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Aah, Savai'i . Where does one start? Some truly believe that Savai'i is the epitome of ‘ Samoa ’. Most people think that when they arrive in Apia, that they have reached Samoa and that is it, that is where it all is and where you will experience it. But--for a small investment in time and organisation, a trip to the ‘other’ island (keeping in mind that Samoa is made of 2 large main islands, Upolu and Savaii ) will surely enlighten you. This vast and beautiful islandis blessed with a pristine environment, Samoans in their natural habitat and homes, legends and places of historical value. If you think things wind down a pace or two in Apia, well you wind down a further 5 when you get to Savai'i. 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 less noise from less traffic, less high rise buildings, more smiling friendly people - perhaps it's just 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 Savai'i .
When you arrive in Salelologa off the ferry (beware, there are 2 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 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, but do bear in mind 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 which is off to the left from the wharf (about a 10-15min walk or a 2 minute drive). The ground floor is littered with stalls of fresh fruit and veggies as well as other local produce, 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 n chips!).
Up there you will also find a little maze of shops selling your everyday commodities as well as 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 the buses run to no rigid schedule, it’s a rough estimate of times depending on how quickly they fill and how far the travel.
The North coast of Savai'i is where most beach enthusiasts head. The Manase /Fagamalo areas which are about an hours drive away are dotted with several beach resorts, most of these are very unique to Samoa, being that you will most likely stay in a thatched hut with the beach and waterfront right at your doorsteps.
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 generally do their best to make sure you are well fed and entertained. To most, it has a camping feel about it, but it 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 more upmarket resort with top notch facilities, pool bar restaurant, diving tours, 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!
Savai'i itself is not all about the beaches. There is adventure here too. With beautiful waterfalls such as Afuaau, which used to be difficult to access, 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, be assured, they are 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 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.The great thing about Savai'i is that it’s very easy to navigate around. If you have your own vehicle a map will show you that there is basically one road going right around the island off which most stops can be made. Having a vehicle gives you that extra freedom to explore all the others 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 hotel/resorts that cater to those wanting the creature comforts and little luxuries while on holiday. Most resorts here will have a restaurant and air-condition-enclosed units. Jetover is right in the heart of the city 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, a beautiful and newly added restaurant right on the waters edge serves some of the most delicious plates in Savaii and 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 the 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 Savai'i.Of note, they are located right next to one of only 3 rental car providers on the island and vehicles can be arranged easily, their location also 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 Savai'ian 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 Savai'i is different from anywhere else, because oddly enough, there are few travellers in Savai'i. Therefore people are still at one with their culture which is something they are very proud about, and very happy to share with you. The nature is pristine and unspoilt, it isn’t riddled with western monuments or additions, the people are friendly and not hesitant to smile your way. In the evenings, the shops close, yes, but the people are out on their lawns playing volley, cricket, rugby, the women are busily tending to their well kept and colourful gardens. The old woman are weaving, the young men are returning from the farms with a basketful of produce, and you, you are sitting on your beach, your patio, your bar, in the thick of it, experiencing the respectful and understated hospitality that Savai'i unconsciously imparts on you. It is a rejuvenating feeling and therefore if you do nothing else when you arrive on the shores of Samoa, go to Savai'i, see for yourself the true beauty of an island, you will not leave disappointed!