Splashing out in Samoa

CRAIG TANSLEY
Last updated 05:00 18/01/2014
Samoa

FAMILY FUN: For just a few dollars you can swim with an endangered marine species, the green turtle.

Samoa
SURF'S UP: Samoa offers a range of non-surf attractions, as well as some of the best surf spots.

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There's no safer place in the Pacific for a family holiday than Samoa. The most traditional of all the islands of Polynesia, locals mostly still live as they have done for 2000 years in simple villages with their extended families, ruled by chiefs and other elders.

Rainforest-covered volcanic mountain peaks jut out from untouched hinterlands and Samoa's coastline is made up of endless, deserted white sandy beaches, bar the occasional fisherman.

Samoan culture has a strong focus on welcoming visitors - especially families. There's everything here for families - from kayaking across blue lagoons to surfing world-class waves along barrier reefs to swimming with endangered turtles or bike rides circumnavigating the islands.

A DAY TOUR BACK IN TIME

Take a 20-minute boat ride to an island with no roads, no cars and, until just a decade ago, that had no electricity. Located off the western coast of Upolu, a day tour to the tiny island of Manono gives an insight into how all Samoans once lived.

A dirt walking track circumnavigates the three-square-kilometre island, past traditional villages, schools and farming plots. There's also some of Samoa's best lagoons to snorkel in and a barbecue lunch.

Tour costs about 198 tala ($102), children five to 11 are half price, children under four are free. See samoascenictours.com

VISIT A LOCAL TREASURE

Hike through rainforest to the final resting place of history's most famous family-adventure writer.

Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, lived his final years on a huge estate in Vailima near Samoa's capital, Apia. When he died, the Samoan people carried him behind his estate to Mount Vaea, creating the Road of the Loving Hearts.

Visit Stevenson's elegant restored estate and museum and hike the half-hour Loving Hearts track past cascades to his resting place, which offers the best views over Upolu's north coast.

A museum visit costs about 15 tala ($8) for adults and about 5 tala ($3) for children. See rlsmuseum.ws.

SAIL AWAY WITH THE FAMILY

Choose from a list of adventure sailing options on-board Samoa's only locally based catamaran - the 10-metre Shilo II. Sail around Upolu's lagoons and stop to snorkel and go ashore on a deserted sandy beach, or go further afield across the Apolima Strait to the islands of Savai'i, Manono and Apolima.

You can also sail at sunset or book a turtle-watching cruise.

There's also full-day and half-day fishing options for families that include non-fishing activities.

Lagoon sail tours cost 110 tala ($57), sunset tours cost 120 tala ($62), Manono tours cost 280 tala ($144), children are half price. See samoa-adventure.com.

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SURF RESORTS FOR FAMILIES

Samoa caters for entire families on a surfing holiday. It doesn't matter how many in your family surf - Samoa's "surf camps" offer luxurious lagoon-side accommodation with an extensive activities program for non-surfers, as well. In other surfing hot-spots, such as Indonesia and Fiji, surf camps are for experienced surfers only, but Samoa offers a range of non-surf attractions, as well as some of the Pacific's best - and most uncrowded - surf spots.

Family units cost 300 tala ($155) a night, see samoanaresort.com.

SWIM WITH TURTLES

For just a few dollars you can swim with an endangered marine species, the green turtle. At the Satoalepai Turtle Sanctuary on Savai'i, juvenile turtles are raised from infancy by villagers, before they're released into the wild - where they reach 180 kilograms.

Savai'i is one of the only places on the planet where you can swim with green turtles in captivity before they're tagged and released by the Fisheries Department.

Entry costs 5 tala ($3), see samoa.travel.

PACIFIC'S BEST WATERFALLS

Visit some of the South Pacific's most powerful waterfalls on a waterfall crawl tour incorporating a visit to Samoa's most famous natural attraction, the Sua Ocean Trench.

Drive through Upolu's lush forests and stop at Falefa Falls before visiting the Sua Ocean Trench. Climb 30 metres down a ladder into a massive waterhole fed by water flowing through lava tubes from the ocean.

You can swim under the tubes into caves, and out to the lagoon. Then stop at Samoa's largest waterfall, the Papapapaitai Falls, which drop 100 metres into a volcanic crater.

The East Upolu and Aleipata tour costs 109 tala ($56), children five to 11 are half price, children under four are free. See samoascenictours.com.

CYCLING ADVENTURES

Savai'i, Samoa's least populated island, is the ideal island for family cycling adventures because there are virtually no cars on the road and the speed limit is a leisurely 40km/h. Much of the road hugs the coastline, offering stunning views and countless opportunities to stop and swim.

Complete a family circumnavigation of the island, with a support vehicle to carry non-riders or younger children when they tire.

Baby-sitting is also available. Accommodation is pre-booked, and there's plenty of time off your bike.

A family cycling adventure includes bike hire, accommodation, support van and most meals and costs about A$1050 ($1110) a person for nine days, see outdoor.co.nz.

TEACH THE FAMILY TO DIVE

Savai'i is one of the best places in the world to learn to dive because of the range of its beginner dive sites, the great visibility and a year-round water temperature of between 26 and 29C.

Either take the family out for an introductory dive, where you'll learn to dive in shallow water before doing one dive up to 12 metres, or complete an open-water dive certificate.

The dive sites are located either inside the safety of the lagoons, or just outside the reef where you can access shipwrecks, coral gardens and sea canyons and see green turtles, eagle rays and reef fish.

An introductory dive costs 300 tala ($155), a four-day open-water dive course costs 1200 tala ($619), see divesavaii.com.

PADDLE IN CLEAR LAGOONS

Take the family on a day-long kayaking adventure that caters for every level of paddler.

The most popular family tour takes paddlers to the marine- protected zone of Namua Island. The lagoons here are ideal for beginner kayakers.

You'll also have the chance to paddle outside the reef to watch sea turtles and to snorkel at nearby Fanuatapu Island - one of Samoa's best snorkelling locations.

There's a variety of day tours to choose from, including tours to deserted atolls and to mangrove forests.

Day tours cost 180 tala ($93). See kayakingsamoa.com.

DANCE YOUR NIGHTS AWAY

Capture all the energy and excitement of Samoa's traditional Polynesian culture without leaving Apia, when you head to one of the South Pacific's most celebrated annual events.

Every September, Apia is the host of a week-long celebration of Samoan culture, the Teuila Festival, which brings thousands of locals out each day and night for Polynesian dance competitions, fire knife dancing and Samoa's best live music ... and it's all free.

This year's festival will be held in September.

It's your best way to mix with the local people at the year's biggest event and sample local food cooked in an umu.

The writer travelled courtesy of Samoa Tourism.

STAYING THERE

Stay at a family unit at Samoana Resort, see samoanaresort.com.

Stay in one of 140 deluxe ocean view rooms at Aggie Grey's Lagoon, Beach Resort and Spa.

See samoanaresort.comaggiegreys.com.

MORE INFORMATION samoa.travelteuilafestival.com.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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