Need to up your Instagram game? Want something a bit different to talk about at the school gate? Andrew Dent has just the place
I guarantee the annoying, one-upping Jones family hasn’t been to… Samoa. And that’s understandable as it truly is in the middle of nowhere. But should you be in the area – Australia, Hawaii and New Zealand are sort of close, Fiji is a neighbour –don’t miss out on this castaway destination, still untouched by mainstream tourism.
Samoa is an archipelago in the central South Pacific and forms part of Polynesia. It consists of Upolu, home to the country’s main attractions, and Savai’i, which is more remote.
Samoa is a true island paradise and the people are unsurprisingly wonderful and very hospitable. The natural attractions are mind-blowing and everything on this family-friendly Treasure Island is incredibly affordable once you’ve shelled out for the flight.
Simply driving around the island is an experience in itself. The locals take huge pride in their villages and each one is beautifully manicured with tropical flowers, white-painted stones by the roadside and the obligatory meetinghouse and church. The roads are slow going, but thankfully life moves at a slower pace and it’s generally worth exploring – there is always something stunning around the next corner. Hiring your own car is advisable and it is hard to get lost. Alternatively, there are plenty of guides willing to show you the sights.
To Sua Ocean Trench is the most famous spot on the island. A natural sinkhole where the sea has formed a crater that swells naturally with the tide. It is a really cool experience for all ages, but especially kids old enough and parents brave enough to jump the 10m-drop – depending on the tide. It’s also a scenic picnic spot with a little beach and magnificent cliff top views down the coast.
Take the kids to the Samoan Cultural Village where, despite being a little touristy and contrived, you get to see the traditional elements of Samoan life from cooking and basket weaving to cloth dying and real-life warrior tattooing. Don’t miss the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, it’s set up in the house where the Treasure Island author lived for 20 years.
From literary giants to giant clams, a visit to the Giant Clam Sanctuary on Le Valasi’s Beach is another must. Neither you nor your kids will ever forget the incredible sight of between 20 and 30 massive clams in the magical, protected Polynesian waters just a short snorkel from the beach – all for the small price of a donation to the villagers who look after the area.
Samoa has a surprising number of churches scattered all over the island – every few hundred meters you come across another one. Multiple denominations are represented and they vary in size. It is worth popping your head into a few, but the Catholic cathedral in Apia deserves a special visit.
One of the best ways to see the island is to get off it. Book a fishing charter with Greg Hopping from Troppo Fishing Adventures Samoa. Greg is an affable Aussie who’s been settled in Samoa for 10 years and knows where the bites are. As you head out, marvel at the immense scale of the cliffs and forests back on shore.
Being out on the water is stunning and we cast a line off the reef not far from the surfers.
As ever with fishing we had to be patient but eventually we got some action. By the end of the half-day trip I had a sizeable fish, which the chaps gutted and prepared and gave to the chef for us to eat for dinner that night. It’s quite an experience for children to eat what they or their parents caught with their own rod.
An absolute must for active families is a half-day hike with Lalotalie Ecat Venturers Samoa up a gorge with a progression of ever-larger waterfalls. The trail starts at the home of a local village chief, with a cursory look at your footwear (trainers are fine) and not a hint of a health and safety waiver, you’re off into the local bush. The first few waterfalls are tame enough, but require you getting utterly soaked. As the adventure continues up the gorge through stunning vegetation all sorts of experiences unfold, including leaping through waterfalls from ledges behind and dunking your head in a sinkhole before you graduate to jumping into the final monster 21m fall. It’s a bit like a real-life game of snakes and ladders – I loved it and would recommend it for kids aged eight and above with a sense of adventure.
When it comes to accommodation, hotels are generally not as fancy as you might be used to, for example in the Caribbean or Europe, but that is part of the charm. For the first night it’s advisable to stay close to the airport and the Taumeasina Island resort is an excellent choice. The most modern of Samoa’s hotels, it’s a great place to get acclimatised and see the sites close to Apia.
For spectacular beach and coastal hotels you need to go across to the south of the island. At Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa the manager – a young, wordly, third-generation Samoan – has just returned from studying in Australia and is bringing contemporary ideas to island hospitality. Try and bag a beachfront villa – they’re spacious with a deck that goes right out over the ocean. The resort has a lovely rock swimming pool that’s perfect to jump into after a day out exploring. Slightly more affordable is the Saletoga Sands Resort & Spa.
This place is a self-styled ‘family friendly resort’ that was full of friendly Aussies and Kiwis. It’s great for kids, with a gentle beach, lots of activities and large swimming pool. Again, go for the beachfront villas, and make sure you head to the sundowner bar and the restaurant for affordable food and drink.
I urge you to put Samoa on your bucket list. You will love it and you’ll be a more engaging family for the experience. And remember to tell the Joneses!
The main point of entry into Samoa is Falelolo International Airport. Samoa Airways flies from Auckland from around £330 return and from Sydney from around £430 return.
Other airlines include Air New Zealand, Virgin Samoa and Fiji Airways.
Taumeasina Island Resort costs from £220 per room per night.
Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa costs from £237 per room per night.
Saletoga Sands Resort & Spa costs from £116 per room per night.
Tour operators selling holidays to Samoa include Audley Travel, Austravel, Cox & Kings, Destinology, DailAFlight, Gullivers Travel, STA Travel and Turquoise Holidays.
Samoa only has two seasons. The dry season runs from May to October when it is recommended to visit. Avoid the wet season from November to April. The average daily temperature is 30°C and the ocean is a warm 25°C.