With tropical jungle trails, thunderous waterfalls and jewel-toned swimming holes to explore, there’s far more to Samoa than basking on a sunlounger. But in a place this relaxed, there’s plenty of time for that too.

A blousy four-hour flight from wintry New Zealand, it’s easy to see why Samoa is a favourite holiday spot. Big on rugged beauty, these palm-fringed isles are family friendly, uncrowded, and as chilled as a Taula beer on a long balmy evening. I recently paid my first visit to what the locals call the ‘heart of the Pacific’, and (global pandemic aside) I have no idea what took me so long to arrive.

Here, where wild hibiscus sways in the breeze and buses have no timetable, it’s not like those places that are manicured to cringy tourist perfection. Samoa’s two main islands are authentic and real, and that’s all part of the charm. If you’re a first timer, add these activities to your island holiday wish list. 

Two guys with surfboards at Matareva beach.webp

Jump into the To-Sua Ocean Trench

Down an inconspicuous country road on the southern side of Upolu lies one of the Pacific’s most Instagrammable spots. To-Sua Ocean Trench is a stunning circular sink-hole with sparkling turquoise water at the bottom and draping vines down the sides, and while the pictures look filtered, you’ll find it looks just as perfect in real life. Descend the wooden ladder for a magical dip, and back at ground level, be sure to check out the expansive views along the rugged coastline.

Visit the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum

Just outside of Apia, the country estate of one of the world’s most famous authors is open to visitors. Here, you’ll find lush tropical gardens, carefully replicated rooms throughout the stately Stevenson family home and even first editions of some of his classics like Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Fit types can also make the trek up the mountain behind the estate to Stevenson’s gravesite.

Go beach-hopping

From secluded rocky shorelines to vast swathes of pristine white sand, finding your perfect beach is easy when you’re in a Pacific paradise. To narrow it down slightly, hotspots include Upolu’s Lalomanu, Vavau and Matareva, each with a line-up of day fales for lounging, and Return to Paradise, made famous by the 1952 Gary Cooper movie of the same name. Over on Savai’i, popular sandy stretches include Fagamalo and Manase.

Check out the Alofaaga Blowholes

On this patch of Savai’i coastline, the ground rumbles as powerful water jets explode metres into the sky. It’s all thanks to strong waves being forced through underground tubes carved out by ancient lava flows, and you can’t help but give a whoop when a giant waterspout erupts. To add to the theatrics, locals love entertaining kids by throwing coconuts into the holes and watching them fly like cannonballs.

Be wowed by a waterfall

The coastline might boast of beaches, but inland, waterfalls reign supreme. Alongside the leafy surrounds and spectacular views, many have accessible pools that are perfect for a cooling splash on a scorcher day. On Upolu, top picks include Sopoaga, Togitogiga and the towering Fuipisia Falls, while the Afu Aau Falls on Savai’i is one of Samoa’s best swimming spots.

See a show

Granted, cultural shows aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Samoa does them especially well. Entertainment ranges from high-energy traditional slap dance to elegant siva Samoa performances, and foodies should also book in for a cooking demo using an umu (earth oven). Most major hotels offer a regular show schedule.

A guy swirling fire.webp

Samoa travel top tips

  • Hire your own wheels – hiring a car is the easiest way to get around the islands. They drive on the left, traffic is generally light, and it’s hard to get lost.
  • Carry tala – credit cards are fine in bigger hotels, but mostly cash is king. You’ll need Samoan tala to pay the (small) gate fee at local attractions and private beaches, and you’ll want some local currency on hand to throw in the tips basket after seeing a cultural show.
  • Try some Samoan specialities – favourites to look out for include oka, fish cured in lemon juice and coconut cream, and palusami – creamy spinach, beef and onions wrapped in taro leaves and cooked in an earth oven.