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AUSTRALASIA > South Pacific
> Polynesia > Samoa
Samoa, Heart of Polynesia
Article © 2006 David Stanley
Pictures © 2006 southpacific.org
Samoan environment is tropically lush, with green volcanic peaks
plunging to brilliant coral reefs
islands of Samoa are emerging as an exciting new South Pacific travel
destination between Hawaii and New Zealand. This 'Heart of Polynesia'
politically split into two distinct entities 80 miles apart. The country
Samoa is a former German colony, captured by New Zealand in 1914 and
granted independence in 1962. In 1997 the name was changed from Western
Samoa to Samoa.
Samoa is the only U.S. territory south of the equator. Annexed by
the United States for use as a naval base in 1900, the territory no
has any military significance. Instead, Pago Pago currently hosts the
StarKist and Chicken of the Sea tuna canneries, making
it the most
important commercial fishing port under the American flag.
The Samoan environment is tropically lush, with green volcanic peaks
plunging to brilliant coral reefs, an ecotourism paradise still unspoiled
by mass tourism. Visitors often stay in open Samoan beach houses called
fale (pronounced FAH-lay) and adopt the laid back local lifestyle.
Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, surfing, deep sea fishing,
and hiking opportunities are all close at hand.
Samoan culture is alive and strong, and local traditions can add another
fascinating layer to your travel experience. Most Samoans are subsistence
farmers who reside in small villages governed by chiefs (matai). The
egalitarian ideals of this communal society place loyalty to family
religion above all. Visitors can sample this culture at the weekly
fiafia island night dance shows staged at most of the larger
beach resorts. Buffets of authentic Samoan dishes are an essential part
Samoa's climate is sultry, alternately sunny and rainy, but always
humid. Cooling sea breezes make the shoreline the best place to be
year-round. The nicest months weather-wise are May to September: 'winter'
south of the equator. The rainy season runs from November to April,
increasingly intense hurricanes sweeping in due to global warming. Yet
can get long spells of bright sunny weather even during the 'rainy'
season, and Samoa's excellent Vailima beer (created by German brew masters)
tastes best at this time of year.
Most visitors spend their time in independent Samoa, which is considerably
bigger and less expensive than American Samoa. However the rugged scenic
beauty of Tutuila, the main island of American Samoa, should not be
missed. In recent years some of the most strikingly beautiful parts
territory have been incorporated into American Samoa National Park.
There's great hiking on Tutuila and wonderful snorkeling on Ofu in the
seldom visited Manua Group.
Traditional Samoan culture is largely based on oratory, and it's no
accident that several literary legends originated here. Robert Louis
Stevenson spent the last five years of his life in Samoa and is buried
a hilltop above Apia, the capital. His mansion is now a museum dedicated
to the author. Somerset Maugham's short story 'Rain' about Sadie Thompson
and the repressed missionary thrown together in a guesthouse at Pago
American Samoa, has been adapted by Hollywood several times. The original
guesthouse still exists, now an upscale restaurant and inn. In 'Tales
the South Pacific,' James A. Michener based the prototype of his character
Bloody Mary on an Apia hotelkeeper named Aggie Grey, whose family still
operates Samoa's largest resorts. Michener's book was later made into
musical 'South Pacific.'
Getting to Samoa is easy with direct flights from Hawaii and Los Angeles
on Hawaiian Airlines, Polynesian Airlines, and Air New Zealand. Local
ferries and small commuter planes ply frequently between the islands,
getting around by public bus or rental car is no challenge. Visas are
required by most visitors for entry to either Samoa, although a passport
and onward plane ticket are mandatory.