Upolu Island

Overview

Introduction

Situated 15 mi/20 km east of Savai'i, Upolu is the smaller but more developed of Samoa's two main islands (430 sq mi/1,100 sq km). Its coastal highway provides what James Michener called "the most beautiful drive in the South Pacific."

You'll get to enjoy it immediately—it's part of the 25-mi/35-km drive from Faleolo Airport into Apia, the vibrant capital. First impressions of the island will include lush foliage, small villages, striking mountains and perfect blue water.

Although it has grown in the past decade, Apia is still a fairly small seaport with one long main street (Beach Road). See the bustling New Market (local handicrafts and produce), the Mulinu'u Peninsula (site of Parliament and the chiefly tombs), the Palolo Deep (a beach park in town with good snorkeling) and some local shops (taro root, coconuts, colorful tie-dyed garments, tropical-fruit wines and more).

Although Apia is only a 30-minute flight from Pago Pago, it requires a trip across the international dateline into a new time zone, boosting travelers 25 hours into the future upon their arrival.

Robert Louis Stevenson lived in the hills above Apia during the four years before his death in 1894 (the islanders called him Tusitala—"Storyteller"). Stevenson's stately home, Vailima, is now a museum. You can hike from there to the author's grave atop Mount Vaea, which overlooks beautiful Apia Bay (10 mi/15 km south of town on Cross Island Road). The 45-minute trek is rather arduous, but his epitaph (somewhat weathered by a century of wind and rain) and the scenic view make it worthwhile. South of Apia is Papasee'a Sliding Rock, a 15-ft/5-m natural-rock waterslide that deposits its riders into a cool lagoon.

In central Upolu, south of Mount Vaea off the Cross Island Highway, is Lake Lanoto'o, a seldom-visited crater lake surrounded by a mossy forest and mist. The lake is also filled with goldfish, though they are at times difficult to see from the shore. The mist-shrouded forest and the stillness of nature give Lanoto'o an eerie but beautiful atmosphere.

At Tiapapata, also on the Cross Island Highway between Lake Lanoto'o and Mount Vaea, is the modern Baha'i House of Worship (one of only seven in the world) with its soaring nine-sided dome, symbolizing the nine major religions in the world.

For a spectacular ride, drive the scenic 40-mi/65-km east-coast route via Fatamae Cave and Falefa Falls. Be sure to take special note of the turtle-shaped fales (thatch-roofed houses built without walls to let the breezes in). Keep an eye out for Samoan villages, religious schools, Piula Cave (and its freshwater-spring pool—great for a swim), Fuipisia Falls (180 ft/55 m high) and cocoa and copra plantations.

Paradise Beach, on the south coast, is one of the more picturesque spots in the Pacific. (Return to Paradise, starring Gary Cooper, was filmed there in 1951.) Even more impressive is the cliff-backed, white-sand beach at Lalomanu, on the island's eastern extremity, from where you can see American Samoa on a clear day.

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