Last updated on March 9th, 2022
Savaii is considered by many to be ‘the real Samoa’, where the old ways of fa’a Samoa are still much alive. Savaii might be the largest of the Samoan islands, but only a fraction of the nation’s population calls this island their home. To explore Savaii is to travel back in time, to witness the awesome forces of nature and to slow the pace of life to a near standstill. I spent over a week in Savaii while backpacking across the South Pacific islands. Here’s my personal list of the absolute top things to do in Savaii.
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Beneath the surface, nature has created an underground ‘superhighway’ in Savaii, where lava tubes extend for miles from the mountains down to the ocean. In the Paia Dwarfs Cave, you can walk in the dark and never reach the end of the cave. Along the way, you’ll get wet, muddy and probably claustrophobic – but local guides will ensure you make it out in one piece. In the much smaller Peapea Cave, you’ll get to see the cute Polynesian Swiftlet raising her chicks in the nest. Somehow, the bird manages to find its way in the pitch dark.
Savaii is big but not overwhelmingly big, and so sparsely populated, that it’s the perfect setting for an epic tropical road trip in the heart of the South Pacific. With only a couple of church radio stations picked up by the car stereo, just enjoy the views as you circle the island over the course of two days. Your tour will take you through villages where absolutely nothing happens, you’ll pass by men carrying heavy loads of coconuts on their shoulders and children walking to and from school. You’ll discover the rugged coastline of the island that’s been shaped by millions of years of volcanic activity and enjoy the sweet pace of life in the slow lane.
Cape Mulinuu is the westernmost point in Samoa and one of the most spiritually significant spots in an already pretty spiritual country. As the sun magnificently sets over the horizon, ancient Samoan belief says it carries with it the souls of Samoans to the afterlife. The cape is both beautiful and eerie, but you just have to feel it for yourself. The local villagers that guard the cape will be happy to take you on a short hike to an ancient temple and wells that hide in the thick rainforest.
Further north from Cape Mulinuu, Falealupo Village was virtually wiped out in cyclones that swept through the area in 1990 and 1991. The village was relocated to its safer present spot, but the remains of the abandoned Catholic church are a stark reminder of mother nature’s work in the South Pacific. Falealupo is also home to a rainforest reserve and the Canopy Walkway, where you can walk along a suspension bridge and climb atop a giant banyan tree for some awesome views.
As the ocean swell meets the basaltic cliffs, water seeps through the underwater lava tubes and shoots up in the air like a giant water cannon. The Alofaaga Blowholes are seriously entertaining but if you want to spice things up, one of the locals will be more than happy to dangerously toss in a coconut and let it fly up to 30 meters in the air!
Life was carefree in this part of Savaii until 1905 when all hell broke loose. Mount Matavanu decided it was time for a change and for six years, sent lava pouring down towards the coastline. It covered entire villages and agricultural land in up to 9 meters of lava. Today, a visit to the Saleaula Lava Fields is a must. As you hop along the lava rocks which bake in the searing sun, enter the old LMS church, where molten lava literally flowed through its aisles. It’s yet another stark reminder of mother nature’s absolute rule over the South Pacific islands.
After you’ve seen the tragic result, pay a visit to the volcano responsible for all the mess. The drive up to the Matavanu Crater is a very bumpy one. You’ll know you’ve finally made it when Da Craterman opens the gate. This living legend is the crater’s unofficial caretaker and he’s made it his life’s mission to preserve this unique spot. Da Craterman has his own version of the English language, but you’ll learn this firsthand as you figure out what all the small signs he’s put up really mean. The views from up here are sensational, and you’ll probably be the only ones here. A short hike will finally bring you to the crater’s rim, now overgrown with thick vegetation and adorned by lovely songbirds. It’s a peaceful spot but who knows when the volcano will wake up again? Here’s what it looks and sounds like up here.
Also known as Ole Moe Falls, the Afu Aau Falls splash from the thick rainforest into a deep swimming pool. Go for a swim and enjoy the sounds of water gently trickling from the moss-covered rocks and of birds enjoying another day in paradise. It’s also a good spot for a picnic and for those who like to practice their backflips.
Savaii is actually the best place in Samoa for scuba diving at the moment. The reef is quite interesting, having undergone underwater volcanic activity that has created canyons, boulders, and chasms that you have to negotiate your way through. Book a spot with Dive Savaii for some seriously rewarding and long dives. I encountered stingrays hiding in the ocean floor, freakishly looking lionfish and lots of sea turtles from really up close. An added bonus was the wreck of the John Williams V, a missionary boat that sailed from Apia to Savaii over Christmas and mistakenly crashed into the reef.
The beaches around the village of Manase are among the prettiest beaches in Samoa and there’s hardly anyone around. With plenty of family-operated beach fale accommodations to choose from, this is the place to base yourself in Savaii for a few days. When you’re not catching up on your holiday reading list, scout the beach for sea turtles that love to come close to feed off the seagrass. If you want a more strenuous activity, hit the water and try to keep up with them. They might be turtles alright, but they can swim like Usain Bolt sprints 100 meters!
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