Samoa is the hidden gem of the Pacific – and full of surprises

The To Sua Ocean Trench is where the sea meets native greenery.

The To Sua Ocean Trench is where the sea meets native greenery. Photo: Supplied

Standing at the top of the wooden ladder, looking down at the great ocean trench that descends five metres into the ground beneath me, I question what I’m doing.

Back in Sydney, there’s no way I’d find myself in this situation. It’s not a fear of heights, it’s more that I’m very accident-prone, so avoid them.

But here in Samoa, a world away from my real life, I have a feeling that if I don’t make it down, I’ll regret it. 

This is my first visit to Samoa and I didn’t know much about it beforehand, which is pretty common. As island destinations go, it’s not as popular as Fiji or Bali, but it turns out that’s part of the charm.

We flew via Brisbane, as many flights from Australia do. From there, Samoa is roughly five hours north-east in the South Pacific. Made up of several islands, most of the population is spread between the two largest: Upolu (where we’ve landed) and Savai’i. 

It’s 3.30am when we disembark at Faleolo Airport, and the air is already thick with humidity. Driving to the resort on the other side of the island, it’s hard to see much more than our headlights, apart from the Moon reflected on the ocean, and the glow of the churches. So many churches. 

Samoans are overwhelmingly religious, 97 per cent identifying themselves as Christian. In fact, faith is so central to Samoa’s identity that Sunday Mass is included in our itinerary. I’m not religious, (“Are you even allowed in a church?” my friends laughed when I told them), so I turn up not knowing what to expect.

Pictured is a church in Samoa

A Sunday service is an interesting insight into what makes Samoans tick. Photo: Supplied

The service is in Samoan, so I have no idea what’s being said, but the whole place comes alive when the singing starts – and somehow, there’s not a bad voice in the congregation. 

With everyone dressed immaculately in white, it’s a striking sight, brought down to earth by all the little kids who refuse to sit still, roaming up and down the aisle instead. 

Honestly, in looking forward to my tropical trip, church was not what I pictured – but I remind myself that trying new things is all part of a holiday experience. And of course, Samoa isn’t short of textbook holiday features: Namely palm trees and white sandy beaches.

Days are spent mostly outdoors, enjoying Upolu’s lush, hilly beauty. At just 75 kilometres across its widest point, the island is best navigated by rental car, giving you freedom to explore villages of brightly coloured homes en route to various beautiful spots.

I spend hours wading in the water at the secluded Vavau Beach on the island’s south coast. And on another day, we take a boat to the uninhabited and unspoilt Namu’a Island, where’s there’s nothing to do but swim and lounge. 

Pictured is Vavau Beach

Vavau Beach is popular among tourists and locals for good reason. Photo: Supplied

Wherever you go, from waterfalls and beaches to museums, you pay a small fee, which goes to the family who owns the land, or the community. It’s a point of pride that most of the money tourists spend here, stays here, rather than going into the pockets of overseas investors. 

Perhaps this is why the locals are so welcoming, and seem genuinely keen to share their culture, from the young women performing the slow and enchanting siva, to the men and young children doing the ‘siva afi’, or fire knife dance, my heart rate spiking every time they hurl an open flame into the air.

pictured is Siva Afi (Fire Knife Dance)

Siva Afi (Fire Knife Dance) showcases Samoa’s traditional culture. Photo: Supplied

Much of the accommodation, too, is locally owned, with options to suit various budgets and needs, from low key, such as Taufua Beach Fales, to the more luxurious Taumeasina Island Resort.  

Over my six days in Samoa, I find myself relaxing to fit the pace of island life, and it’s with that spirit of laid-back openness to trying new things that I find myself at the top of the To Sua Ocean Trench. 

Essentially a massive, naturally occurring pothole in the island’s volcanic rock, it’s surrounded by dense greenery and filled with crystal-clear water, 30 metres deep. By this point, I’ve realised that swimming is the only sensible way to deal with the humidity, so much of my time is spent discovering the best places to do it. Well known as one of Samoa’s most beautiful natural attractions, this is one I’m determined to conquer.

pictured is the To Sua Ocean trench

The breathtakng To Sua Ocean Trench deserves a place on every bucket list. Photo: Supplied

I teeter at the top of the ladder with sweat dripping down my neck, partly from nerves, partly from the heat – deciding it will help if I don’t look down. And so, I grip the ladder tightly, and make my way down, blindly using my feet to feel for each step. The descent feels never-ending, but in reality, probably only takes a few minutes.

When I reach the very bottom and feel the platform under my feet, I pause and take a breath. Then I look up at the sky and the plants spilling over the rocks, and I slowly lower myself into the cool water. Bliss. 

The writer was a guest of Virgin Australia and the Samoa Tourism Authority

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