Savai'i is the largest and highest island in Samoa. The island is home to 24% of the country's population. Salelologa is the main port and township, situated at the east end of the island where the inter-island ferry terminal is located. Numerous archaeological sites can be found on the island.

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About Savai'i

General Information about Savai'i

Savai'i is the largest and highest island in Samoa and the Samoa Islands chain. It is also the biggest landmass in Polynesia outside Hawaii and New Zealand. The island of Savai'i is also referred to by Samoans as Salafai, a classical Samoan term used in oratory and prose.

The island makes up 24% of the country's population. The only township and ferry terminal is Salelologa, the main entry point to the island, situated at the east end of Savai'i. A tar sealed road serves as the one main highway, connecting most of the villages with local buses reaching most settlements.

Savai'i is made up of six political districts. Each district is made up of villages with strong traditional ties of kinship, history, land and matai chief titles. There are also some limited ecotourism developments which operate mostly within the villages. The Mau, Samoa's non-violent movement for political independence during colonialism in the early 1900s, had its beginnings on Savai'i with the Mau a Pule movement.

The island is the largest shield volcano in the South Pacific with recent eruptions in the early 1900s. The central region comprise the Central Savai'i Rainforest, 72,699 hectares which forms the largest continuous patch of rainforest in Polynesia. It is dotted with more than 100 volcanic craters and contains most of Samoa's native species of flora and fauna, making it globally significant in world conservation areas.

Fa'a Samoa, the unique traditional culture and way of life in Samoan society, remains strong in Savai'i where there are fewer signs of modern life and less development than the island of Upolu where the capital Apia is situated.

Samoan society is communal and based on extended family relationships and socio-cultural obligations, so that kinship and genealogies are important. These fa'a Samoa values are also associated with concepts of love (alofa), service (tautua) to family and community, respect (fa'aaloalo) and discipline (usita'i). Most families are made up of a number of different households situated close to each other.

The Samoan language has a 'polite' and formal variant used in Samoan oratory and ceremony as well as in communication with elders, guests, people of rank and strangers. In all villages, the majority of people are largely sustained by plantation work and fishing with financial assistance from relatives working in Apia or overseas. Most people live in coastal villages although there are some settlements inland such as the villages of Aopo, Patamea and Sili.

Behind the villages are cultivated plantations with crops of taro, cocoa koko, coconuts popo, yams palai, 'ava, fruit and vegetables as well other native plants such as pandanus for weaving 'ie toga fine mats and bark for tapa cloth.

Image Source: Flickr - Sarah Kelemen. Church in Samoa
Church in Samoa
Sarah Kelemen

There is a church in every village, mostly Christian denominations. Sunday is sacred and a day of rest as 98% of Samoans identify themselves as religious. White Sunday is one of the most important days of the year in Samoa when children are treated with special attention by their families and community.

Savai'i is mountainous, fertile and surrounded by coral reefs. Lonely Planet describes the Savai'i landscape as 'spectacular tropical terrain'. The island has a gently sloping profile, reaching a maximum altitude of 1,858 metres at Mt Silisili, the highest peak in the country and the Samoa Islands chain.

Volcanic craters in the highlands are strung across the central ridges from Tuasivi (literally, backbone) village in the east towards Cape Mulinu'u to the west. The lava fields at Saleaula village on the central north coast are the result of volcanic eruptions from Mt Matavanu (1905-1911). Most of the coastline is palm fringed beaches and there are rainforests, waterfalls, caves, freshwater pools, blowholes and coral reefs.

There are also numerous archaeological sites, including star mounds, fortifications and pyramids such as the Pulemelei Mound in Palauli district. Archaeology in Samoa has uncovered many prehistoric settlements including sites at Vailoa and Sapapali'i.

Salelologa is the main port and township, situated at the east end of the island where the inter-island ferry terminal is located. A regular passenger and vehicle ferry operates seven days a week in the Apolima Strait between Salelologa and Mulifanua wharf on Upolu. The ferry crossing takes about 90-minutes with views of Apolima and Manono islands to the south. The ferries operate only during the day. Local buses and taxis are available at the terminal and township. There's also a wharf at Asau at the north west end of the island, sometimes used for yachting.

