Tracey Bond fell head over heels for Samoa's natural wonders and friendly people.

I fell in love with Samoa in the unlikeliest of places, four hours after leaving New Zealand on the way to the resort as majestic coconut palms and lush taro plantations sped by.

It's hard not to fall head over heels with a country so in tune with nature.

Samoans are proud of their villages, their land, their culture and they are eager to share that with visitors.

Hiring a car to drive around the island or hiring a driver to show you to the best spots is a great way to get to know Samoa.


There's always a friendly wave as cars go by, a heartfelt smile; everywhere you are made to feel truly welcome.

Away from the picture-perfect, Instagram-worthy white sand beaches there's much to explore in this unspoilt island paradise: the lush, verdant rainforest; lava fields; majestic waterfalls and cool clear swimming holes.

The To Sua Ocean Trench is a must-do: two giant sinkholes, linked by an ancient lava tube, one is without water while the other is a beautiful 30m-deep saltwater swimming hole surrounded by lush greenery.

The To Sua Ocean Trench is a beautiful swimming spot. Photo / Tracey Bond
The To Sua Ocean Trench is a beautiful swimming spot. Photo / Tracey Bond

The sheer climb down the ladder will turn your legs to jelly but once safely at the bottom, a cool swim in the turquoise waters is reward enough.

Relax, and allow the currents to gently pull you back and forth as lizards and purple-tipped crabs skitter along the walls.

Those with a brave disposition can leap off the top rung of the ladder, for others the climb down will be enough of a thrill.

If the climb puts you off don't despair, there are plenty of other swimming holes dotted around the island: the Piula Cave pools are a favourite spot for locals. Easily accessible, they are tucked behind the Piula Methodist Theological College with underground caves to explore.

For a taste of Samoa's traditions, head to the Cultural Village in Apia where wood carving, weaving and traditional cooking techniques are demonstrated.

Many of the hotels around the island hold fiafia nights, which give visitors a taste of the local delicacies followed by traditional singing and dancing and the spectacular fire knife dance.

Samoa is a Christian nation and if you are up before 9am on a Sunday, make a point to check out the local church - guests are welcomed - it's an uplifting experience with kids rushing in and out of the church.

Guests are welcome at church on a Sunday morning in Apia. Photo / Dean Purcell
Guests are welcome at church on a Sunday morning in Apia. Photo / Dean Purcell

Church is a dressed-up affair so bring along appropriate clothing: a dress or blouse and skirt for women and shirt and shorts for men. Make sure you have change for a donation.

Samoans have an amazing ability to find the beauty in objects around them and recycle just about anything, so old tyres become roadside planters and offcuts from the manufacture of jandals adorn the roofs of beachside fale, coconut fronds are wrapped and braided around concrete columns and plastic bags are turned into bunting which streams for miles alongside the roads.

Offcuts from the manufacture of jandals adorn the roofs of beachside fale
Offcuts from the manufacture of jandals adorn the roofs of beachside fale

It's easy to see why author Robert Louis Stevenson said Samoa inspired his writing. His impressive house in Vailima, just outside the capital, exists today as a museum, with some of his belongings, including first editions of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on display. Stevenson died at home aged 44 from a possible cerebral haemorrhage while opening a bottle of wine.

For your own Robinson Crusoe moment head over to the island of Sav'aii; only a quarter of Samoa's 180,000 people live here.

It's a lush, fertile island, dotted with colourful thatched fale with towering mountains at its heart.

The fast ferry between Upolu and Sav'aii takes an hour, while the smaller slow boat takes two.

It's worth heading out on deck for a chance to see whales and dolphins passing through the rich feeding grounds of the strait.

Sav'aii is home to some stunning beaches and it's impossible to get lost as the main road circles the island.

To witness the power of nature at work head to the Alofaaga Blowholes - watching as the ocean spray is forced up through the blowholes is mesmerising and strangely relaxing.

Not far from the blowholes is the eerie buried village of Sale'aula. In 1905 lava from Mt Matavanu swept through the village. Everybody was evacuated in time, but the church now stands enshrined in black volcanic rock.

Those who want a bit more adventure in their getaway can check out Falealupo Canopy Walk where a swinging bridge crosses to the bottom of a banyan tree, a heart-pumping climb up narrow steps ends at a platform high above the jungle canopy with stunning views.

On the way back to the ferry there was time for one last swim at the Afu A'au waterfall, where the crystal clear waters made for a serene, refreshing dip.

As I swam lazily under the spray I was already planning when I could return, the beauty of the Pacific nation and the warmth of its people had truly won me over. It's a place to truly unwind and where the lack of wi-fi coverage and televisions forces you to disconnect from the busy and embrace island time.



Air New Zealand flies daily to Samoa from Auckland, with one-way fares starting from $279.