About an hour of driving through a multitude of settlements eventually brought me to the turnoff for my next stop for the day. Down a rough drive with little space to pass another car, I reached a spot by the coast where I was stopped to pay the entrance tax before being allowed to continue. From here, the road quickly downgraded to a track that hugged the coastline, and it quickly became uneven and rough, with few places to accommodate anyone coming the other way. It was a sunny day, with the waves crashing on the rocks immediately to my left, but it took all my concentration to negotiate my rental car in a manner that kept the momentum going, with minimal risk of damage to the bodywork. It was manageable for a 2-wheel drive, but it was not pleasant, and I was glad to reach the car park at the far end. As I got out of the car I was immediately descended upon to pay another tax. I’d read about this in the guidebook, and had been resolute not to pay twice. When insisting I’d already paid at the far end of the drive, the locals were just as insistent that I had to pay again. The first tax was for crossing the private land on the upper road, they said. This tax was for the privilege of parking my car and having it ‘watched’. In the end, it was easier just to pay, but what I found was that it was not my car that got watched, but myself that was watched. I felt like my every move was under scrutiny, and I wondered whether walking too far one way would incur yet another tax.
But it was just a short walk to reach the Alofaaga Blowholes on Cape Asuisui, and the sea had enough chop on it from the prevailing wind to create some impressive waves and the intermittent burst of water through the holes in the rocks. As I stood minding my own business, I was approached by three local girls who asked if I minded taking a photograph. Not a problem, only as I went to take their camera to photograph the three friends, I was caught off guard by the realisation that they wanted a photo with me in it. They posed with me, making gestures towards me, and I couldn’t have felt more like a white foreign girl if I tried. Many many years ago, on my first solo adventure to Canada when I was 19, I was exploring Vancouver’s Botanic Gardens when I was approached by a Japanese man who was with his wife. In broken English he had asked for a photograph and I had once again been surprised to realise that he wanted to photograph me with his wife, rather than my assumption of me taking their picture together. I presume they thought I was a local Canadian, but once again I found myself bemused about someone wanting to pose with a complete stranger for a photograph. As a shy person who hates being in my own photos, it was a little degrading.
Having negotiated the drive back to the main road, and continued east, I eventually pulled in down a side street to an unassuming car park. Once more it wasn’t long before somebody made a beeline for me to get my entrance tax. A little further along the road I parked up and started a pleasant walk following the river upstream past a series of waterfalls. When I reached Afu Aau waterfalls at the trail end, there was just a mother and daughter there, and the three of us could enjoy some peace and tranquility as we swam in the dark pool at its base. It was impossible to see how deep the pool was but it was possible to stand up in bits of it. The sun’s position meant most of it was in shadow but it was a pleasant temperature. After a while, the mother and daughter left and there was a brief spell when I had the place to myself before others arrived. Approaching mid-afternoon and quite hungry, I felt the incentive to move on.
The interior of Savai’i is effectively inaccessible for the most part, so unlike on Upolu where a series of roads crisscross the uplands, Savai’i effectively just has a ringroad with a few short roads leading off from it. From the waterfall, I simply continued to circle the island in an anticlockwise direction, passing Salelologa where the ferry terminal is, and finding myself back on the same route I’d taken the day before. Although the water was a stunning blue to my right, there wasn’t really anywhere to pull over and enjoy it. With another full day on the island still to come, I opted to return to my own resort, gratefully finding a pizza parlour on route, and taking another swim in the harbour, this time following the sea wall where I found a bit more life than I’d noticed the day before. Still, I was again disappointed that I hadn’t made the time to get in the lagoon at the Aga Reef Resort on Upolu, but on such a gloriously hot and sunny day, any time spent in the water was just what I needed. After a walk in the nearby streets, I retreated to my over-water balcony to watch the sunset. After darkness fell it was once more cocktail o’clock and I found myself subjected to the bizarre Disney sountrack at the resort’s restaurant once more.
It was my last full day in Samoa and I was in no particular rush. After breakfast I took a meander around the resort, enjoying the early morning sun before the temperature got too oppressive. The water past the breakwater was still and calm and there was barely a soul about as I took my time ogling the tropical landscape. The day’s plan was to circumnavigate the island in a clockwise direction, and almost immediately after leaving Asau where the resort was, the coast road cut inland slightly to cross a rather featureless landscape. Suddenly my first stop appeared out of nowhere and I found myself among some chickens as I pulled up in someone’s front garden. A lovely lady greeted me, and led me down some steps to the hidden secret on her property: a lava tunnel that headed deep under the road. There is no escaping Savai’is volcanic origins – the solidified lava streams are visible across the entire island – and as she led me in, she told me about the birds that nested inside, pointing out some of the nests with her torch. It was lovely and cool in there, and the lady seemed to enjoy showing me around.
