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Samoa Travel Guide

Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
Robert Louis Stevenson spent his last years in this stately mansion, now a museum.


In 1889, Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish author of the adventure classic Treasure Island, purchased approximately 162 hectares of bushland at the foot of Mt. Vaea, three and a half km inland from Apia and high above the sea, for US$4,000. Stevenson named the place Vailima, meaning "five waters," for the small streams that ran across the property, and here he built his home and spent the last five years of his life.

During a power struggle between rival Samoan factions, some chiefs were imprisoned at Mulinu'u. Stevenson visited them in confinement, and to show their gratitude, these chiefs built him a road up to Vailima when they were released.

The Samoans called Stevenson Tusitala, or "Teller of Tales." On December 3, 1894, at the age of 44, Stevenson suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage while helping his wife Fanny prepare dinner. He's buried just below the summit of Mt. Vaea, overlooking Vailima, as he'd requested.

The stately mansion with its beautiful tropical gardens was first sold to a retired German businessman, then bought by the German government as the official residence of their governor. Of the present complex, Stevenson had the central building erected in 1890, and in 1891-1892, the east wing was added to provide proper quarters for his mother. The Germans built the westernmost wing in 1897. The N.Z. regime took it over when they assumed power in 1914, and until the 1990s Villa Vailima was Government House, official residence of Samoa's head of state.

In early 1992, after Hurricane Val did serious damage to Vailima, Mormon businessmen from Utah and Arizona obtained a 60-year lease on the property with the intention of creating a museum. The complex was largely rebuilt, and in 1994 the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum opened on the centenary of the writer's death. You'll be led through a series of bedrooms dedicated to various members of the Stevenson family, but all of the furniture and heirlooms on display are replicas except for three chairs and a few books. Temporary exhibits are housed in a gallery upstairs in the west wing and you may visit these on your own after the tour. There's a marvelous view from the breezy upper verandah.

Admission to the house is S$15 for adults and S$5 for children under 11. It's open weekdays 0900-1530, Saturday 0830-1200, with the last tour commencing 30 minutes before closing. Entry to the museum grounds is free.

In 1978, a Botanical Garden Reserve with a loop trail was established at the bottom of the hill adjoining Vailima. Adjacent is a pool for swimming and a small waterfall (dry except during the rainy months). The hiking trail up to Stevenson's grave on Mt. Vaea begins here, and both it and the gardens are open Monday to Saturday from 0600 to 1800, admission free. The hourly Avele or Vaoala buses will bring you directly here from the markets, otherwise take a taxi.

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