Country: Independent Samoa formerly known as Western Samoa
Location: 13 .5 S & 171.5 W, in the South Pacific between New Zealand and Hawaii
Time: GMT-12hours – though they have started day light saving to keep with New Zealand time zones
Language: Samoan, English
Currency: Samoan tala
Getting there (from U.K.): Air New Zealand from London to Apia via Los Angeles. There are flights direct from Australia too
We arrived by air with Air New Zealand from London via Los Angeles which was a killer of a journey so we were pretty tired when we arrived. The airport is tiny but I discovered as we were leaving that wi fi internet is free throughout the airport which I thought was a really nice idea and I can’t think why all airports don’t do it.
We were met and taken in a small bus the five minutes to our hotel at Aggie Grey’s lagoon (see separate review). We checked in and spent the day recovering from our journey relaxing around the resort.
One day we went on a trip to Savaii Island which I have also written a review about but on our last day we took the free shuttle bus from Aggie Grey’s lagoon resort into Apia where we were dropped at Aggie Grey’s hotel.
Opposite the hotel was a taxi rank and we hailed a taxi to take us to Vailima which was Robert Louis Stevenson’s House which I will write a separate review about. The taxi driver did offer to take us to a waterfall nearby but we were not that bothered so we returned to explore Apia.
Our ‘lonely Planet’ guide recommended a walk from Aggie Grey’s which is about THE most famous building in Apia and the walk took in the main sights of this tiny capital city.
AGGIE GREY’S HOTEL
Aggie Greys is a lovely old colonial hotel opened in 1933 and was used and enjoyed by the US military during WW II and has obviously seen a lot of Samoa’s history. Aggie herself is said to be the inspiration for James Mitchener’s ‘Bloody Mary’ in his book ‘Tales of the South Pacific’ upon which the musical ‘South Pacific’ is based. In the reception area there are lots of photos of Aggie and the one I thought was so amazing was the one where she was waving goodbye to the Queen who was in a very ordinary car – it just looked like she was waving to an old friend.
The hotel is on the waterfront overlooking Apia harbour and it is a lovely looking building itself. It goes back quite a long way. You walk passed several small fale style bungalows which are guest rooms, some named after famous people such as Marlon Brando, William Holden and James Michener who all stayed at the hotel in the past.
The restaurant beside the pool is built in the style of a traditional meeting house or fale and it was adorned with carvings and woven fabric decorations too. We enjoyed a delicious meal for lunch in this restaurant, local food cooked in the traditional way but presented in a rather more classy way. We tried Lu'au or Palusami which is probably the dish that Samoa is most famous for. It is made from the leaves of the taro plant which ends up a bit like spinach and coconut cream, and sometimes onions are added to it and it was served with taro crisps. The other dish we tried here was Oka which is the way Samoans prepare and serve raw fish. It consists of small bits of fish that have been left to marinate in a mixture of lemon juice, coconut cream, salt and onions. They were both delicious helped down with a bottle of Vailima beer each.
Also very popular in both Samoa and Fiji is a drink called Kava (not the sparkling wine Cava!) this one is the traditional Samoan intoxicant. It is made from the root of a pepper plant (Piper Myristhium) which is ground up and mixed with water and served from a traditional many legged kava bowl. It looks like muddy water and has a slightly unusual rather medicinal taste to it. It is often drunk in huge quantities because its effects are very mild, inducing a degree of loquatiousness and a slight numbness to the tongue, lips and gums.
We didn’t try it in Samoa as the water was not really safe to drink but my husband tried it in the village on the island in Fiji. I tried Kava ice cream which was delicious but to me didn’t taste a lot different from a nice homemade vanilla ice cream. We did buy some packets for gifts for our children so I will try it with them.
Samoan food tends not to be highly spiced or seasoned and consists of cooked breadfruit, taro, taro leaves, cooked green bananas and raw fish. They use a lot of coconut cream which is very rich and quite fattening which along with the starchy vegetables probably explains why the Samoans were generally quite large people.
JOHN WILLIAM’S MONUMENT
This tiny city is the capital of Samoa and has a population of about 37,000. We set out on our walking tour from Aggie Grey’s along the harbour front into the town and the first site of interest was a monument to the missionary John Williams. He was killed and eaten while on mission work in Vanuatu but for some reason the Samoans retrieved his bones and had them buried under the church across the road from this monument. There is another monument to this same missionary in Savaii so the Samoans obviously feel a close connection to him.
THE SUPREME COURT BUILDING
We continued walking a little further along Beach Road which is the harbour front and we came to a nice enough looking colonial building which was the Supreme Court Building. You couldn’t go in so it was just a case of seeing it then moving on.
MULIVAI CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL
This white building was a squarish building with two castle- like turrets but the most astonishing thing that you can’t help but notice were the somewhat garish statues in the recesses. It was a bit like brightly coloured Christmas decorations that were so OTT that they were almost attractive in the way that the Blackpool illuminations can be in the right place.
SAMOAN TOURIST OFFICE
I’m not kidding this was listed on the things to see so we did. It is an attractive looking building built in style of a fale or meeting house. Unfortunately outside are several taxi drivers offering to take you around but they were not too aggressive. Inside it was air conditioned and cool but there was not a lot of information apart from leaflets on places to stay.This building was built on reclaimed land along with the government buildings behind it. The government buildings were pretty ugly it has to be said but obviously functional.
THE CLOCK TOWER
This is in the centre of a roundabout but was originally near the sea front. It was built in memory of those who fought or were killed in WWI. When we were there it had a huge banner reminding Samoans that the clocks were going back on October 1st for day light saving.
CHAN MOW’S BUILDING
Across the road from the clock tower was a rather attractive Spanish mission style building which housed the Chan Mow Supermarket which I have to say didn’t look that exciting so we did not go in to investigate.
This was quite an attractive fale style building with Samoan decorations on the walls which look a bit like tattoos for buildings.
THE FALE FONO
Samoa’s parliament house which looks a bit like a bowler hat in a sort of brick or peach colour. Across the road is the Independence Memorial built to celebrate Samoa’s Independence in 1962 and this bears the inscription " Samoa is founded on God" so the missionaries did a very successful conversion job on these islands.
That was the end of our walking tour which was about 3.5km but gave us a good idea of the city and then we returned to Aggie Grey’s Hotel to wait for our return shuttle bus back to our resort.
I would thoroughly recommend you visit Samoa as it has a fascinating traditional culture:Samoans have managed to keep intact most of their Polynesian culture and remain unspoilt by Westerners, Colonialists and tourists. Samoa has at times been under the control of both the Germans and the British but has been independent since 1962. The Samoan people are genuinely friendly and welcoming and very laid back and this is truly an island paradise with interesting traditions and culture.