Savai'i - the untouched neighbour of Upolu, the second of the main islands of Samoa. There is no airport here and just one road encircles the island. It's hot, sticky, slow, sunny and wonderful.
We enjoyed Upolu, with the bustling Apia, the famous To Sua Ocean Trench and a number of beautiful spots to discover, but as we were told before arriving in Samoa, it is Savai'i where the real magic lies. Sleepy villages, where every fifth building is a church, are nestled roadside. Hidden spots are marked only by small signs encouraging you to stop and explore. Entire families of wild pigs roam the streets where cars must yield to them as secondary citizens. Palm trees grow tall and longingly into the wind.
A Note on Coronavirus
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic are felt even more strongly here. We have seen just four other travellers in our whole five days on the island - and all of them have been guests in our hotel for a night or two during our stay. We are the only ones who have rented a car. Staff sit and wait in the shade for the bustle of activity that seems long gone. Taxis drive aimlessly around, empty of passengers. Markets sit full of sellers and goods with no buyers in sight. It is sad to witness a tiny island nation so dependent on tourism and suffering because of the severe lack of it.
Samoa, having so recently struggled through a vicious measles outbreak that tore through the country, is desperate to avoid another such occurrence. Entrance to the country is by no means easy - medical clearance, in-depth questioning, limited flights. All I can say is that, as soon as you are able and it is reasonable and safe, please continue to travel and support smaller economies.
How to Get to Savai'i
The only way to get to Savai'i is by the ferry which is operated by the Samoa Shipping Corporation. At the time of writing, adult tickets were 12 tala one-way. The ferry operates daily with limited sailings on Sundays, as with all services in Samoa.
The ferry departs Mulifanua Wharf on Upolu and arrives at Salelologa Wharf on Savai'i. The small ferry takes 1h 45m; the large ferry is a bit faster and does the trip in 1h 15 m.
Where to Stay in Savai'i
Back to the positives of this trip - we spent five nights at the Savaiian Hotel, just a ten minute drive outside town and the ferry wharf. A taxi cost us 15 tala up to the hotel where we checked into a colourful and beautiful hotel; spacious and idyllic. We had our own little hut with a bathroom, fridge and patio to enjoy. A luscious oceanside pool offers relief from the staunch heat. An in-house restaurant - one of the view on the island - serves up Samoan and international cuisine. A wrap-around patio provides a comfy spot to curl up with a book in the shade.
Aside from a few hiccups with the service (namely regarding our rental car and the housekeeping) and the chickens that insisted on squawking every morning from 4am until sunrise, we enjoyed our stay overall.
Getting Around Savai'i
The best way to discover Samoa is to rent a car; the buses are unreliable and infrequent, especially if you're hoping to see a lot in a day. We rented a car for 130 tala from our hotel for 24 hours and found it comfortable, easy and straightforward. You drive on the left in Samoa, as in New Zealand, and most Samoans have a car. Gas was reasonable as well; 70-80 tala fills a tank but we got around the island for 15 tala!
To drive in Samoa, you'll need to buy a temporary driver's license - you can get this from the Tourism Authority Office in Samoa or at any of the rental car shops. We already had one from our rental car in Upolu.
There's also plenty of taxis which will willingly flag you down and offer to take you anywhere you need to go. Negotiate a price before you get in; we paid 15 tala for a 10 minute drive from the wharf to our hotel.
The cheapest way to get around is by bus. We hopped on a bus from our hotel into town for 1.50 tala each! Buses typically have a set route and all you need to do is wave one down, hop in and tap on the window to get let off. There's no set stops except for at the start and finish of the route.
Things to Do on Savai'i
Afu Aau Waterfall
With just one road around the outside of the island, it's hard to get lost; you either go this way or that way! We headed south from our hotel, passing by town to pick up water and snacks, before heading out to the more offbeat spots. The first was Afu Aau and, what with being voted the #1 attraction on Savai'i according to TripAdvisor (!!), of course we had to see it for ourselves. Entrance now sits at 10 tala each, paid to the locals at the entrance of the gravel road that leads to the waterfall.
We had the entire swimming hole which spews out a collection of waterfalls dancing along the path to ourselves and spent the morning swimming, lazing on the rocks and giggling for the camera.
A collection of roadside stops followed, each prettier than the last. Palm trees swayed, crystal clear blue water lapped against white sand and dark black lava rocks, kids rummaged in the shallow waters for oysters and crabs ran sideways across the hot earth.
Every fifth building in Samoa seems to be a church. I wish I was kidding. There's a devout sense of community, religion, faith and guiding values that Samoans find in church and every village has plenty to choose from. Christianity arrived in Samoa with the Europeans; the Samoans in turn became missionaries and spread their beliefs throughout the Pacific Islands; a whopping 98% of Samoans are Christians.
A little terrifying and a little underwhelming, for 5 tala each, the Pe'ape'a Cave is a black tunnel under someone's land that is home to a local nest of swallows (we panicked and thought they were bats). It's an experience to say the least! And the locals do provide you with a torch!
I wish I could tell you where exactly we stopped for these photos but I have no clue - I simply saw this cluster of palm trees and insisted on stopping for some of my favourite photos of our entire trip to Samoa. That's kind of just how this road is though, you stop every few minutes for gorgeous views!
Saleaula Lava Field
You can pay to wander through the lava field that encircled the Virgin's grave and LMS Church. We drove past instead with our jaws open at the incredible remnants of the 1905 eruption - dark black lava has completely buried villages, churches and trees. New growth is fighting its way through the blackened earth.