You won’t find tourism excess in this Pacific paradise. Just extreme natural beauty, traditional Polynesian charm and a few boutique indulgences.
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A Samoan sunrise has torched the South Pacific sky like an Australian bushfire, illuminating the capital of Apia as the plane wheels kiss the tarmac. Minutes later, I am in a mini-van, carving through the centre of the main island of Upolu, past coconut trees, churches, cackling chickens and clackety buses. It’s both chaos and calm, wrapped in a palm frond.
There’s dogs and kids jumbled into this magical mix along the roadside, where brazen boys and giggling girls with black plaited hair, weave their way to school. The air is peppered with wood-fire smoke while porky pigs and the odd cow slow our journey, but I am in no rush.
I have flown, overnight, via Samoa Airways’ new route from Brisbane, and like the South Pacific paradise in which I find myself, I too, am just waking up. I arrive at the aptly-named Seabreeze Resort in the island’s south, just in time for breakfast. Chris and Wendy Booth, the Australian owners of this multi-award-winning property, have seemingly thought of everything. There’s a free mini bar with a generous daily allowance of two local beers, a 375ml quality New Zealand wine or French Champagne piccolo, and two soft drinks (along with unlimited bottled water).
Breakfast is also complimentary and starts with a fruit platter featuring a shot of coconut juice, a shot of homemade yoghurt and a shot of bircher muesli. Then, it’s a choice of juice, plus plunger coffee or tea, and a full cooked sweet or savoury breakfast. Feast on the likes of freshly-caught mahi mahi for lunch in the Waterfront Restaurant and Bar or at Paulini’s Pool Bar. On the weekend, indulge in a wood-fired pizza (try the house ‘special’ starring local lobster) at Cbreeza Pizzeria.
For dinner, consider the locally caught lobster, when it’s in season, or the plentiful tuna. I quickly slip into sync with Samoa, drinking milk fresh from the coconut and languishing in the warm ocean overlooking white, sandy beaches such as the famed Lalomanu.
Back at the resort, I indulge in massages and facials, the in-house masseuse slathering my face with concoctions of cucumber, honey, banana and lime. I smell good enough to eat. Waterfalls trickle into the serene infinity pool overlooking the ocean, gently reminding me to slow down. And I wait, impatiently at first, but eventually in tune with the ocean, for the tide to turn so I can snorkel, kayak and explore underwater.
I paddle south around Seabreeze Bay to an old church ruin that dates back to 1870. There’s pink coral, blue starfish and the black shadows of Bat Island’s winged inhabitants out here in the aqua sea.
With Seabreeze situated in the village of Aufaga, the Booths exclusively employ Samoans from nearby communities – 35 staff for the 12 rooms. “We believe in you being totally spoiled,” Wendy explains. “Our philosophy is: eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired, be pampered at every opportunity.”
Guests can hire a car and explore the island on their own (it takes about two-and-a-half hours all up) or book a private half-day or full-day tour with a bespoke itinerary. Visit the nearby village, meet the school children, or attend a church service to really get a feel for (and fall in love with) the local life.
There’s also day trips along the south-east coastline to the secluded Namua Island, where the turtles like to swim; to the thundering Togitogiga Waterfall and Sopoaga Falls; and out to the Sua Trench – a seemingly magical ocean tidal pool in which you can swim after descending a steep, timber ladder. Pause along the way, stopping to buy fresh bananas and pineapples from makeshift wooden stalls, or to watch throngs of Samoans playing volleyball before the sun sets and they’re called inside to prayer.
On Fridays, back at the resort, it’s Fiafia Night, where guests can learn more about traditional Samoan culture while feasting on local delicacies, such as suckling pig, seafood poached in fresh coconut cream, and papaya drizzled with caramelised coconut sauce.
Samoans sound like warriors when they speak in their own tongue, gentle giants whose words swirl around their mouths before being tossed like spears of vowels and a cacophony of consonants into conversations. When they sing, it’s like waves washing right over you, straight to shore and into your soul. And it’s at that precise point, you know you have arrived in paradise, Samoan style.
Launched in 2017, Samoa Airways has just added a new Brisbane-Apia leg to its routes across the South Pacific. Samoa’s national carrier currently services Apia, Auckland, Brisbane, Pago Pago and Sydney. samoaairways.com
Where to stay
Situated in a secluded bay in the south of the main island, Seabreeze Resort is the only adults-only property in Samoa. Consider upgrading to the Honeymoon Point Villa for the ultimate in luxury.
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Image credit: Christine Retschlag, Adobe Stock, Flashgun, Martin Valigursky