THE SAMOAN ISLANDS
The Samoan Islands are an archipelago of nine islands in the South Pacific Ocean, previously known as Western Samoa and separated from American Samoa to the east by only 50 miles of ocean. They are located about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean.
Green and verdant with tropical rainforests, the islands are volcanic in origin, with only four being populated. Upolu is the most developed and is home to the capital, Apia. The majority of islanders live here and on Savaii. These two islands are surrounded by coral reefs which protect the sandy beaches.
Tourism is becoming an important part of the islands' economy with the main tourist resort being Apia. While there are some organised trips and excursions,the island lends itself more to the independent traveller than package holiday enthusiasts.
One of the cheapest islands of the South Seas, it has gained popularity by remaining environmentally unspoilt and by preserving much of its Polynesian culture.
When to go
Being fairly close to the equator, the weather on the Samoan Islands is tropical and enjoys sunshine all year round. The hottest and most humid months are December through to April, which is also the rainy season with a high risk of tropical storms and some fairly spectacular hurricanes. The "winter" (May to November) is drier, has more comfortable temperatures (28º during the day and 23º at night) and enjoys cooling trade winds from the south east.
How to get there
The international airport is Faleolo Airport and is situated on the north coast of Upolu Island, about 30 minutes drive from Apia Town.
Air New Zealand offer direct flights to Samoa from Los Angeles and Auckland, Pacific Blue fly direct from Auckland and Sydney, and Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu.
Some of the other South Pacific islands are accessible by local flights from the international airport at Samoa.
The Samoa Shipping Corporation also operates a cheap car ferry between Upolu and Savai.
Where to stay
Most of the tourist accommodation is concentrated around Apia where there are about a dozen hotels. These range from the large and internationally acclaimed Aggie Grey's where everyone is greeted by smart porters and hostesses, to small competitively priced inns, backpacker hostels and self catering motels.
On the south coast of Upolu, boutique resorts like Coconuts Resort and Sinalei Resort offer accommodation in luxury bungalows complete withdining and luxury, but they are fairly pricey.
Those who want to be at one with nature can rent a traditional family owned thatch hut. Strung along the coastline, they are usually to be found in idyllically scenic locations.
What to see
Samoa is one of the few South Pacific destinations where you can see the majority of sights in one short visit. The roads are of good quality and car hire is readily available. There are also buses which are regular and go all over the islands.
Most of the unforgettable sights are natural, such as the Piula Cave Pool, a fresh water pool which stretches back into a cave that goes some way under a cliff, and the Taga blowholes on Savaii, where the lava flows have created a series of tubes connecting a flat clifftop of lava rock with the ocean below. Waves breaking against the lower end of the tubes send water at high pressure up through the tubes creating fountains that spray every few seconds.
Mount Vaea, just outside Apia, is a mountain that any visitor to Samoa should climb. At the top of the mountain is Robert Louis Stevenson's grave, the famous writer having died here in his adopted home in 1894.
The Papapapaitai waterfall, set in verdant rain forest, is another spectacular sight worth seeing, with water plummeting 500ft into an old volcanic crater.
Samoa is a surfing paradise with the top waves off the north-facing coasts in summer and off the south-facing coasts in winter.
The locals have their own way of sharing in the tourist income - they are helpful but will often expect a tip for their troubles.
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The Lonely Planet Guide
Price: £7.91 (34% off list price)
A travel guide for the Samoan Islands, this text includes practical information on how to explore the volcanic peaks, discover the waterfalls, beaches and other geographic features of the area. There is a section on Samoan language, and extensive coverage of culture, politics, history and the arts.
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