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The two Samoan brothers (independent and American) are twins, though not identical. Independent Samoa (or Western Samoa as it was known as until 1997) differs from its eastern namesake in that it is a little less developed and a little less modern. It is therefore slightly less offensive to anthropologists and, we think, much more appealing to tourists. It also benefits from better beaches and more accessible swimming and snorkelling areas. Though deforestation's having its impact, inland Samoa is at times almost as attractive as aquatic Samoa.
That said, the similarities between the two nations far outweigh the differences. Many traditions are the same; both Samoas are keen to present their traditional culture to the adoring tourists who visit. So if you don't like Samoan dance and music styles, tough luck.
The Samoans originated from Austronesian predecessors during the terminal eastward Lapita expansion period from Southeast Asia and Melanesia approximately 1500 BC. Contact with Europeans began in the early 18th century. Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutchman, was the first known European to sight the Samoan islands in 1722. This visit was followed by a French explorer by the name of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, the man who named them the Navigator Islands in 1768. Contact was limited before the 1830s which is when English missionaries and traders began arriving. Mission work in Samoa had begun in late 1830. By that time, the Samoans had gained a reputation of being savage and warlike, as violent altercations had occurred between natives and French, British, German and American forces, who, by the late nineteenth century, valued Samoa as a refueling station for coal-fired shipping and whaling.
The Germans in particular began to show great commercial interest in the Samoan Islands, especially on the island of 'Upolu where German firms monopolized copra and cocoa bean processing. The United States laid its own claim and formed alliances with local native chieftains, most conspicuously on the islands of Tutuila and Manu'a (which were later formally annexed to the USA as American Samoa). Britain also sent troops to protect British business enterprise, harbor rights, and consulate office. There followed an eight-year civil war, where each of the three powers supplied arms, training, and in some cases, combat troops to the warring Samoan parties. All three sent warships into Apia harbour, and a larger-scale war seemed imminent, until a massive storm damaged or destroyed the warships, ending the military conflict. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Tripartite Convention partitioned the Samoan Islands into two parts: the eastern island group became a territory of the United States (the Tutuila Islands in 1900 and officially Manu'a in 1904) and is today known as American Samoa; the western islands, by far the greater landmass, became known as German Samoa after Britain vacated all claims to Samoa and accepted termination of German rights in Tonga and certain areas in the Solomon Islands and West Africa.
After repeated efforts by the Samoan people, Western Samoa gained independence in 1962 and signed a Friendship Treaty with New Zealand. Samoa was the first country in the Pacific to become independent.
In July 1997, the constitution was amended to change the country's name from Western Samoa to Samoa. The U.S. territory of American Samoa protested the move, asserting that the change diminished its own identity. American Samoans still use the terms Western Samoa and Western Samoans to describe the independent State of Samoa and its inhabitants. While the two Samoas share language and ethnicity, their cultures have recently followed different paths, with American Samoans often emigrating to Hawaiʻi and the U.S. mainland, and adopting many U.S. customs, such as the playing of American football and baseball. Western Samoans have tended to emigrate instead to New Zealand, whose influence has made the sports of rugby and cricket more popular in the western islands.
A rather unique action was taken during the last days of 2011. Samoa, together with Tokelau, has chosen to switch time zones by redrawing the international dateline at midnight on December 29, 2011. This means that Samoa will skip the date December 30 altogether, and go straight into December 31. The main reasons are economical, because from now on, Samoa will just be 1-3 hours ahead of Australia and New Zealand, making business with those countries easier. From being one of the last countries in the world to greet the new day (and New Year's!), it will be one of the first when moving to the other side of the dateline.
Samoa is located south of the equator, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean. The total land area is 2,934 km², consisting of the two large islands of Upolu and Savai'i which account for 99% of the total land area, and eight small islets. These are the three islets in the Apolima Strait (Manono Island, Apolima and Nu'ulopa), the four Aleipata Islands off the eastern end of Upolu (Nu'utele, Nu'ulua, Namua, and Fanuatapu), and Nu'usafe'e (less than 0.01 km² – 2½ acres – in area and about 1.4 km (0.9 mi) off the south coast of Upolu at the village of Vaovai). The main island of Upolu is home to nearly three-quarters of Samoa's population, and its capital city is Apia. The Samoan islands have been produced by vulcanism, the source of which is the Samoa hotspot which is probably the result of a mantle plume. While all of the islands have volcanic origins, only Savai'i, the western most island in Samoa, is volcanically active with the most recent eruptions in Mt Matavanu (1905-1911), Mata o le Afi (1902) and Mauga Afi (1725). The highest point in Samoa is Mt Silisili, at 1858 metres. The Saleaula lava fields situated on the central north coast of Savai'i are the result of the Mt Matavanu eruptions which left 50 km² of solidified lava.
