An Introduction to Samoa
Before the thought of moving to New Zealand had even entered my head, I had held a desire to visit Samoa. I’m not sure where it came from, especially living in Scotland at the time, almost as far from there as I could possibly be. Living in the Southern Hemisphere now, especially in New Zealand, the Pacific Islands became much more accessible, and with the Cook Islands and Fiji having been visited before, I had my sights set on another island adventure. A tropical island getaway seemed like the ideal antidote to the cold South Island winter. As much as I love the summers of New Zealand, I find the winters harder to bare than those of my Homeland, with short days and cold temperatures having none of the Christmas and snowy vibes that I’m used to from my previous life in Aberdeen. With the anxiety that has become a constant companion for me in these last few years, my solo trip away couldn’t have come at a better time.
Following a domestic flight from Christchurch to Auckland, I spent a few hours on the international leg of the flight with a mix of apprehension and attempts to tell myself it would be alright. Two decisions I’d made in the last few days before leaving were to result in me having a rather stressful arrival in the country, which had a knock-on effect of causing me some stress a few days later too. I’m someone who lives by my debit card, or when abroad, my foreign currency card. I’ve gotten into the habit of using my foreign currency card to withdraw local currency from the ATM at my arrival airport. But when I arrived, having decided not to bother getting the local currency whilst still in NZ, the arrivals hall had no ATM and the currency exchange counters were adorned with cash-only signs. Knowing that I was going to be spending my first few days in rural Samoa, not having cash was less than ideal. Unsure what to do, I joined the customs queue and got myself into the country first.
Thankfully, once through into the main terminal hall, I found an ATM. Next challenge was to pick up my ferry tickets. I was spending the first half of my week on Upolu, and the second half of my week on Savai’i, and had to collect my tickets ahead of the crossing. I’d been given instructions to visit the ferry company’s office at the airport, but after going round in circles in the small terminal, I couldn’t find it. Deciding to deal with it on another day, I headed to the car hire office to pick up my rental car. I’d realised in Auckland that I’d forgotten the PIN number for my credit card. A call to the bank whilst still in NZ was fruitless – all they could do was post me out a new one which was pointless, and I’d spent the whole flight to Samoa wracking my brains for the lost memory.
I was confident I’d eventually worked it out, and with car hire always requiring a credit card for a payment hold, I went in to the office, a little hot and stressed, but confident I’d worked out the problem. Only my card declined: not activated! I tried my foreign currency card: not accepted. I tried my NZ debit card: funds not sufficient. I offered cash: not accepted. I tried to get onto my Internet Banking: no signal. During all this, the lady helping me started serving other people, as I started sweating profusely, internally panicking. My entire trip revolved around me having my own transport. Not being able to hire a car was a major problem. In any other country, I’m sure I would have had to leave the rental shop empty-handed, but I was incredibly grateful to the woman in that office in Samoa who eventually came back to me, saw my distress and eventually let me have the car anyway. It was a stressful start to the trip, and I finally got out the airport, paying the cash toll at the exit, and headed off… albeit in the wrong direction.
But I was off. With no cellular connection, I quickly decided to put my phone on flight mode and keep it that way for the whole week. I’d downloaded Google Maps of the islands before arriving so that I could navigate, and once I turned around to head the right way, I was soon in awe of the lushness. From the airport, I headed towards Apia but turned off before reaching the country’s only city, and from that point onwards, I was in rural Samoa, and the vegetation around me grew thick and green. The speed limit on open roads is only 55km/hr, and 40km/hr in inhabited areas, and the whole way through my trip it was obvious why. Animals roam free in the areas around villages and even in some areas that seemed away from habitation, I came across horses at the side of the road or the occasional pig. I was quick to realise that everybody waves in Samoa, and this was something that I grew to love with each passing day. Although many of the teenagers were either shy or aloof, children and adults alike broke into a wide grin when I waved at them on passing. There was a lot of people out and about in the multitude of villages I drove through on route. Visiting in June 2019, it was the final build up to the Pacific Games, a regionalised version of the Olympic Games, and everywhere was being decorated with bunting and colourful posts. I was quick to find Samoa stunning, and these decorated villages were a glorious sight to see.
After over 1.5hrs of driving, I found myself at a ford. The afternoon was pushing on towards evening and there was no way I wanted to take the hour detour to avoid it, but it hadn’t been mentioned on Google Maps and I was fully aware I was in a rental car. I watched another car cross and realised it wasn’t too bad as long as I didn’t cause too much of a wave in the water. Beyond it, the road turned to sand in places as I hugged the south coast. I was immensely glad to pull into the Aga Reef Resort, my home for the next few nights where I was warmly welcomed and taken to my cabin where towel elephants greeted me from the bed. It was a bit overcast here and exposed to the wind which wafted through the complex, but I quickly came to love this resort and will absolutely stay here again if I ever make it back. It was rather out of the way, not even attached to a village, and having a car to be based here was an absolute must, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed.
A short walk from my cabin was the lagoon and the resort’s small swimming pool. A breakwater had been put in to allow for some over-the-water cabins that had direct access into the lagoon. A wooden bridge connected the breakwater to the mainland near the pool, and I parked up on one of the loungers to absorb the warmth a little. After resting for a while I took a stroll on the deserted stretch of beach to the east of the resort, circling back and finding a spot near the pool to start a nightly ritual that is the perfect end to every night in a tropical paradise: cocktails. There was a delicious cocktail menu to work through every night, and the staff at the resort were oh-so-obliging and friendly. I seemed to intrigue them being a solo traveller, something that I don’t think they get that often there. The resort would make a perfect romantic retreat and as I watched the other guests at dinner, it was a mix of couples and grown family reunions. I read magazines about hiking at dinner each night whilst I enjoyed the most delicious of meals.
I slept delightfully well and woke up ahead of breakfast, giving me time to take a wander around the complex. The sun rose just round the corner, keeping the resort in shadow for the first few hours of the day. It meant it was a very pleasant temperature to walk around in, and hardly anyone else was awake. I greeted the staff in the basic Samoan that I knew and took a wander to the bridge out to the breakwater. The concrete pillars were teeming with large crabs which offered a lot of entertainment as they skirted around each other, dodging the lapping waves. Out on the breakwater, the wind was strongest, and I walked to the pool and bar that was at the far end as my hair whipped around me. There was a rock pool here, a more rudimentary version of the swimming pool higher up, and I had a good view along the coast in both directions. To the east, the main view was of Nu’utele, a small but distinctive island just off the coast by Lalomanu.
The buffet breakfasts were as glorious as the dinners were, and I indulged in everything that was on offer from the fresh fruit to the baked goods. They set me up perfectly each day for the explorations ahead. I had originally planned these action-packed days but I was quick to accept the speed of island time, and relished the morning relaxation, eating slowly, and getting going only once I felt satiated. By the time I was ready to get moving, the sun had finally reached over the high hillside behind the resort and cast the place in warm sunshine. I eyed up the kayaks on the way back to my cabin, telling myself I’d use one later in my stay. I never did. There was just too much to do and with a rental car at my disposal, I had the freedom of the whole island, and was determined to do it justice. I’d divided the island into segments that I planned on exploring each day, and so I set off towards what I would discover to be one of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen.