WESTERN SAMOA: In the Footsteps of Robert Louis StephensonIt’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to dock in the port of Apia in the Samoan Islands in December 1889, at time when Jack the Ripper was still terrorising women in the impoverished areas around the Whitechapel district of London, a story that might have come from the novelist pen of Robert Louis Stephenson had it not been true.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to dock in the port of Apia in the Samoan Islands in December 1889, at time when Jack the Ripper was still terrorising women in the impoverished areas around the Whitechapel district of London, a story that might have come from the novelist pen of Robert Louis Stephenson had it not been true.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 13th 1850, Stephenson went on to become one of the world’s best known authors and prolific writers with books such as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, two amongst 36 novels, travelogues and memoires he had published in his short lifetime.
On the 7th December 1889, Robert Lewis Belfour Stephenson (he changed Lewis to Louis as it sounded French) sailed into Apia Harbour from Hawaii to begin residence in what would be his final resting place, Samoa.
In 1890 he began building his palatial plantation home, an eight bedroom dwelling with expansive sea views on 400 acres of land that he’d purchased outright for US$4,000. As construction began he named it Vialima (Stephenson it is believed saw five streams from his lookout on the top of Mt. Vaea, so it might be translated as Five Waters). As in Stephenson’s time, the grounds of Vialima today are surrounded by luxuriant gardens, waterfalls, streams, precipices, deep ravines and a spectacular view of forests and the ocean.
While working on what would be his last book, Weir of Hermiston he died of a brain haemorrhage on the evening of 3rd December 1894, eight pages short of its conclusion. It was written on his death certificate that he died of apoplexia (a sudden loss of consciousness resulting when the rupture or occlusion of a blood vessel leads to oxygen lack in the brain). He was only 44 years old.
When visiting Western Samoa, a trip out to his home Vialima (now a museum) should be on everybody’s list of things to do. The house and gardens (also once home to the High Commissioner of New Zealand from 1914-1962) has been magnificently restored to the grandeur of the Victorian era, with a wealth of historical pictures and some original artefacts that captures his life as well as the local Samoan culture and heritage that he immersed himself in.
Sightseeing by Bike: With well over 300 kilometres of sealed road around the coast of Savaii and Upolu, booking a bike tour is a fantastic way to view Samoa’s stunning beautiful countryside as well as some of the most secluded beaches. Bike Samoa is a Kiwi family owned company who supply top quality hybrid bikes for independent self-ride options from seven days up to 16 days. There are also a number of escorted group tours that depart each year. Bike Samoa can arrange a baggage transfer vehicle on a daily basis or a support vehicle that stays with the group on each day’s route.
Sea Kayaking: Samoa’s coastline is fringed with outer reefs, so kayaking is one outdoor activity that is easy to learn and safe to participate in. Kayaks are mostly available from the flashier hotels and bigger fale resorts dotting both major islands. When booking your accommodation find out which offer snorkelling equipment free as part of your package price.
Diving and Snorkelling: Diving on both Upolu and Savaii is a perfect introduction for beginners and experienced divers both outside and inside the reef which are full of beautiful lagoons offering clear visibility. The wreck of the Juno off Savaii, dating back to 1881 is a popular dive site. There are many areas of reef also displaying beautiful hard coral gardens or underwater canyons. Dive Savaii at La Lagoto Resort is the only dive operator on Savaii offering scuba diving, boat snorkelling tours and snorkel gear rental. Some of the better resorts also usually have snorkelling equipment free as part of your package price.
Surfing: At least four companies hire surfboards in Upolu but the surf conditions in Samoa are really only for experienced surfers as waves break directly onto the reef. However some places that specialise in accommodating surfers is the nicely appointed Salani Surf Resort or the fales at Manimoa Surf Camp both on Upolu. There is also a place on the southwest coast of Savaii to rent surf boards called Aganoa Beach Fales which is a very popular spot. One operator, Savaii Surfaris caters especially to surfers of all abilities.
Hiking: There are good trails in both Upolo and Savaii where you can discover lush rainforests, volcanic cones or rugged coastlines. On Upolu Island explore either O Le Pupu-Pue National Park or Lake Lanoto’o National Park, both teeming with bird life. On Savaii visit the Tafua Peninsular not far from the airport where there is some great hiking in the Tafua Rainforest Preserve including a trail around the Tafua Volcanic rim which takes about an hour. Sometimes it is recommended to have a guide on the more adventourous hikes.
Big Game Fishing: A number of operators working out of Apia offer half day and full day charter fishing trips. You can check at the marina or with the hotel desk where you are staying to make bookings. If you happened to have booked a stay at the Sinalei Reef Resort on Upolu they operate their own boat moored at the resort’s private marina. Whist I was staying there somebody boated a very large marlin.
Swimming Holes: Samoa has been blessed with some of the best swimming spots in the South Pacific, not just any old swimming spots but some incredible naturally formed locations from coastal saltwater lagoons, to crystal clear pools below stunning waterfalls. My favourite is the Sua Ocean Trench which involves climbing down about 20 very steep steps to a platform about two meters above an inland tidal pool that’s a mixture of saltwater and freshwater – the reward on a 30 degree day is the coolest swimming hole on the planet. On Upolu, drive to the Piula Cave Pool, located in the Piula Methodist Theological College grounds. This freshwater grotto pool is a must for cooling off and a great place for a picnic lunch.
Places to Stay: The wonderful thing about staying in Samoa is the wide range of accommodation options and prices you might pay such as 100 Tala a night including breakfast and dinner in basic beach fales, or anywhere from 250 to 500 Tala in two and three star beach bungalows to over 600 Tala in four star luxury resorts.
Upolo: In downtown Apia the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel is rated 4-star. For a resort on the outskirts of Apia be pampered at the Aggie Grey’s Lagoon Beach Resort. Other basic fale options include Litia Sini Beach Fales or the adjacent Taufua Beach Fales. A new 4-star property that opened in 2013 is the Aga Reef Resort for some fine dining and exclusivity. This also applies to the Sinalei Resort & Spa. One of the best packaged options on Upolu is Sea Breeze Resort who specialise in comfort, ambience, great food and service. Treesort on Upolu is the ultimate luxury tree house. Once you have ascended this giant four storied high banyan tree you can relax in one of two bedrooms or watch the watch sunset from one of two tree balconies. Savaii: Two popular places for Kiwis to stay on Savaii is Le Lagoto Resort or Va-i-Moana Seaside Lodge.
Samoa today welcomes nearly 30,000 New Zealanders a year to its beautiful shores, most of who probably aren’t even aware they are still walking in the footsteps of one of the world’s most famous author’s, Robert Louis Balfour Stephenson.
Aggie Grey’s Lagoon Beach Resort & Spa
T: 685 23707
Coconuts Beach Club
T: 685 24849
La Lagoto Resort
T: 685 58189
Lupe Sina Treesort
T: 685 773 5875
Tanoa Tusitala Hotel
T: 685 21122
Tour Operators & Attractions:
T: 685 777 4744
T: 0800 688 245
T: 685 776 4900
Samoa Scenic Tours
T: 685 26 981
Robert Louis Stephenson Museum
T: 685 20 798
Shane Boocock travelled to Samoa courtesy of Tourism Samoa flying Virgin Samoa airlines. W: www.samoa.travel.com
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