Aah, Savaii!! Where does one start? Some truly believe that Savaii is the epitome of ‘Samoa’. Most people think that when they arrive in Apia, they have reached Samoa and that is it; that is where it all is and where you will experience it. However a small investment in time and organisation for a trip to the ‘other’ island (keeping in mind that Samoa is made of two large main islands, Upolu and Savaii) will surely enlighten you. This vast and beautiful island is riddled with pristine environments, Samoans in their natural habitats and homes, and legends and places of historical value. If you think things wind down a pace or two in 'Upolu, you will wind down a further five paces when you get to Savaii! To the busy city dweller this might seem a tad inconvenient, but if you allow yourself to sit back and relax, it is surely a haven.
There is something about the island, perhaps it is less noise from less traffic, less high rise buildings, more smiling friendly people. Maybe it's more spectacular sunrises and sunsets, or the stillness in the air that accompanies such moments. Whatever it is, this island has made itself a home in many a person's heart, and when you come to Samoa you should look forward to setting foot in Savaii .
You will arrive in the small but bustling village of Salelologa off the ferry. There are two travelling interisland ferries and one is more a cargo boat with very little shaded seating, so do ask for the schedule of the ‘bigger’ boat to save yourself a potentially uncomfortable ride! Also of note, the larger ferry is quite the scenic ride; you will get to go past the two small islands of Manono and Apolima and occasionally will have a friendly school of dolphins swim by. Some people have also mentioned that turtles and whales have been spotted during this trip as well!
Don’t be put off by the unsightly entrance to the wharf; too many taxis, buses, dust and people have trampled this one little spot, therefore making it not the most pleasing of sights. Bear in mind that this will be the only spot on the island that looks unkempt! The rest of the island is a true gem! When in the Salelologa Township, do pay the new market a visit. It is to the the left from the wharf, about a 10-15min walk or a two minute drive. The ground floor is littered with stalls of fresh fruit and veges as well as local produce, and upstairs you will find a food court with an assortment of local fast food favourites (pork buns and deep fried goods) as well as your regular western fish and chips!
Up there you will also find a little maze of shops selling your everyday commodities, handicrafts and locally printed ‘lava lavas’ or sarongs. The Market has a bus depot and any bus can be caught here. Most drivers can tell you whether or not they will go past your destination so do have the name of your resort or village handy when asking! One thing that you do need to keep in mind is that the buses run to no rigid schedule; it’s a rough estimate of times depending on how quickly they fill and how far they travel.
The North coast of Savaii is where most beach enthusiasts head. The Manase / Fagamalo areas, about an hours drive away, are littered with several beach resorts. Most of these are very unique to Samoa, being that you will most likely stay in a thatched hut (fale) with the beach and waterfront right at your doorstep.
Amenities of these resorts are very basic (rooms tend to be open walled with mosquito nets and mattresses provided) and facilities tend to be shared, but there is a raw excitement in living this way for a few days, meeting other travellers and locals, and relaxing in the sun on a beautiful beach. The families who run the beach fales generally do their best to make sure you are well fed and entertained. To most people it has a camping feel about it, but it is a much nicer relaxed environment. For a few more tala you can get rooms a little more private with ensuite facilities at places like Stevensons. Le Lagoto is a beautiful but much more upmarket resort with top notch facilities; a pool bar restaurant, diving tours and rooms that are beautifully decorated with all the modern facilities you would expect from an upmarket resort. They are much more expensive then the average beach fale, but you definitely get what you pay for if this is what you are after! If anything the resort makes for a beautiful place to stop and dine, for that little bit of luxury if you are camping on the beach.
Savaii itself is not all about the beaches. There is adventure here too. Beautiful waterfalls such as Afuaau used to be difficult to access, but now the village has carved a road out along the side of the valley and you can pretty much drive right up to this beautiful swimming hole at the bottom of a waterfall. There are also spectacular blow holes in the village of Taga. If you think you have seen blowholes before, they will be nothing like the ones at Taga. Do stop by to see for yourself , you will not come away disappointed.
Swimming with the turtles is another experience that you will probably never get again. In the village of Satoalepai, a fresh water pool off a mangrove area serves as a home to a handful of turtles, which will swim right up and eat out of your hand. The locals will give you fresh fruit at a small price to let you do this yourself, and you can even get right into the water with them. It is fresh water, but rather brackish. Take snorkelling gear if you have it.The great thing about Savaii is that it’s very easy to navigate around. If you have your own vehicle then a map will show you that there is basically one road going right around the island. Having a vehicle gives you that extra freedom to explore all the other stops in between main attractions, spots of legendary importance such as the dwarves cave and lovers leap, stops of geological importance such as the vast Saleaula lava fields and the Mu Pago falls, and so much more.
The Salelologa area itself has a few decent hotels / resorts that cater to those seeking the creature comforts and little luxuries whilst on holiday. Most resorts here will have a restaurant and air-conditioned enclosed units. Jetover Hotel is right in the heart of the village and provides easy access to all the local shops and business amenities. Lusias Lagoon is minutes from the ferry and is a nice little surprise tucked away in the township, with over the water rooms. Siufaga is a bit further away from town, and a bit pricier, but is a beautiful accommodation facility with an Italian named restaurant (Parenzos) which serves pizza and pasta. The Savaiian Hotel is a few minutes drive from Salelologa, but is a gorgeous little place, run by very warm and genuine people, and has a beautiful restaurant right on the waters edge serving some of the most delicious plates in Savaii. If you are lucky, a local string band will entertain you for the night! Their staff are a tribute to the owners, and offer hospitality in the warm and welcoming understated Samoan way. With a pool, tours, kayaks etc, they are more a resort than a hotel, but to many, what makes the difference is the genuine owners who will go out of their way to ensure you are being looked after, and that you are getting the best out of being in Savaii.
Of note, they are located right next to one of only three rental car providers on the island and vehicles can be arranged easily. Their location serves as a great base, being an easy drive both north and south to visit all the main attractions of the island. Do ask for a pick up when booking with the Savaiian and don’t be surprised if your hosts detour into the plantation to collect some fresh produce, coconuts etc for the night’s meal!
All in all, the experience in Savaii is different from anywhere else, because, oddly enough, there are few travellers in Savaii. Therefore people are still at one with their culture which is something they are very proud of, and very happy to share with you. The nature is pristine and unspoilt, it isn’t riddled with western monuments or additions, and the people are friendly and don't hesitate to smile your way.
In the evenings the shops close, but the local people are out on their lawns playing volleyball, cricket and rugby, while the women busily tend to their well kept and colourful gardens. The old women are weaving, the young men are returning from the plantations with baskets full of produce, and you, you are sitting on your beach, on your patio, or in your bar in the thick of it; experiencing the respectful and understated hospitality that Savaii unconsciously imparts on you. It is a rejuvenating feeling! If you have time, do go to Savaii and see for yourself the true beauty of an island. You will not leave disappointed!