The sultry, verdant isles of Samoa, two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand, lie in the very heart of the South Pacific. Independent since 1962 and called Western Samoa until 1997, this is the larger portion of an archipelago split apart by colonialism in 1899. Although both Samoa and American Samoa sprang from the same roots, differing patterns of development are reflected in contrasting lifestyles—this highlights the impact of westernization on a Pacific people. Yet on both sides of the 100-km strait separating Upolu from Tutuila, Samoans have retained their ancient customs as nowhere else in Polynesia, and the fa'a Samoa, or Samoan way, continues to flourish.
In fact, travelers inbound from a dreary industrial world may be forgiven if they imagine they've arrived in the Garden of Eden, but there's more to it. In a series of provocative novels, Samoan author Albert Wendt has portrayed the conflicting pressures of palagi (foreign) life on his people. The protagonist in Sons for the Return Home finds he can no longer accept the fa'a-sanctioned authority of his mother, while Leaves of the Banyan Tree explores the universal themes of a changing Samoan society. In Pouliuli, the complex social relationships of village life unravel in a drama of compelling force. Wendt's books bring us closer to the complexity of a third-world Samoa shaken by corruption and searching desperately for a formula to reconcile timeworn traditions and contemporary consumer needs. "Gauguin is dead! There is no paradise!" shouts a character in Sia Figiel's novel Where We Once Belonged.
Paradoxically, although your status as a foreign tourist will never be in doubt, you'll find the Samoans to be among the South Pacific's most approachable peoples. You'll sight some really striking physical types and meet a few unforgettable characters. Some visitors find it too intense, but almost everyone will leave with a story to tell about Samoa. Alongside the human element, an outstanding variety of landscapes and attractions are packed into a small area made all the more accessible because this is one of the less expensive countries in the region. Everything is vividly colorful and well-groomed, and it's still undiscovered by mass tourism. Add it all up and you'll recognize Samoa as one of the world's top travel destinations and an essential stop on any South Pacific trip. Samoa is special!
Samoa sits between the Cook Islands and Fiji, considerably to the north of both. Tonga is to the south.
Samoa keeps exactly the same hour and day as Tonga (GMT plus 13 hours).
The unspoiled environment and intact Polynesian culture are the main reasons to come. It's inexpensive and the public services are good.
Air New Zealand, Air Pacific, and Polynesian Blue fly to Samoa.
About 185,000 people live in Samoa, three-quarters on Upolu and another quarter on Savaii.
Cape Mulinu'u, Savai'i:
beach, westernmost point in the world
Piula Cave Pools, Upolu:
natural swimming cave below a church
Pulemelei stone pyramid, Savai'i:
largest ancient Polynesian structure, waterfall
Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, Apia:
colonial mansion, garden, hiking, tomb
Lalomanu and Saleapaga, Upolu:
beach fale, Samoan lifestyle