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Samoa: How should I divide my time between Upolu and Savai’i?

June 17, 2014
To Sua Ocean Trench Samoa Savai'i or Upolu

Samoa is made up of many islands, the biggest two being Savai’i and Upolu.  Upolo is the most populated island in Samoa and home to the nation’s capital, Apia (which is about a 45 minute ride from the airport).  Savai’i is the largest island by landmass but has significantly fewer residents.

When planning your visit to Samoa, how are you best to split your time between these two islands?

We purchased a package that included a week’s accommodation just outside of Apia (on Upolu) and spent just one of those nights on Savai’i, so ended up with 6 nights on the busier island and 1 on the quiet one (and boy is it quiet!); this ended up working perfectly for us.

We found the food on Upolu to be much better (it was by far the best food we’ve had on a Pacific Island) and there was more in the way of spots to visit (we had quite an extensive list of must-do’s).  This island was still really relaxed in comparison to life in Auckland, NZ, and around the South-Eastern coast, it was clear to see that they didn’t get many tourists, making it pretty easy to still experience a more authentic Samoa.

Both islands were equally beautiful when you got in the car and went exploring.  The accommodation on Upolu seemed to be of a higher (and more Western) standard generally speaking, whereas Savai’i tended more towards open beach fales; these were a great experience in the most magical locations, but certainly on the more rustic side in regard to facilities.

We met a number of people on Savai’i who were spending the majority of their time there.  One family was cycling around the island, stopping at fales as they went; this was definitely the pick of the islands for cycling as it was much flatter than Upolu.  Unfortunately, we didn’t make it over to the blowholes on Savai’i due to time constraints but other than that and swimming with the turtles, there wasn’t a lot to do other than relax, snorkel and eat (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

All in all, we were pleased with our decision to spend the majority of our time on Upolu… we were able to spend the day relaxing with our books as we wanted to, but were never short of somewhere to eat a tasty meal and never far from a gorgeous natural attraction to visit.

With that said, was it worth the trip over to Savai’i?  Absolutely!

Off to Samoa? Find out why you should visit both Upolu and Savai'i and how long to spend on each of the islands. You'll want to visit both Upolu and Savai'i over the course of your visit to Samoa. Check out our guide to figure out how to split your time. You'll want to visit both Upolu and Savai'i over the course of your visit to Samoa. Check out our guide to figure out how to split your time.

Pacific Islands Samoa

Savai’i, Samoa

June 17, 2014
Savai’i is the larger of the two main Samoan islands, but by far the less populated of the two.  We were taken aback by just how few people we saw out and about in comparison to Upolu.


Our decision to head over to Savai’i was a relatively last minute one and as we had accommodation on Upolu prebooked as part of our package, we decided to spend just the one night on Savai’i.


Getting to Savai’i is easy but is fairly time consuming.  The ferry ride itself is only an hour long but you’re meant to check in at the wharf two hours before the departure time.  We figured that that was way too early (seriously, have they not heard of island time?!) so arrived approx an hour before each sailing which was more than enough time.  We took our rental car onboard (which wasn’t a particularly cheap exercise but worth it to have the flexibility over on Savai’i) but you can travel over as a normal passenger too.


Once there, we made our way over to our accommodation for the night.  What a beautiful spot!!  We had a fale right on the beach.  The accommodation itself was rustic (cold water showers and insect nets with enough holes to question the point) but regardless, does it get any better than this?!

Dinner and breakfast were both included in our stay and was served like it would be at home – one option on offer, but both were home cooked and delicious!


Funnily enough, we really struggled to sleep in this beautiful spot.  We tend to find that the first night camping is always hard going from a sleep point of view and we found the same thing here… the waves that were relaxing during the day became so loud at 2am that we couldn’t sleep (though I don’t doubt that the second night we would have been out like logs).


Whilst on Savai’i we visited the turtles and spent a good chunk of time snorkelling off the beach.  The snorkelling was gorgeous and though we didn’t see particularly large fish, we saw a wide variety of small-medium sized fish and some pretty healthy coral.


Swimming with turtles was something we went back and forth about.  I had my doubts about how well the turtles were cared for and found a number of reviews online before we went that reiterated my concerns.  We made the decision in the end to check it out ourselves…


We were pleasantly surprised by how large their enclosure was (when we took onboard some of the TripAdvisor reviews) and initially were pleased that we went to take a look.


Nathan and I had decided that we were more than happy to feed our new turtle friends, without getting in the water and swimming with them.  We’ve both been fortunate enough to snorkel and dive with them in the wild and though we really valued the experience, it felt like swimming with them here was imposing on them just a bit too much.


Feeding them was a real pleasure; we found a quiet spot to the side of the main deck, dipped our toes in the water and enjoyed some quiet time with these beautiful animals.


