Upolu

Travel Guide Oceania Polynesia Samoa Upolu

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Introduction

Upolu is the most important of Samoa's islands. The Region of Upolu also includes all other islands of the country apart from the so-called "big" island of Savaii. Upolu was formed by a massive volcano, but there have been no recent eruptions. The island is 75 kilometres long and contains Samoa's capital, Apia, which is in the middle of the north coast and Faleolo International Airport, which is towards the western end of the island. The island is fringed by reefs and has some beautiful beaches. Inland is hilly, with tropical vegetation and numerous waterfalls.

Upolu was affected by a major tsunami on 29 September 2009. Twenty villages in its eastern, southeastern and southern sides were destroyed or badly damaged. Deaths exceeded 100 and more than 3,000 people were made homeless. Considerable tourism infrastructure was affected but several facilities have already been rebuilt. In addition to its impact on land, the tsunami also had considerable impact on the area's coral.

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Cities

Apia is the capital of Upolu, situated on the north coast. This is a rapidly modernising city, backed up with considerable history. The population is close to 40,000.

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Sights and Activities

Beaches

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.

Lake Lanoto'o

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.

Waterfalls

Malololelei on Upolu.

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Events and Festivals

Apia Arts and Crafts Festival

The Apia Arts and Crafts Fair is a busy festival every March. It is located in the capital city of Samoa, and not only focuses on local artistic talent, but also traditional handicrafts from across the nine islands of Samoa. Visitors should head to the local markets in Apia to experience this event at its best.

Samoa International Game Fishing Tournament

In the month of April, Samoa plays host to the International Game Fishing Tournament. The event actually spans across an entire week, encompassing the final days of April and the first few days of May. The abundance of clear skies, beautiful waters, and challenging game fish species makes Samoa a perfect spot for this famous tournament.

Fire Knife Festival

The interesting Fire Knife Festival is part of the much more renowned Samoa Festival, which is held in the month of May. The competition is held in the Polynesian Cultural Center, and includes both adult entrants and high school entrants. Of course, there are plenty of other traditional cultural displays found throughout the event.

Fautasi Outrigger Canoe

One of the best sporting events in the country is the Fautasi Outrigger Canoe competition. Occurring in the month of June, this outrigger race has become the most loved water race in Samoa. The competition begins at the north coast of Upolu, but then ends at Apia Harbor. Twelve long boats compete in the event each year.

Independence Day

On the 31 May every year, Samoa celebrates its independence from New Zealand administration. The entire country gets into the festive mood on this day, with traditional dances, artwork, cuisine, and music available for all locals and tourists. Even the smaller villages get into the spirit of this occasion, so visitors can enjoy Samoan Independence wherever they stay.

Tafesilafa’i Festival

Held over the last 16 years, the Tafesilafa’i Festival is a celebration of Pacific Island culture. Tourists flock from all over the Pacific to witness the cultural spectacle that is Tafesilafa’i. The event begins at the end of July and spans the first week of August. More than 28,000 visitors come for part or all of the festival each year.

Teuila Festival

Teuila Festival is Samoa’s main event. A range of fascinating cultural happenings are found during September’s Teuila Festival, including cuisine displays, traditional dance performances, canoe racing and more. The event usually lasts for several days, and is most prevalent in the capital city of Samoa, Apia.

Apia Jazz Festival

Jazz performers are drawn to Apia in September, as this is when the city hosts its annual Jazz Festival. Several different spots are home to the best in jazz music during this month. Even some of the more famous jazz musicians from across the globe love to make their way to Samoa for the event.

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Weather

Upolu has a hot and humid tropical climate. Temperatures hoover around 30 °C throughout the year and never drop much lower than 23 or 24 °C 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.

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Getting There

By Plane

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).

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.

By Boat

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; zak-p@lesamoa.net; 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.

Upolu - Savaii
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.

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Getting Around

By Car

You can rent cars on Upolu. 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.

By Bus

Buses are a good, albeit time-consuming, way of getting around. 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.

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Eat

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.

  • Umu - The umu is the traditional method used for cooking. A fire is built and stones placed on it. When the fire is down to the embers the ingredients, such as green bananas, breadfruit, taro, fish, palusami and pork are placed on the stones. It is then covered with banana leaves and left to cook.
  • Oka is the way Samoans prepare raw fish. It consists of small bits of fish that are marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, coconut cream, salt and finely chopped onions.
  • Palusami is made from taro leaves and coconut cream. The coconut cream, onions and some taro are wrapped in whole taro leaves and cooked in an umu. Well cooked, this can be unforgettable and you should not leave Samoa without trying it.
  • Corned beef - Samoa rapidly adopted this import and it is widely used as an accompaniment to Umus and other dishes.

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Drink

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.

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Sleep

There is also a good range of resorts, hotels and guest houses on Upolu. A large number have been constructed in recent years.

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This is version 1. Last edited at 9:27 on Jul 17, 17 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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