I rose with good intentions. I had a bit of a drive ahead of me that morning to catch the mid-day ferry but I was still to secure the ferry tickets into my possession, a series of cock-ups resulting in me feeling a bit stressed as the need to have them grew closer. But I’d spent so long exploring Upolu and ignoring the resort’s lagoon, that I was determined to squeeze in a quick snorkel before leaving. I took my usual wander to the bridge that led to the breakwater, and as I idly watched the crabs below, waiting for the breakfast buffet to open, I was shocked to see a reef shark swim by. In all the previous days I hadn’t seen much fish from the surface, so I couldn’t believe there was a shark in the lagoon. This was of immense excitement as I’d swam with reef sharks a few years prior in the Galapagos Islands and the prospect of doing it again spurred me on to gobble my last breakfast down quite quickly. I stopped at the bridge again to gauge the tide before kitting up and saw a reef shark again swim underneath, but as I wrestled with my head about how much time I actually had to take a snorkel, my rushed intake of food and the background level of stress kicked in to a sudden onset of gurgling and an unwanted sensation in my tummy that had me rushing to the toilet instead of the lagoon. Clearly it was not meant to be.
I had the entire width of Upolu to drive to reach both the ferry terminal and the pick-up point of my tickets. It had been arranged to have them waiting for me at the Sheraton Beach Resort just a few minutes drive along the coast from the port, and I pulled up with plenty of time to spare and under a gorgeous blue sky. My stress was finally appeased as within minutes I had the much-awaited tickets and I was invited to use the resort until it was time to check-in for the ferry. The resort was simply stunning, being one of the island’s upmarket hotels. Walking through the complex and out the other side, I was confronted with a gorgeous blue swimming pool, complete with in-pool bar, and framed behind it was a beautiful blue ocean, greenery fringing the coast and a small palm-fringed beach. I could just about make out Savai’i, Samoa’s other main island, on the horizon and despite the glorious sunshine where I was standing, I noted the large gloomy cloud that shrouded my destination. Finding a nice spot in the shade, I passed the time on a sun lounger before it was time to head to the port.
Having kept away from Apia for most of my trip so far, I’d really felt like there weren’t many tourists on Samoa, and parked up waiting to board the inter-island ferry, I noted the same. The vast majority of vehicle and foot traffic appeared to be locals, and even though they were acclimated to the heat, we all shared the same desire to get out of the burning sun as we waited to get on the ferry. Eventually I was on board and as we waited to sail, a light drizzle started. For just over an hour we ploughed the waters of the Apolima Strait until we berthed at Salelologa under a grey sky. My accommodation was at the almost direct opposite end of the island so it was a simple matter of picking a coast to drive along to get there. There wasn’t much difference in time, but I picked the north coast and set off for the not-quite 2hr drive. Having missed out on the opportunity to snorkel at the Aga Reef Resort on Upolu, I’d decided to make snorkelling at the Va-I-Moana resort my main priority for that afternoon, so I just enjoyed the scenery on route but didn’t stop anywhere until eventually I pulled in at the resort after what seemed like forever.
This resort was so different to the one I’d been staying at the last few nights. It was much more spread out with a mix of fales and cottages, and an expansive lawn lay through the other side of the resort building, along side which was a beautiful small beach, and a volleyball court. It was a totally different vibe but I loved it all the same. I’d decided to splash out on a sunset cabin, which was effectively a fully walled version of a fale, and as I walked through the door to the giant bed with mosquito net, it was only a few steps onto the balcony which sat over the lapping waves. I was like a kid in a candy shop, and I couldn’t wait to chill out in the evening to watch the sunset. Once geared up I headed straight to the beach and into the water. There was a floating pontoon some way out near where a couple of boats were buoyed, but I started off having a bit of a snorkel around the bay, expecting to see a whole load of tropical fish and being left rather disappointed. The fish were few and far between and not particularly colourful. Eventually I ditched my snorkel gear and just enjoyed the swim. In hindsight, and had I known how things would have panned out, I should have gotten the later ferry and spent the morning snorkelling at the Aga Reef Resort.