Samoa is made up of two primary islands and eight small islets.
The two large islands are
Both of the main islands of Samoa are ringed with gentle sandy beaches sloping into the clear sea. Beaches on Upolu include popular Lalomanu and Saleapaga. Aganoa is an interesting black sand beach. The beach on the islet of Namua Island is also particularly attractive.
On Savai'i, the most popular and accessible beach is at Manase - a good beach for swimming due to its gentle gradient, low current and shallow water. Beaches towards the Western end of the island are wilder and in more dramatic settings. Falealupo can justifiably claim to be the last beach in the world - the furthest west you can stand before the international date line.
Samoa has a number of world-class breaks. Surf tourism is a fledgeling industry - those who make the effort to get here will have the waves to themselves though there are now several small surf resorts.
Nestled in the uplands in the centre of Upolu, and a short hike from the main island road, Lake Lanoto'o is an unusual lake. Deep green in colour, it's filled with thousands of goldfish. Legend also says that the lake is so deep that the bottom has never been found.
Also known as the Taga Blowholes, by the village of Salelologa on Savi'i, these are the second most powerful blowholes known in the world. The little cafe by the rocks sells coconut shells - get your timing right and watch the force of the blowholes rocket the shells into the sky.
Malololelei on Upolu, and Olumoe on Savai'i - two of the most perfect tropical waterfalls.
A short walkway suspended high above the canopy in a small forest reserve at Falealopu on Savaii. The walkway is strung between two fascinating trees - a tall Floribunda and a gargantuan Banyan. For a small fee, it's possible to sleep on the platform at the top of the banyan.
A dramatically bleak area covered in black rock, once a community but covered in lava by the eruption of the Matavanu volcano in 1906. The only building still standing from the village is the church. It's possible to explore the 'lava tubes', caves formed underneath the lava.
Samoa's 'third island'. A large islet situated halfway between the main islands of Upolu and Savai'i, known for being an outpost of the traditional Samoan way of life. Visitors are welcome, traffic is not.
Samoa has a hot and humid tropical climate. Temperatures hoover around 30 degrees Celcius throughout the year and never drop much lower than 23 or 24 degrees at night. Temperatures are slightly higher during the wetter November to March period and slightly lower between April and October. This last period is the best season to visit as it rains less (but still significantly) and there is almost no chance of hurricanes, which can strik from December to March. There is always some relief of the heat by constant sea breezes. Note that the interior of Samoa might be slightly cooler because of its height.
Most travellers arrive at Faleolo Airport (APW), about 30 kilometres from the capital Apia. The national airine is Polynesian Airlines, with flights from Apia to Tonga, Niue and American Samoa. Also, Polynesian Blue serves Samoa, mainly to and from Auckland and Sydney.
There are many flights with Pacific Blue and Air New Zealand from Australia (mainly Sydney) and New Zealand (mainly Auckland).
Samoa - American Samoa vv
The only option to get to American Samoa from Samoa is by taking the MV Lady Naomi. It operates between the capital of Samoa, Apia, and Pago Pago once a week departing Apia every Wednesday at midnight returning from Pago Pago every Thursday at 3:30pm, taking around 7 hours to complete the journey. Expect rough rides now and then. Although it costs about half compared to a plane ticket, it is rather basic and takes much much longer of course. The return deck/cabin fare from American Samoa is US$75/100 and tickets have to be purchased at least one day in advance from Polynesia Shipping Services.
Samoa - Tokelau vv
Three cargo ships sail between Apia in Samoa and Tokelau. Bookings for the 20-hour (or more, this is to the nearest atoll, Fakaofo) trip can be made in Apia at the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office (685-20822, 71805; email@example.com; PO Box 865, Apia, 8:00am-5:00pm Monday to Friday). Sailings are usually fortnightly (2-3 times a month) but sometimes there are more sailings. Return deck/cabin fares are NZ$290/530 per adult; children half price. The MV Tokelau makes the trip to Tokelau every two or three weeks and in n addition, there are larger, passenger/cargo vessels that are hired to make the round trip every month or so. If you have a choice go for a hired vessel as they are more comfortable and have more passenger bunks than the one-cabin MV Tokelau.