One of my favourite things about driving around both Upolu and Savai’i was spotting all the gorgeous churches that graced nearly every settlement. Sometimes there was a spot that I could pull over and admire them, and other times there was no such luck. At the most northern point of Savai’i there was a pleasant beach that I could park up by and enjoy. I went for a paddle in the shallow water, watching as others snorkelled just a little off shore. Nearby it was relatively busy given the proximity of two decent-sized resorts, but I didn’t have to wander far to get back to some solitude. Back on the road, the settlements came in quick succession until Sale’aula presented me with my next stop.
One of the island’s most popular sights, the lava field here is a remnant of the island’s volcanic eruption in the early 20th century. Several villages were buried under the molten lava that advanced from the interior’s slopes, and here the remnants of a church remains encased in its lava grave. It is only a short walk from the car park to the church which now has a giant tree growing inside its shell. A side track leads to an area known as the Virgin’s grave where a nun’s grave was encircled by, but never covered by, the advancing lava. A lot of vegetation is now springing up from the lava, and thankfully there were bursts of mature trees to offer some shade from the relentlessly hot sun. The church though was the most interesting feature, the doorways half buried but with enough room to climb inside where the lava bears the hardened imprints of the collapsed roof and various tree roots. Beyond here, the trail led down to a large lagoon. My attention was grabbed by a colourful pigeon that watched me from a nearby tree, and I sweated there, enjoying the shade and the vista of the water until some other people arrived.
The road continued to mostly follow the coast, through yet more settlements, and past yet more resorts. There was plenty of lagoons and reef visible to my left but few places to pull over. I had become a little wary of stopping in popular spots lest I get hounded for a tax. Samoans were incredibly friendly, but the way of charging tourists every time they stepped on a piece of land or parked a car was a tad off-putting. I stopped for lunch at the Amoa Resort, enjoying a lovely pasta dish and ice-cold coffee in a surprisingly empty restaurant. Crossing the road here afterwards, I realised there was no beach, and the coast from here round to Saleologa seemed less than inviting. As I completed my circumnavigation of the island, a haze had moved in, creating a fantastical sunbow as I followed the southern coast. I’d never seen a sunbow before, and it travelled with me for a large chunk of the drive back to the resort. Following a dip in the ocean, and a brief walk near the resort, I sat for my last Samoan sunset before heading to the bar for my last Samoan cocktail. Both islands had offered very different experiences but both had been very much worth visiting.
I had a mid-morning sailing to catch back to Upolu ahead of a mid-afternoon flight home to New Zealand. I set off early, following the south coast and once more being enamoured by the sight of pigs and cattle just wandering about in the villages. It was overcast on the western half of the island, but by the time I eventually reached the eastern half, the sun was blazing and it was a gorgeous blue sky that greeted me at the ferry terminal. Checked in and parked ready to load, I stood by the water’s edge watching the boat arrive. It was visible from some distance, and I stood among an increasing crowd as its hulk grew ever bigger. When I boarded, I was a little concerned to be guided into a position that looked like my car was jammed in a corner. I spent the whole sailing unsure how I was going to disembark without scratching the car’s bumper. It was a more pleasant sailing to Upolu than it had been on the way over, and I was shocked to spot a turtle as we sailed. There was only myself and a couple of others nearby that saw it, which made the moment feel special, and later on I spotted two exceedingly large and long fish that I suspect may have been marlins.
We made good time on the sailing, but after somebody failed to return to their car, there was a bit of a kerfuffle disembarking. The crew could only get a few cars shifted through the gap, and suddenly they wanted me to go next. I had little space to get out of my jammed spot and felt all eyes on me as I inched round the bollard that was in my way. Negotiating that blockage, I had just as little space to angle past the car that was blocking everybody in. Disembarking, I saw the exit gate and headed straight for it, only to be yelled at by the wharf crew for going the wrong way. Embarrassed, I had to reverse back to the ferry in front of everybody, and sheepishly made a quick exit. In the end I had some time to kill, and headed back to the Sheraton Resort to enjoy a snack and a cooling drink before heading to the airport. For the first time in a week, I connected my phone to the Internet and briefly connected with the outside World, sad that my Pacific escape was over. With rental car returned, and time passed in the departure lounge, eventually it was time to say goodbye to one of my favourite Pacific nations. There was some epic turbulence on the flight home, something which I actually enjoy (unlike many of the other passengers on the flight), and I landed in New Zealand, quietly dreaming about a return trip.