Samoa: Last Earthly Home Of Tusitala

5 June 2016
Read Time: 3.0 mins

It doesn’t spring to the lips when Pacific islands are mentioned, but Samoa is still, well almost, the undiscovered gem of the region.

There is a thriving and growing tourism industry, but on the other side of that coin is an otherworldly, laid-back atmosphere not yet absorbed into the beach resort culture.

Samoa is small with a population of just 180,000 compared to, for example, Fiji with 800,000, so things tend to be scaled down, which is just right for relaxation seekers. And it's accessible, with regular flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Auckland.

A rainbow above buildings in Apia, Samoa's main centre Apia, Samoa's capital, is a great place to base yourself (Image: Getty)

Savai’i is Samoa's 'big island', but the more populated and developed (though much smaller) island of Upolu is the main centre.

There’s a round-the-island road, a trans-island road and plenty of other all-weather (mostly) roads in between. But even for the time-challenged traveller a pair of legs is still a perfect conveyance still in tune with the whole character of Samoan society.

Whether or not you choose to stay at the capital Apia’s legendary Aggie Grey’s Hotel – now linked with Sheraton, but still very much part of the Grey family – it’s the place to commence your walk along the seafront through the very attractive town and past the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel.

The route takes you along the sea wall and you won’t be the only stroller – but a smile and a “hello” are the only passports you’ll need.

Rowers cruising along the water in Apia A classic scene in Samoa off the coast of Apia (Image: Getty)

Passing the yacht club, where visitors are made more than welcome, you can watch the kids sail their Hobie Cats (small catamarans) around the short course in the afternoon between school bell and homework.

Like just about everywhere in the Pacific islands, children in Samoa occupy a special place in society and the club is usually happy to arrange lessons if you’re travelling with young ones who want to try.

Journey’s end – or the midway point depending on your energy level – is Mulinu’u (yes, you pronounce the 'u' twice) and Sails Restaurant & Bar, situated on the sea wall itself and home to some of the freshest and most affordable yellowfin sashimi found on the islands.

The staff there will be happy to arrange a taxi back to town or wherever else you want to go, but if you have strength left you should take the slightly shorter route back by the road, calling at the Tano Tusitala Hotel for hot or cold refreshments.

More Samoa holiday inspiration

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The thatched-roof exterior of the Tano Tusitala Hotel The Tano Tusitala Hotel in Apia (Image: Tano Tusitala Hotel)

Tusitala means 'story teller' and was previously owned by Japanese Hitano group before being bought by the Fiji-based Tanoa Group in 2009.

The hotel was all but gutted by a disastrous fire virtually on the eve of reopening after a major refit and renovation. Fortunately for us, it’s restored, operating and well worth a visit.

After a good night’s rest, the next walk concerns Tusitala himself. Robert Louis Stevenson, author of such classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde, lived and died here.

A wealthy man by way of a phenomenally successful writing career, he was well known and much loved from Edinburgh to London, to New York and Sydney.

Having been advised to seek out a warmer climate for the sake of his delicate health – he’d suffered rheumatic fever as a child – he poked around the Pacific on his yacht before lighting on Samoa where he purchased a semi-derelict property at Vailima and set about restoring and building.

The Victoria style exterior of Robert Louis Stevenson's home Robert Louis Stevenson's former home, now museum to the writer (Image: Magnus Manske/Wikipedia)

The result is a magnificent house preserved today as a museum to the great man who, in 1894, collapsed and died there, almost certainly of a stroke.

In the four years that he lived on Upolu, Tusitala endeared himself to the Samoans, at first possibly because of his ability to offer paid employment, but he also took a close interest in the affairs and welfare of the Samoans who repaid him in loyalty and love.

The Road of The Loving Hearts is testimony to this, as the Samoans afforded him a funeral ceremony normally reserved for the great and good.

His coffin was carried directly up to his chosen resting place at the summit of Mount Vaea. They did not deviate from the direct route from Villa Vailima to the gravesite, and visitors still walk the famous road today.

Samoans performing a burial ceremony for Robert Louis Stevenson The burial of Robert Louis Stevenson atop Mount Vaea (Image: Wikipedia)

It’s a tough climb. About an hour of very strenuous exercise brings you to the gravesite (protected by special act of the Samoan parliament) with its stunning views, simple stone memorial and moving verse.

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me;
"Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill."

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Samoa.

Russell Hunter

Russell Hunter has worked as a journalist, editor, foreign correspondent and newspaper manager on four continents and three Pacific islands. Now based in Australia's tropical north he still suffers from the travel bug.