Savai'i has an excellent tar-seal road circling the island. A leisurely drive around the island takes under 3 hours. The scenic drive is mostly along the coastline where most of the locals live in villages. Driving in Samoa is on the left side of the road, effective from 7 September 2009 when the government changed the law to bring motoring in line with neighboring countries. Samoa is the first country in the 21st century to switch to driving on the left.

Maota Airport is a small airstrip with basic facilities situated 10-minutes south of Salelologa ferry terminal and township. Flights operate between Maota and Asau airstrip and Faleolo International Airport on Upolu. The inter-island flights take about 30-minutes. Asau Airport is an airstrip at the north west end of the island which mainly services chartered flights.

Savai'i has excellent surfing off reef breaks all around the island, with the best waves during summer on the north coast and the south coast in winter. The conditions are not for novice surfers and there can be dangerous undercurrents and rips. Satuiatua Beach Fales on the south-west coast is owned by locals and was one of the first tourism accommodations attracting surfers. Other surfing spots around Savai'i include breaks off the villages of Lano, Aganoa Beach by Tafua, Lefagaoali'i, Lelepa and Fagamalo.

The island consists of a large shield volcano similar in form to the Hawaiian volcanoes. Savai'i remains volcanically active, with recent eruptions from Matavanu between 1905 and 1911. The Matavanu eruptions flowed towards the central north coast and destroyed villages including Saleaula. Other recent volcanic eruptions include Mata o le Afi in 1902 and Mauga Afi in 1725. The lava fields at Saleaula are extensive enough to be visible in high altitude photographs.

A local market (open Monday – Saturday) at Salelologa sells fresh produce of fruit, vegetables and local crafts. There are also clothing stores, several small supermarkets, a wholesaler, petrol stations, bakeries, budget hotels and accommodation, buses, taxis, rental car companies as well as public amenities such as internet access, banks and Western Union money transfer outlets. There are small local shops in every village around Savai'i, selling basic groceries. Markets and most shops in Samoa close on Sundays, with smaller outlets opening late afternoon after church services.

In Savai'i you will undoubtedly see evidence of the Fa'asamoa, or the traditional way of living for the Samoan people, soon after landing on her soil. As you drive through the neatly decorated villages, no doubt the colourful garden hedges, white painted rocks and neatly lined bins are part of a village movement. Such unity and collective acts are common in Savai'i.

Samoans have their own traditional political system which today, integrates well with the introduced Western Political system . Every family has a chief, or a "Matai". All these Matais attend a village council meeting at least once a month, or a village 'fono' in a special meeting house in the village. A village Fono will have an elected representative known as a "Pulenuu" and this person will represent their village in the more westernised Parliament of Samoa. There are "high chiefs" or "Ali'i" and "talking chiefs" or "Tulafale". The young men are called "Taule'ale'a" the married woman "mafutaga o Tina". Everyone has a role to play in the village. These village systems work to ensure the wellbeing of the entire village is upkept.

In Savai'i, the Tradition of Samoan Tattooing is still practiced and held in high esteem. The "Tatau" (or almost full bodied Samoan Tattoo) is undertaken by men at a certain age, and one must most definitely have the strength of mind to withstand this long and painful process.

If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse the female version of Traditional Samoan tattoos known as a 'malu'. The Malu is a more delicate tattoo beginning from the upper thigh, ending just below the knee. Often this is kept covered until one is performing the traditional Samoan dance or Siva.

Things to do in Savai'i

Visit Afu Aau Falls

The Afu Aau Waterfall also known as Olemoe Falls, is a spectacular waterfall in south-eastern Savaii plunges from the rainforest deep into a fresh-water swimming pool. Access is on a dirt road which is maintained by the village and visitors can either take a 20 minute walk or drive right up to the pool. The entrance fees are collected at the main entrance fale.

The pool is very deep but it gets very shallow towards the outer rim. The fall eventually flows into three other smaller separate falls offering a truly enchanting experience for visitors. There is strictly no alcohol allowed at the pool area and the site is closed on Sundays.

