I needed to explore. Our short stay in Samoa was mostly about relaxing into everything the resort had to offer but it turns out we aren’t good at extended relaxation. We decided we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a day trip to Samoa’s biggest island, Savai’i.
The ferry leaves Upolo from Mulifanua wharf on the north west of the island and takes 90 minutes to make the crossing. You can then pick up a driver and guide at the Salelaloga wharf on the Savai’i side who’ll take you where you want to go for a fair price.
It’s a good idea to have an idea what you want to see and agree the price with the driver first. Like most local guides they get incentives to take you to specific commercial spots if you leave it up to them. We normally compromise and they can suggest the lunch spot but we aren’t interested in souvenir shopping. If you have the time there are local buses on the island but the driver option seemed like the best choice for us. The sites we wanted to visit were well spread out right around the island and we only had the one day. Unfortunately that would mean no hikes in the mountainous interior for us.
Our first stop was the Alofaaga Blowholes at Taga, a 30 minute drive along the coast to the southwest of the island. A volcanic eruption in the last 100 years or so created a network of cliffs, tunnels and caves at Taga. During high tide the sea water gets trapped in these caves under pressure and blasts out of the blowholes with a dramatic display.
The coastline around here is really quite beautiful to explore and the benefit of having the driver for the day is you decide how long you stay. In one part here there’s an area where the lava has covered in what was once a lagoon while the tidal action works each day to reclaim it.
Saleaula Lava Fields
Next we drove about an hour with a few stops at scenic spots along the way to the Saleaula lava fields in the north east. These were high on my list of things to see in Samoa.
The fields were created where molten lava had flowed from the Mt Matavanu eruption between 1905 – 1911 leaving a somewhat eerie and barren landscape As we lived in New Zealand at the time we were no strangers to volcanic cones. There are 53 volcano’s in the Auckland volcanic field alone but Mt Matavanu has left quite a different scar on the land.
Lava from the eruption flowed 13km’s out to the sea burying 5 villages under a hard lava crust. Incredibly there were no recorded deaths in the village from the eruption. Island history tells of the slow moving lava that gave villagers time to evacuate to safe ground and later establish the village of Le’auva’a. Incredibly there are still people living on the lava at Saleaula, their homes somehow attached to the undulating solid rock beneath them.
Walking across the lava flows feels quite bizarre and takes some care to avoid twisting an ankle in the cracks and crevices. It’s also incredibly hot. You can feel the heat radiating up from the smooth dark rock but that didn’t stop our guide walking around on it in bare feet while he shared with us details of the villages history. We did notice that most of the locals took to the shade of their houses to relax or snooze through the hotter parts of the day which seemed like a smart tactic.
Maybe it’s because the area was so deserted or perhaps because the tremendous power of nature was so evident but the lava fields have a subdued and spiritual undertone. Aside from the impressive expanse of the lava there are two main attractions here, a church and a crater known as the virgins grave.
The Virgins grave is the literal translation of ‘taupou’ but legend has it that it was the high chiefs daughter who was buried there when she died of tuberculosis as a teenager. The locals believe that she was so pure that the lava flowed around her grave unable to touch it.
The second site is the LDS Church that the lava flowed through and around but left the walls standing for the last 100+ years. Again there are local beliefs that the site was left standing when nothing else was because of the sanctity of the church and dedication of its congregation.
Our next stop was at the village of Fagamalo for a late lunch and a walk along it’s beautiful beach. I could have spent all day on the beach and regretted not having brought swimmers and a towel with us – definitely an essential for a day trip to Savai’i. The La Lagato beach resort served up a delicious seafood and salad lunch which we really appreciated after all the fresh air and we scored the pick of tables on the edge of the sand.
Our day also included a stop at a turtle ‘sanctuary’ at the suggestion of our guide which we readily agreed to as it sounded like something we’d find interesting. I’m not going to include photos or details from that part of the day. Our policy is not to promote any activity involving animals that’s isn’t making a genuine positive impact and for various reasons that wasn’t the case here. We fully understand the need for the locals to make an income with what they have and aren’t criticising them for it, it’s simply not aligned to our own beliefs on eco tourism and the treatment of animals.
From Fagamalo we headed back south down the eastern side of the island to the ferry at Salelalogato. We made a couple of short additional stops to appreciate the rugged views and to take a quick walk on another stunning sandy beach along the way. Samoa’s big island is beautiful and we enjoyed the rugged volcanic coastline. We’d definitely recommend taking the ferry across and spending a day on Savai’i.
Have you visited the Samoan Island of Savai’i or any of the outer islands? Do you have a favourite island escape when you need a rejuvenating break?