Polynesian Airlines flies between Apia on Upolu and the island of Savaii several times a day. There are two airports served on Upolu and tow on Savaii. Also, there are flights between the two airports on Savaii.
You can rent cars on both the islands of Upolu and Savaii. Several agencies have offices on the aiports or in the capital Apia. Of course, it is one of the best ways to get around, although a taxi with driver comes at about the same price. Roads are twisty but generally in good shape. You need to buy a local driver license as well.
Note that from the 7th of September 2009, people have to drive on the left side of the road instead of the right. This has been changed mainly because the change will mean that 170,000 expatriate Samoans who live in Australia and New Zealand, which both drive on the left, will be able to send home cheap right-hand drive vehicles. It will also mean that inexpensive used cars can be imported from Japan, where driving is on the left as well. Most vehicles currently in Samoa are left-hand drive models imported from the United States and nearby American Samoa. Although one-fifth of the population was against the new rule, Samoa has now been the first country ever to switch from right to left driving and the first one to change at all since Ghana in 1974. Opponents say that there will be a higher chance of crashes, especially during the time that many cars are still lefthand steered. Also, local car dealers and bus companies will have negative financial consequences because they need to change there car/bus stock.
Buses are a good, albeit time-consuming, way of getting around most of the main islands. There is no fixed timetable and you can get on and of the bus almost anywhere. It is cheap but unreliable but is a very great experience and gives you the opportunity to travel like the locals and have a talk with them. Maybe you will be invited! Most buses terminate and originate in Apia on the island of Upolu.
There is a car ferry service between Upolu and Savaii, plying the 22 kilometres across Apolima Strait between the two islands. Tickets cost ST9/65 per person/car. Large ferries depart the Mulifanua Wharf on Upolu and the Salelologa Wharf on Savai'i every two hours between 6:00am and 4:00pm Wednesday to Monday, while a smaller ferry services this route at less regular intervals on Tuesday. Vehicles should be prebooked through the Samoa Shipping Corporation. The voyage takes about 1 hour.
No visa or entry permit is required for stays up to one month. A valid passport and proof of return/onward transport is required. For more requirements and information check the Samoa Immigration website
See also Money Matters
Samoan food is not highly spiced or seasoned. It uses ingredients that are relatively unfamiliar to most Westerners, such as breadfuit, taro (or talo), taro leaves, cooked green bananas and raw fish.
Beach fales are an enjoyable and inexpensive way to stay in Samoa. With the explosion in accommodation it is now less necessary for those wanting to visit the remoter parts of Samoa, particularly Savaii, to stay in villages, which was fairly common in the past. However, this is still possible. If you want to stay in, or even just visit, a village it is important to remember not to offend local culture. There is also a good range of resorts, hotels and guest houses in Samoa. A large number have been constructed in recent years.
No significant gathering in Samoa, whether official or for pleasure, is complete without the 'Ava (or kava) ceremony at the beginning. Kava's biological name is Piper methysticum, which means intoxicating pepper. The roots of the plant are used to produce a mildly narcotic drink that is passed around meetings following strict rules. However, you do not need to participate in a Samoan cultural event to try it. On some days it can be purchased at Apia's central market (marketi fou). The local beer is Vailima beer. It's cheap and you can buy it everywhere.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Samoa. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Samoa) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Samoa. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccinations, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Samoa is a generally safe destination. Crime rates are low and people are very helpful and friendly. Items do, sometimes, get stolen. With sensible precautions, however, the threat of this happening should be minimal. The biggest danger tourists face is not from humans, but rather from dogs, who roam in packs and can get very aggressive. The risk of a dog attack should not be underestimated. Travel by taxi after dark and always carry a pointed object while out walking. If you find yourself surrounded, kneel down as if you are picking up a rock.
See also International Telephone Calls
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Ask maorigirl a question about Samoa
Can recommend tips and info on following places: Cairo, Sharm el sheik, Luxor, Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Samoa, Gold Coast Australia and some of North Island NZ.
Can recommend tips on budget accomodation and general advice. Travelled here for weekend with my daughter who was 4 years old at the time and always felt really safe. Only stayed on main island - have not travelled to Savaii.
Ask SLOAN a question about Samoa
I spent 5 weeks in this paradise and was even adopted by a high-chief. Can give advice on Upolu and Savaii islands and customs. This place is Polynesia at it's best, especially Savaii.
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