projects occurring in Samoa. One of them in Falease’ela and the other in Malololelei Recreation Reserve near Apia. The Falease’ela waterfall walk ecotourism venture helps ensure that this conservation work will continue by supporting the youth in the village and helping manage the conservation projects. The Falease’ela River Walk was a highlight of our trip and they were doing some great conservation action. Over the next few days, time altered and stresses dissolved. Our days were spent in nature walking or swimming and we found that one of the most exciting things about Samoa was not knowing what you would see next. The most surprising sight was seeing seabirds in the jungle. While standing under one of the many truly giant banyan trees, two large tropic birds landed, long white tails streaming behind. We were told they were looking for nests and every day would return to sea and then journey back to feed their chick. As the days passed in Samoa, I felt re-energised. I had been ready for both a holiday and an adventure and Samoa fulfilled both wishes. Next time I want to challenge myself even further – maybe I will bike around both the main islands of Samoa? I have seen an electric bike tour that would fit the bill with the challenge of a multi-day bike ride and the luxury of help for those steep volcanic hills! It seems Samoa is already calling me back for sun, sand and adventure, and from New Zealand it is a short flight away.