There is a toilet block about 80 meters away from the fall. Like most sites in Samoa, there are no lifeguards on duty and visitors are advised to take extra precaution when swimming. This is also an ideal spot for a stopover for visitors taking a tour of the island.

Visit the Alofaaga Blowholes

Image Source: Flickr - Sarah Kelemen. Alofaaga Blowholes
Alofaaga Blowholes
Sarah Kelemen

These impressive blowholes in the village of Taga on south-west Savaii are wave power in its purest form, as they propel a roaring jet of water hundreds of feet up into the air. They are particularly worth watching when locals throw coconuts into the holes and these are blasted into the air as well.

The site is still the same, no change has occurred over the years. The entrance to the blowholes is at the village of Taga. A coastal track can be followed west for several hours to the ancient village of Fagaloa. An entrance fee is charged.

Visit the Canopy Walkway

The Canopy Walkway in particular, is part of the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve and remains one of the must-do activities for visitors exploring Savaii. Here, visitors climb a hanging bridge crossing a 30 meter gap between two big tropical trees. Passing over the canopy across a hanging bridge is a memorable experience and a challenge for those trying to overcome their fear of heights.

Visitors to the Falealupo sites pay the entrance fee here at the Canopy Walkway where the Information Centre is also located, and can present the receipt for admission to the other sites which include Moso's Footprint and the House of Rock.

Visit Cape Mulinuu

Cape Mulinuu on the big island of Savaii is Samoa's most western point. As such, it is one of the last places in the country where you will see the sun rise. According to legend, this is also the place where the dead pass into the underworld. There are several archeological sites of interest in this area including Devil's Haden, Vaatausili's Cave, Paepae o Apaula, Vai Sua Toto (Blood Well), Lualotooalii Pool, Spirits Meeting Ground,Fusipotopoto Pool.

Visit House of Rock

This legendary house is found along the north-western coast of Savaii. According to a legend, a competition was held between the men and women of the village to determine who could bring a house in the least amount of time. The women won since they had completed the construction first forgoing their night's sleep and the men never completed theirs.

A Samoan saying 'e au le inailau a tamaitai' means that whatever task women set out to do is completed seems to have been derived from this legend.

Visit Lovers Leap

Image Source: Flickr - Jorge P. Price. Lovers Leap
Lovers Leap
Jorge P. Price

A cliff-top vantage point, offers a birds eye view of the foaming waters surging into this small cove, which is steeped in legend. This rest area is found in a dramatic and romantic setting amidst sea cliffs in the village of Falelima, along the southwestern coast of Savaii. This beautiful dumbfounded cliff reaches approximately 300 meters high from the sea point. A small fale Samoa is situated within the barricade before the precipice.

Visit Mataolealelo Spring

Locals believe that these springs feature in the legend of how the coconut came to be. The Mataolealelo Pool is one of Samoa's very significant legends and attraction site. This site symbolizes the legend of Sina and the eel that swam all the way from Fiji to marry and be with Sina. The pool still upholds its significance historical background up to date, and is continuously maintained and upgraded by the village of Safune today.

Visit Moso's Footprint

Image Source: Flickr - Dave Lonsdale. Moso's Footprint
Moso's Footprint
Dave Lonsdale

This geological formation is found on the north-west coast of Savaii. It is an unusually shaped crack in the lava and is held to be the footprint of a famous giant, Moso. This formation is housed in a small building on the right of the road. A small admission fee is required to see the footprint.

Visit Mt Silisili

Rising to a height of 1,858 metres, surrounded by rainforest and often covered in cloud, Mt Silisili marks the highest point in the Samoan archipelago. It takes an approximate two day guided round trip to get there.

Mt Silisili is located in the central region of Savaii with the Aopo being the closest village approximately 10km to the north. The 2-3 day hike can be arranged with the pulenu'u of Aopo. All food and camping supplies should be provided by the tourists as well as expect to provide for the guide. Visitors wishing to get an early start on the hike may spend the night in the village and experience a glimpse of what it's like to live with a Samoan family and experience true Samoan hospitality.