Unfortunately it went downhill from there.  Before long other tourists were in the water, picking up the turtles and passing them around.  It was really disappointing to see others showing such little respect for animals that by all accounts, already have a less than perfect life.  Many of the turtles kicked out, obviously uncomfortable with what was going on.  This was then met by full grown men and women trying to hitch a ride on the back of their shells… naturally the turtles dove sharply down in a bid to escape.


From memory, we paid around 7/8 tala which is cheap as chips.  Nathan and I chatted as we were leaving and came to the conclusion that we would have happily paid much more than that if there was a way to ensure the turtles were better cared for or put towards releasing the turtles after a certain amount of time and replacing them with newbies.  There’s obviously a real tension in supporting something like this – on one hand, I believe that positives can come through these interactions (improved education etc), but on the other hand, when there are tourists and travellers that will support these operations as they are, where is the need for them to change?



Have you visited an attraction like this?  Or made the decision not to based on your moral views?


We had the most incredible experience spending a day with elephants in Thailand.  We intentionally decided against riding elephants in Phuket and instead researched and selected a spot out of Chiang Mai where we knew our money was being put towards a breeding and rehabilitation programme.  I don’t doubt that our day was made all the more magical knowing that the staff had a genuine interest in the well-being of the elephants and for us, it was well worth the cost (regardless of the fact that it was 4x the price of other outfits).


There is definitely more to an experience than the sum of its parts sometimes!
Pacific Islands Samoa

Exploring Upolu, Samoa

June 17, 2014
A little over a month ago, Nath and I took some time out of our normal lives and popped over to Samoa for a week.
International flights land on Upolu, one of the two main Samoan islands.  From there a 45min shuttle ride took us to Apia, our base for the week.  Our first impressions of Apia were not quite what we’d expected – we had both imagined Apia would be bigger than it really was (we figured after all, that they had a McDonalds and a movie theatre!) and we were surprised by just how little in the way of shopping there was.  Of course we didn’t expect it to be a roaring metropolis but we had imagined it would be busier than it was.
Once we had our bearings, we organised a rental car (which cost 100 tala a day – approx NZD60) which gave us the freedom to come and go as we wanted to.  As we stayed 5km or so out of Apia, it really was essential, both to get into town and more importantly, the explore the island.
For those of you planning a trip to Upolu, Samoa, here’s a run down of the main spots we explored around the island…


Piula Cave Pools
We paid 5 tala each to park our car and visit the pools – money well spent! The main pool is gorgeous and has a fair few fresh water fish in it. You can swim right into the cave and apparently through into the next… it was too dark for us to even find the end of the cave, let alone the opening. Absolutely gorgeous but you will need a rental car to get here unless you hire a taxi driver/tour driver for the day.  We visited the caves first and then continued onto To Sua in the afternoon…

To Sua Ocean Trench

What a gorgeous spot! Apparently there’s a fair bit to do out there (your 15 tala entrance fee covers it all) but we just spent the afternoon swimming in the trench and relaxing by the cliff. The ladder’s a bit scary to start with but definitely manageable – take your shoes down with you on the ladder as it gets incredibly hot! There’s a platform down the bottom where you can put your gear and a rope that runs through the middle of the trench… was lovely to hang onto the rope and just float back and forth with the current.
… it was too overcast for nice photos the day we visited, but what a stunning spot!

Thanks to Amazing Places on Earth for the photo


Papaseea Sliding Rocks
A great trip out of town for a few hours and an absolute bargain at only 5 tala each. The water was a little chilly but warmer than expected considering it’s an often shaded river. The walk down to the slides was fairly step and the slides are more than a little daunting so probably not a great attraction for young children, but for those looking for a gorgeous spot and some adventure, it’s well worth a visit! We wore old sneakers and would recommend others do too.



Palolo Deep Marine Reserve
We paid 4 tala each to enter the marine reserve and took our own snorkelling gear (though you can pay more to hire theirs). There was a wide variety of fish, though most of them were on the smaller side and some beautiful coral as you got out deeper. We’d heard all the recommendations to go at high tide, which we did do, but found there to be a coral-free pathway out to the recommended snorkelling spot, so in our opinion it’s not as essential as we’d been told. The reef drops away further out so there’s plenty to explore even if you don’t swim above the reef itself.


General Information
Driving around the island was such a treat!  The Samoan people were incredibly friendly and always offering up a smile and a wave (especially when you get away from Apia and the main road to the airport).  It is possible to catch local buses and there are plenty of taxis around but for us a rental car was the best option.  We found the buses didn’t have schedules and very seldom serviced certain parts of the island (eg. To Sua) and a rental car was much cheaper than a taxi guide.

Whilst on Upolu, we also went out with AquaSamoa and completed a two tank dive (we both loved ‘the fishbowl’ site!) and ate lots of yummy food.

In general we were really impressed with the quality of the food in Samoa and as far as prices go, it wasn’t too bad, especially considering food’s often more expensive in the Pacific.

Stay tuned for our thoughts on Savai’i and information on how to split your time between the two islands.

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