Flights to Samoa: Treasure islands
Walk barefoot across Saleaula’s charred lava fields and swim through deep-blue lagoons and snorkel underwater caverns. Pacific power reaches its peak at Alofaaga Blowholes where seawater blasts 30 metres into the air, accompanied by a deafening roar. Your holiday in Samoa promises literary interest too – 'Treasure Island' author Robert Louis Stevenson lived here from 1890 until his death in 1894. Visit his house in the foothills of Mt Vaea.
Sshhh! Samoa is an undiscovered surfers' paradise. Change vehicles after your flight to Samoa and paddle out to Dragon's Breath for world-class barrels you could drive a car through. Or try a uniquely Samoan water sport at Papase'ea. Take the scenic path from the road to Sliding Rocks – a gentle waterfall deep in the rainforest that carries you down to plunge giggling into freshwater pools below. Think Jungle Book meets Waterworld.
Meet the locals
Once a year in October or November, locals grab buckets and lanterns and head to the beach. They're awaiting the emergence of the palolo reef worm – a rare local delicacy. Join in then gorge yourself on palolo fritters at dawn for a lifetime’s supply of iodine. Leave your Western sense of privacy at home and stay in a traditional beach 'fale' with a beautiful thatched roof but no walls. Share delicious meals with your hosts and join them at church on Sunday.
For Samoans dancing, singing and, well, pretty much every celebration is known as '' 'fiafia'; literally 'happy'. Girls move in a graceful, story-telling dance called 'siva', while the men go in for showy fire dancing. Jumping through fire, swirling knives and performing acrobatics; it’s best seen at night. You’ll be asked to have a go – but without the fire and the knives. Stick around for a traditional feast of seafood with local taro, pawpaw, bananas and coconuts.
Where? Samoa's closest neighbour is American Samoa, the only American territory south of the Equator.
Getting about: Flights and ferries connect Upolu and Savai’i. Local fishermen might get you onto smaller islands, though only at high tide.
Key dates: Samoa, just 20 miles from the international dateline, was the last place on earth to start the 21st century. In 2011 the dateline was redrawn to make Samoa the first place to see in 2012.
Did you know? Robert Louis Stevenson was so popular in Western Samoa that they named their beer after his estate – Vailima.
Our favourite resorts include world-famous Aggie's (the lady herself inspired Bloody Mary in James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific). Others are mere local legends – the charmingly eccentric Coconuts for its brilliant cooking and fiafia and the utterly tranquil Sinalei.
Samoan seafood is delicious (we recommend swordfish and squid). Salute sophisticated cuisine at Sails and Bistro Tatau. Or pick up a local snack – breadfruit dipped in coconut cream will have you wishing you could stay here forever.
Shopping in Samoa
The special South Pacific buy is the black pearl. They come in grey, green and pink too, but they don't come cheap. More affordable are lava-lavas (Samoan sarongs) and the latest in island chic: Samoan rugby shirts.
Western visitors may find it strange that Samoan nightlife stops at midnight. Not surprisingly, everything starts early – bars are packed by 9pm and morph into clubs with the simple addition of very loud music and frenzied dancing.
R.L. Stevenson’s Vailima museum aside, Samoa's extraordinary natural landscape is the big attraction here. Hunt bats in mountainous rainforest (with your camera), swim under waterfalls, marvel at the lava flows or just hit the beach.