The trail begins on a plantation path which leads up to an overgrown grassy road running west to east. After approximately 2 hours the trail enters the natural beauty of the Aopo Conservation Area. This lush rainforest takes visitors on a "slippery when wet" track up through a slowly rising gradient that only a few times becomes moderately steep. The temperature starts to become noticeably cooler as the track progresses and a jacket comes in useful especially in the rain. After approximately 6 hours the trail leads to an open grassy area which is nice for a lunch break and rest.

The next two hours takes hikers up to a crater ridge that is vastly different in flora. Orange and white spongy moss and fragile lava rocks decorate the ground not to mention the blueberry bushes which make for a sweet and tasty treat. The trail from this point on is difficult to follow but very important to stay on due to its stability. The guide marks the way by cutting bushes and leaving marks on trees with a machete.

The trail ends at "Mata o le Afi", a volcano that erupted in 1902. Names and words have been dug into the sides of the crater and there are remains of a settlement that was built by a research team who previously studied the volcanoes. On a clear day the northern coast of Savaii is visible. There are some wind protected spots just north of Mata o le Afi that make for a good camping area. The summit of Mt. Silisili, which is nothing more than a volcanic knob, is only an hour and a half away. There is no path, but gravity is the only guide necessary from here on.

For visitors who intend to stay with a family the night before the hike, expect them to provide meals during your time in the village. It is recommended to have something to give them as a token of appreciation. Examples of appropriate gifts are food staples, cash, or camping gear used on the hike.

Visit Mu Pagoa Waterfall

A rare natural feature, this impressive waterfall drops straight into the surging sea. A vast open river flow stretches from underneath the Puleia bridge towards the sea. It is an excellent place for taking pictures and experiencing the local villagers as they engage in utilizing this natural resource for their everyday activities.

The name of the falls has strong historical significance to the village. The falls tumble about five meters into the sea, providing a very unique sight which can't be found anywhere else in the islands.

Visit Paia Dwarfs Cave

According to belief, dwarfs still inhabit this intriguing lava tube cave and their footprints can still be seen today.

This fascinating long cave is over a Kilometer long and is found in the northern part of Savaii in the village of Paia, not far from Manase. Exploring the cave can take up an entire day and taking a guide from the village of Paia is strongly recommended. Visitors should come prepared with good shoes, water and a torch. Access to the site is on a dirt road which is about 15 minutes drive from the village entrance.

Visit the Peapea Cave

This lava tube cave, named after the swallows that inhabit it, is easily accessible from the road and runs more than a kilometer towards the coast. The entrance to the cave is locked and that makes a guide essential. This cave is home to a unique nocturnal creature, the white rumped swiftlet. The 'clicking' of the birds is clearly audible as they fly in the darkness.

Go Swimming with the Turtles

Image Source: Flickr - Susan Ware. Lovers Leap
Susan Ware

This two type development is one of the unique settings that portray a conservation of turtles in a wide spacious water pool/site, uncommonly found and original in comparison to other attraction sites.

Owned and operated by the Matai'a family is the beautiful unique setting surrounding. Affordable overnight accommodation with meals is available for visitors who prefer to spend the night. An entrance fee is also charged.

Visit the Tafua Crater

Tafua Crater is located within the Tafua Peninsula Reserve, not far from Salelologa. This forest is ideal for bird watching, with potential to sight flying foxes and the tooth-billed pigeon. The activity of the birds is a pleasant experience to watch and the continuous chirping of the birds echoing in the surrounding atmosphere gives a different feel to the place.

Natural history tours are provided by Safua Tours. These tours take visitors to the top of the crater which provides magnificent views of neighboring coastal villages. Visitors are recommended to bring good shoes, a camera and binoculars.

Visit the Tia Seu Ancient Mound

A historical site located on Letolo Plantation, the Tia Seu Ancient Mound is the largest ancient mound in Polynesia, (61 meters by 50 meters at its base and 12 meters high). This imposing man made structure suggests an edifice of great former importance. Archaeologists have pondered over its purpose and age, but, the mystery of this huge structure remains.

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