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My Samoa Facts and Figures:- Official Name Independent:- State of Samoa Population:- 176,908 (2006 estimate) Capital City:- Apia (38,900) Languages:- Samoan, English Official Currency:- Tala Land Area:- 2,830 sq km (1,093 sq miles) Latitude/Longitude:- 13º 35S, 172º 20W Highest Point:- Mt. Sisisili, 6,070 ft. (1,857 m)
Samoa is made up of nine islands, of which Upolu is the most populated, hosting the capital city of Apia. Scenically speaking, Upolu offers an eclectic mix of natural riches that extend far beyond white sand beaches and blue lagoons. Well, of course there are plenty of those also, including an ample supply of excellent fishing, diving and surfing spots all along the coast. If you want all of this and more, just take a half-day excursion down the east coast, down to idyllic Lalomanu Beach. Or, if romance is on your agenda, you might just want to take the Cross Island Road straight down to the southern beaches… Alluring beaches aside, Upolu’s interior, too, exudes a very special, mystic charm. There are numerous tracks that lead deep through lush rainforests to a number or rivers and dramatically beautiful waterfalls. Many of these are just the business for swimming, picnicking or just generally whiling the time away. Upolu’s budding metropolis of Apia, where 35,000 of Samoa’s 177,000 inhabitants live, is the perfect place to acclimatise to island life. Because it’s hot and humid for most part of the year, Samoans are early risers and you’ll often find them sweeping their floors as early as 5am. Having said that, all the work is performed in a chilled-out manner and it still gets done! Come lunch time and early afternoon and you’ll often find locals snoozing away in one of the open-air fales along the road to beat the heat of the day – only when it cools down in the early evening, do the CBD and coastal road become alive again. Pre and post heat are when you want to hit the colourful Maketi Fou (food market) on Apia’s Fugalei Street, to stock up on fresh fruit like pawpaws or a bunch of sinfully sweet little ladyfinger bananas. About a 10-minute walk from the food market is the flea market – the perfect souvenir haunt where you’ll find everything from clubs and kava bowls to lava lavas (the Samoan sarong), baskets, jewellery and authentic Samoan music. When it’s cooler you’ll also see many of the notoriously sports-mad Samoans indulging in a game of footie or kirikiti, the local version of cricket. By all means, don’t hesitate to join in – and don’t shun the post-match ritual of joining the boys for a cleansing Vailima beer. Speaking of which, Apia has a groovy nightlife – everything from funky pubs and roaring nightclubs to cultural shows and excellent restaurants, where you can sing, dance, enjoy fresh local fare and party the night away…
With a population of 42,000, Savai'i is third largest Polynesian island after Tahiti and New Zealand. It’s also one of the few places on earth where you can truly experience the simple pleasure of life.
Savai'i is a scenic treasure trove, offering everything from a rich, unspoilt marine life and breath-taking waterfalls, to caves, blowholes and rainforests teeming with birds, other wild – but guaranteed harmless – creatures and health-giving plants. Probably the most dramatic geological feature is the Saleaula lava fields, where Mt Matavanu erupted 102 years ago, leaving 50 square kilometres of wrinkly lava tongues in its wake.
On Savai'i, you’ll get a true insight into the traditional Samoan way of life. A great way to experience the culture – and the Savaiian sense of community – is by attending a church service. It’s definitely not an adult-only affair, and chances are baby, gran and the family dog or pig will rock along too. Other traditions you might want to indulge in are the traditional Sunday meal, cooked on an overground volcanic rock oven called umu, a game or two of kirikiti (the national version of cricket), or learning the time-consuming art of tapa cloth making and painting.
Needless to say, Savai'i also offers the obligatory tropical holiday ‘must-haves’ like white sandy, palm-fringed beaches and turquoise lagoons. Without being bias, they really are something to write home about – and to while away the time snorkelling, diving, surfing or having a siesta Samoan-style, in an open-air fale.
Getting to Savai'i is easy – just hop on the ferry from Mulifanua Wharf in Western Upolu and 90 minutes later you’ll be setting foot on the island. Which, by the way, is also the last place in the world to see the sunset each day. And what a sunset that is…
You don’t have to be a literary groupie to enjoy the scenic walk through lush rainforest up to the top of Mt Vaea where the famous Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson rests in peace – the views over Apia and bay are simply stunning. You have the choice of two routes – there’s a 45-minute track or, if you’re feeling less energetic, take the shorter half-hour trail. Whichever way you chose, go early in the morning or late afternoon, as the mid-day heat can be stifling, especially in the height of summer. This is the kind of place you won’t want to leave in a hurry, so pack a picnic and don’t forget your insect repellent.
In the village of Vailima, at the bottom of the track, you’ll find the beautifully restored colonial homestead the TB-ridden Stevenson and his family lived in for the five years prior to his death. Known to the Samoans as Tusitala or teller of tales, the author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island fame became intensely involved in the lives of the local folk and their plight to retain their cultural identity. The informative one-hour guided tour of the mansion and Tusitala’s many authentic personal belongings comes highly recommended, especially of the library where he penned 14 tomes in just four years.
Samoans are blessed with a myriad of therapeutic plants, and the traditional healers, the taulasea, have long used their juice, bark, leaves, roots and various other parts to help treat all sorts of ailments. You’ll find the most powerful specimens deep inside Samoa’s last remaining rainforest on Savaii – including the mamala tree, a traditional yellow fever treatment that’s now under investigation as a potential AIDS cure. Today, the herbal knowledge the predominantly female taulasea passed on through the generations via their daughters and granddaughters is fast becoming a valuable spa resource. All around the islands, freshly plucked, cut and grated nutritious goodies are being used in body wraps, facials and the traditional Samoan massage or fofo to produce velvety smooth skins and lull senses into a state of bliss.
So what are the most sought-after spa ingredients this part of the world? One is nonu – its leaves, flowers and juice are great for soothing and nourishing irritated and sensitive skin. Besides, they also work wonders if you happen to have a fever, scratchy throat, upset tummy or out of control blood pressure... Banana and papaya flesh, organic honey and coconut oil, too, are revered for their feel-good factor and health properties. Papaya is full of protein (which makes up ten percent of the skin) and the antioxidants vitamins A and C – they help prevent cell degeneration and so keep skin looking zesty and young. Banana has soothing and cooling properties (great after too many hours in the sun), while Samoan honey moisturises, nourishes and encourages the growth of new skin. Oh, and the reason all these above make you feel and look like you’ve had an instant extreme makeover, of course, is that they are prepared fresh, just minutes before your treatment.
Both Savai'i and Upolu are dotted with grunty surf breaks and get good swells year round – northern swells in the wet season from November through April, and southern swells in the dry season in between.
Experienced surfers seeking a wave-inspired adrenaline rush will get their kicks in Samoa, that’s for sure. For grommets, the breaks are perhaps a little on the dangerous side, as many of the waves break directly onto the reef and the currents can be evil. In fact, even savvy surfers are advised to only tackle the waves in the company of locals, as they know the rips and rocks inside and out.
On Savai'i, surfing hot spots include Lano and Ananoa Beach in the southwest, and Manase and Fagamalo in the north. On Upolu, the best places to go for a paddle are from Apia east to Cape Utumauu, and on the south coast from Matautu to Matatufu.
Both Upolu and Savai'i have several resorts catering especially for surfies’ needs and wants, and taking on the ocean even means you’re contributing to a good cause: For each day in the surf, you’ll be paying a fee to the villages, to help further the young ones’ education.
@ 2008 Samoa Tourism Authority. Site designed by Electric Art.