As the afternoon headed towards evening, I took a walk towards Auala, the small settlement that bordered the resort. Just like on Upolu, I was entertained by chickens and pigs scurrying around the undergrowth and I continued the waves and smiles that had been a highlight of my time in Samoa. The vast majority of people were polite and happy and as the sun lowered, the locals were enjoying the water themselves at the end of the working day. As sunset approached, I hurried back to my fale to sit out on the balcony with the sea below me, as the light changed and the sun set on my first day in Savai’i. Dinner was quite a different experience at this resort as the constant soundtrack that played at the bar was the most unusual choice with a mixture of classics and randomly, quite a few Disney songs interspersed. The menu was a little more regimented but the cocktails were just as enjoyed here as they’d been each night prior. When I retreated in the darkness to my fale, and climbed into my gigantic bed, I came to realise that having the sea right underneath me was not conducive to a good night’s sleep. I’d always assumed the sound of the lapping ocean would have been a perfect remedy to a day in the sun, but instead I found myself shoving ear plugs into my ears and sleeping with a pillow over my head in an effort to drown out the noise of the waves whacking against the wooden posts.
It was a beautiful morning that greeted me and I sat out on the balcony for a bit before heading to breakfast. There was no rush, and it was an easy place to wander slowly among the palm trees to aid my digestion. Unlike Upolu, there are no interior roads, so there was simply the case of driving either clockwise or anti-clockwise to go sightseeing. I decided to do the south coast sights that day, and the north coast sights the following day, so I turned right out the resort and drove the short distance to the turn-off for Falealupo. My first stop was the canopy walk that was nestled among the thick vegetation that was typical of this part of the island. After paying the entry tax, I was pointed in the direction of a track leading into the forest, and after a short distance I came across a man sitting at the base of the tree that led me up the stairs to the swing bridge among the trees. I’m a total introvert and not the best at conversing with strangers, so I was relieved when he left me to it after initially climbing up with me. After the bridge, a wooden staircase wrapped around a giant tree leading up to a platform several storeys up. A couple were already there despite how early it was, but they left soon after, leaving me on my own. The landscape was so different to Upolu and appeared much more obviously volcanic, the last volcanic eruption being just over 100 years prior. A lot of the view was restricted by the foliage, but where I could see through, it was like a jungle. I was distracted briefly by a green lizard that joined me, and after it scurried off, I too headed off back down the tree.
Down the hill was one of the most underwhelming tourist sites on Samoa, Moso’s footprint. Effectively a sunken patch of hardened lava that was supposed to look like a giant’s footprint, it not only didn’t look like anything exciting, but my guide was a rather bored child who tried in vain to sound enthused as she relayed the fable on autopilot, whilst I pretended to be interested. She was more interested in knowing about me, which I politely obliged her with before moving on. The sandy track cut close to the shoreline and I found a spot to pull in and get out onto the beach to stretch my legs. Both the road and the beach were made up of a gorgeous white sand, but the sea did not look inviting at this most western point of the island. A couple of bends later was the tiny settlement of Old Falealupo and its shell of a church that had been destroyed. I contemplated getting out to have a nosy, but there wasn’t an obvious place to park and a lady was watching me from one of the houses in a manner that made it unclear whether I was unwelcome, or whether she was just waiting to grab me to charge me a viewing tax, so I decided not to stay.
The entry tax for Moso’s footprint had included the House of Rock which was only a few minutes further along the road. So used to being grabbed the minute I parked anywhere, it was strange to have nobody approach me for money and I felt like I was sneaking around as I followed the track into the trees that brought me past a couple of ponds and on to a small lava tube. There was no denying Savai’i’s volcanic origins – the evidence was everywhere – but compared to the giant lava tubes I’d walked through on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands, this one was compact and full of spider’s webs, and had collapsed in places, leaving only the middle section still intact as a tube.
Beyond New Falealupo, the sandy road became a little rougher with some tree roots undermining it in places. My research had suggested this was a very passable route but being in a rental car, I had a brief moment where I contemplated turning back, before deciding to push on. Thankfully, the rough section didn’t last long, and although it remained a sandy track rather than a true road all the way to Cape Mulinuu and beyond, it was a gorgeous drive, nestled among tall palm trees, with the blue sky above and a gentle ocean close by. It felt like a total tropical island getaway and I barely saw another soul the whole time I was on the detour off the main coast road. It took over an hour to reach the next stop, but little did I know that my worry with taking the rental car down the sandy road was to pale into insignificance with what was to come.