It was only a short drive to the east of my resort, negotiating an area where a landslip had buried the road, to one of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen. I had read that the line between public and private land was blurred here, and that locals often charged visitors to park anywhere, or to access beaches that otherwise looked like they were open to anyone. I was intent on not upsetting anyone, and was after all a visitor to their country, but aside from what I’d read in the guidebook before arrival, the reality was not always so clear cut to understand the etiquette. Lalomanu beach is a long stretch of blissful white sand backed by beach fales. Many beaches in Samoa have these huts available for day rent or night rent and I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to park or access the beach here. Instead, I parked at the far end of the village, looked around for anyone that wanted to charge me for the privilege, and when no-one approached, I walked to the beach from there.
The white sand was heavenly as I strolled the length of it in one direction then back again. A couple of families swum in the water, and although there was a light breeze, it was lovely and warm. Off shore, the water was a glorious blue and the offshore island of Nu’utele looked close. After getting my fill of the beach, I walked along the road to the turn-off for Cape Tapaga. Being a Sunday, many people were at church, meaning the streets felt deserted. I walked down the road towards the cape, but found myself in a cul-de-sac of private dwellings and I felt like I was at risk of trespassing. I didn’t want to be disrespectful and it was really difficult to know at times whether I was at risk of walking somewhere I shouldn’t.
I had read about a hike up the slope here, but couldn’t find the trail so continued along the road, passing a pig on the verge, and enjoying the changing view of Nu’utele as I wandered up the coast. After a while, I decided I’d wandered far enough, and returned on foot towards my car. The pretty church on the main road had emptied and families were returning for their Sunday feast. I found what I thought was the trail I was looking for, only to discover it led to someone’s house. I figured it wasn’t meant to be, and returned to the gorgeous Lalomanu beach.
For me, having a rental car was the best way to explore the island. I’d chosen a resort to stay at that was very out of the way, but Upolu is big enough to need wheels to do it justice, and I was very glad for the freedom to explore under my own terms. It was a big expense to add to the trip, but outside of Apia, I only occasionally saw a public bus. Being limited by their routes and timetables would have been very restrictive. I loved the myriad of villages that the main roads passed through. Some were small and understated, others had the prettiest of churches, and many were colourful and full of bunting ahead of the Pacific Games. I’m not religious myself, but I appreciate the architecture of many religious buildings and love a pretty church. There were so many of them on Samoa that caught my eye.
The road eventually cut inland and leaving the coast behind, I was surrounded by thick vegetation. This interior also tended to have its own micro-climate and on my various explorations, I regularly left sunshine on the coast to drive through mist and rain on these hill roads. After some time the road turned north, arriving back at the coast at Falefa. I discovered the pool I was planning on visiting was shut on a Sunday, so I decided to take a drive along the north coast to the west. Wherever I could, I would stop to watch the waves crashing on the rocky shore or admire a local beach. Parking and pull-ins were limited – this really isn’t a country that’s used to tourism and that’s frankly why it is so charming. It did mean that there were times I wished I’d had a dash cam to record the drive because it was simply so stunning.
After a while, my stomach began talking to me, and I turned round and went in search of food. Many of the villages are quite understated and it wasn’t always obvious where the eateries were. Every village had its own small store which varied from a window in a wall with an attendant to a walk-in store. But I wanted more than just snacks, and after not really finding anywhere that looked open, I decided to pull into a resort in Faleapuna. As a non-resident, I was only allowed access to the bar and restaurant, and I had it almost to myself. It was a very late lunch, but they were more than happy to serve me, and as I had the choice of tables, I sat down overlooking the ocean. Almost immediately a cat appeared and looked longingly in my direction. Soon after a second one appeared and I found myself with a hopeful audience as I tucked into my fish sandwich.
Samoa’s steep interior results in a plethora of waterfalls. Satiated from lunch, it was only a matter of minutes to reach Falefa falls. Access was down the back of the local store, and once I’d paid the entrance tax, I headed down through a beautiful tropical garden to reach the river edge just in time for rain to start. Thankfully there was a shelter at the bottom and I was able to ride the worst of it out under cover. A concrete path by the water offered a couple of vantage points of the falls which were actually quite a bit upstream from here. I could just about make out the ocean in the other direction and with the mixing of fresh and salt water in the river, there were plenty of crabs hanging out at the side of the path. These ones were much smaller and flatter than the ones I’d seen at the resort that morning and they were very flighty, scurrying away with every movement that I made.
Just a little up the road I realised there was a lookout right at the falls so got out to explore. I’d only been there a matter of minutes when one of the villagers came over to get payment. I had assumed it was part of the entry tax I’d already paid but as it turned out repetitively over my time there, the locals appeared to take ownership of a patch, and even if those patches were to look at the same thing, it would be expected that you paid per patch. It was a mild nuisance and at times confusing, but at the end of the day, as a tourist, I was comparatively rich to many of them and in the end it also offered a bit of interaction with the villagers that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. This spot was right where the water tipped over the rocks, and although a little hidden by the vegetation, it was nice to get the different aspect.
Heading back inland, instead of following the road back to the east coast, I took the turn-off to Le Mafa Pass where it climbed up into the hills and once more became surrounded by mist and rain. But it was deliciously green and thick with vegetation and there was a viewing area at one point where I could see back towards the coast as some cows watched me watching them. I had planned on stopping at another waterfall on the way back, but being on private property, I had missed the opening hours and so pushed on back to the south coast and returned to the Aga Reef Resort where I was staying.
To stretch my legs after the day of driving, I walked from the resort along the road to the west and cut down onto Saleapaga Beach which was almost deserted. I had hoped to see a sunset but discovered that just like the sunrise, it was just out of view over the steep hillside. I walked till the beach ran out, then cut up to the road to head back. As the light faded away, it was the perfect time to sit by the pool with a gorgeous cocktail. The wind began to whip up as I sat there and I was eventually forced inside. It was another delicious dinner before returning to my cabin to plan for the next day. I was supposed to have picked up my ferry tickets to Savai’i at the airport on arrival but couldn’t find the office. My guidebook showed they had an office in Apia, my destination for the following morning, so I was content that all would be fine. Instead, Apia had other plans for me in store.