Perfect simplicity in Samoa

Samoa, like many South Pacific islands, is known for dreamlike beaches, but it’s lush green that greets us.

It was dark when we arrived on Upolu’s north coast, but as we drive south, the sun illuminates lowland forest, vivid flowering plants and locals beginning their day (including chickens and pigs scampering across the road).

Just 40 minutes later and we’ve crossed the island to Maninoa, where an offshore wind blows azure waves along outer reefs.

Our accommodation is quintessentially Samoan – the traditional fale is a simple thatched hut, and while you can choose various shades of luxury (or forgo one for a swanky resort), we’ve chosen the basic option.

Inside are woven mats, mattresses, sheets and mosquito nets and, well… little else.

Any concerns about rough sleeping, however, are soon put to bed. The fan’s more than enough to combat the heat, and we drift off to the sound of the waves lapping the shore.

The following week is a lesson in island time, where meticulously-planned itineraries are no match for beckoning back roads and hot tips from locals with beaming smiles.

We explore the capital “city” of Apia, and despite its small-town vibe there’s a smorgasbord of waterfront bars, restaurants and nightspots.

The bustling 24-hour Marketi Fou markets are an excellent people-watching spot where pretty much everything’s sold.

One of the aforementioned tips leads us to a rugby match – a national obsession – which has filled Apia’s stadium with cheering families.

We give some boisterous but polite teenagers a lift home and get our first glimpse of ubiquitous village life, ruled by a strict code that dictates how Samoans behave, and their obligations to their families, community and church.

We spend the rest of the week beach-hopping Upolu’s idyllic South Coast.

Our party contains surfers and divers, so we split up during the day before regaling each other at dinner (a frosty Vailima lager on hand) with tales of hair-raising waves and encounters with kaleidoscopic fish and turtles.

We’re only sorry we haven’t had a decent hike, kayak or round of golf, of which options abound.

Another highlight is the To Sua Ocean Trench, a giant sinkhole covered with intense green vegetation and fed by waves surging through ocean tunnels. You can easily spend a day in its aquamarine water, amazed such a place exists outside Avatar or Star Wars films.

We take the ferry to Samoa’s largest, yet way-less-developed, island of Savai’i, and the snorkels and legropes barely leave our skin, except for exploratory drives through its sleepy villages and windswept coast.

We also visit some of the islands abundant sacred sights, learning the proud 3000-year history of these beautiful people.

We’re sad to leave, but we’ll return. Our skin’s burnt temporarily, but our memories are permanent, from getting lost in tiny villages along potholed roads and chatting with locals during sunset, to the sight of families walking along roads in their Sunday best, and the sound of hymns – rising from churches – so beautiful you could weep. 

Story and images Jake Dean.