Whether you associate “Samoa” with a great beach holiday – will probably depend on where you come from. If you are from New Zealand or east coast Australia – you will probably recognise it. If you are American not so much, or maybe you think I’m talking about America Samoa.
Samoa / Western Samoa / American Samoa What is What?
OK once there was one nation – called Samoa consisting of three main islands: Savai’i, Upolo and Tutuilo (plus some smaller ones). But then the western powers were busy dividing up the world in the late 19th century so they could bring the doubtful improvements of Christianity, booze and STDs and America got Tutuilo while the other two islands went to Germany. America Samoa remains an un-incorporated territory of the US to this day, it always strikes me as odd just how many colonies the US has these days!
In 1914, New Zealand made the rare move of invading German Samoa, and after World War 1 continued to administer re-named Western Samoa until independence in 1962. In 1967 Samoa renamed itself by dropping the “Western” descriptior, the Americans and American Samoa objected, but the change stands.
Samoans are very happy to change the basic rules of the country, if they can see an advantage in it. After changing their name, in 2009 they changed the side of the road they drive on from the right to the left (to make it easier to import cheap right-hand drive Japanese used cars), you’ll still see plenty of left-hand drive cars in Samoa, this is why. Most recently, on the 29 December 2011, they skipped a day, moving time zones to align with the country’s most important trading partners, New Zealand and Australia. This may look like a sleepy backwater of a the Pacific but can you imagine your country doing either of these radical things quickly and easily?
Samoa for Visitors
Samoa is less well known to backpackers and other round the world travellers than Fiji, which is a shame in my opinion. While Fiji struggle on with a despotic and laughable military dictatorship, Samoa, still have their culture intact, and are also a rare example of a functioning independent democracy in the South Pacific.
What’s more the German’s left behind a great local beer – Valimia.
Samoa is a becoming a common winter (May-October) getaway for Australians and New Zealanders looking for some quick sun. At only 4.5 hours flying time from New Zealand, and with only one hour time difference, its an attractive options for a nation more used to flying 10+ hours to get anywhere.
It also has a developing tropical beach wedding industry. Plus Auckland probably has more Samoans living in it than Apia.
So Samoa has a perception problem – its seen as both remote, exotic and therefore expensive by Americans and Europeans. Plus its seen as a resort holiday destination by Australians and New Zealanders, hence an expensive destination.
Sure you can stay at the rather beautiful resorts and spend hundreds of dollars a night. But you don’t have to.
Samoa on a Budget
Book a flight a few months in advance – and even in the high season, outside of school holidays, you’re get a return flight for a reasonable price.
There’s a big range of accommodation – some of which don’t even have an email. Outside of the higher end resorts, most resorts are owned locally. Personally I find it offensive that some of the more expensive resorts quote prices in NZ$ or US$. Use the country’s flipping currency people – Samoan Tala (ST$) For current exchanges rates see xe.com
And for the single traveller there is a particularly good deal to be had. Most fale (beach hut) operations charge per person not per a room – so you pay 1/2 the price of a couple. As the fales also tend to include half board (dinner and breakfast) in their room rate and start at around ST$50/person.
Sure you won’t get hot showers, or a pool – but you are probably closer to the beach i.e. at the high-tide mark, than you would be at Coconuts or Aggie Grey’s resorts.
Virgin Pacific fly direct from Sydney or Brisbane, or you can connect via either of these ports, or Auckland.
From New Zealand
Samoa is about 4 hours flying time north of Auckland, New Zealand. Both Air New Zealand and Virgin Pacific fly this route, and its usually the cheapest connection to Samoa.
AirPacific connect Apia and Suva, Fiji
From the US
Air Pacific connects Samoa with Los Angeles with a connection in Suva.
There are regular boats and flights from American Samoa – which has flight connections to Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines, for an interesting way to combine a visit to both Samoas.
Unlike many Pacific Island countries which are spread out over huge distances, Samoa consists of only two main islands which are only around 90 minutes sailing time apart. There are multiple sailings a day, and unless you are taking a rental car with you, there is no real need to book.
However neither island is small, in fact Savai’i is the largest island in Polynesia outside of New Zealand. Scooters aren’t commonly hired but its possible to hire cars and mini-vans on both islands.
Alternatively there are irregular buses running on both islands, except Sundays, but they are VERY slow, but colourful. Unusually, no standing is allowed on buses, but its OK to sit on someone’s lap!