A Week in Samoa

My son and I spent a week at the end of September (late dry season) on the Island of Upolu. Matt wanted to go to a less-visited island in the Pacific and Samoa fitted the bill – mountains, rainforest, beaches, waterfalls, direct flights to and from Brisbane, and a friendly population with plenty of English speaking people.
The downside of Samoa is that there aren’t any current travel guides, regional birding field guides are out of print (there doesn’t seem to be any phone apps), you can’t buy any printed maps and there is limited info in the internet.
I downloaded a Samoan file from Apple Maps on my phone, which when linked to the GPS on the phone enabled offline navigation. I also printed some screenshots from Google maps.
Samoa has a sealed road network, widespread electricity, and good mobile phone coverage. The only limitation was that the network my phone connected with via international roaming only supplied data when I had 3G coverage. Voice and text worked on 4G, but not data.
Our flight arrived a bit after 5 am, I collected a hire car (Toyota Rush) and Samoan driver’s licence from Budget at the new terminal, and we followed our noses into Apia. Given the national speed limit is 50 km/h, it was a slow trip and some drivers were really really slow.
After a morning poking around town, we headed up the hill to the Dave Parker Ecolodge, our base for the next six nights. We made our reservation via Booking.Com – the room and breakfast for two people cost about $100 per day.
The lodge is possibly the best place for a birdwatcher to hang out on Upolu. There are million dollar views from the balconies outside the bedrooms and dining area, and there is a nice swimming hole with small waterfall on the creek flowing through the property. The lodge is surrounded by rainforest, banana palms and other small crops. Both Dave and his daughter Lolita were helpful, and the staff and pets were friendly. Good WiFi was available for times when I couldn’t access data on my phone.
The lounge area had an old school field guide on the birds of the Western Pacific from the 1990s (the sort with limited illustrations on 15 plates). While this wasn’t particularly user friendly, it was sufficient to identify the local birds (I photographed the relevant plates).
Basically I picked up two thirds of the species seen on the island at the lodge. These were:
White Tern
White-tailed Tropicbird
Brown Noddy
Buff-banded Rail
Pacific Pigeon
Crimson-crowned Fruit-dove
Many-coloured Fruit dove
Flat-billed Kingfisher
White-rumped Swiftlet
Red vented Bulbul
Polynesian Starling
Samoan Starling
Samoan Fantail
Wattled Honeyeater
Cardinal Myzomela (honeyeater)
Jungle Mynah
It was nice being able to soak up the views from the deck with plenty of birds flying above the canopy. Watching the terns and tropicbirds wheeling about was reminiscent of Norfolk Island.
You could also watch the resident Samoan Flying Foxes circling about. These golden headed chaps seemed to be quite diurnal, happily flapping about throughout the day.
The fantails weren’t as obvious as I have expected. On the second last morning, I heard a fantail like call and two birds popped out of the banana plantation in response to the Grey Fantail call on my phone.
Buff-banded Rails were common all over the island, as were Common Mynahs in cleared areas. One paddock near the ferry terminal had close to 200 mynahs.
The beaches were very quiet, with just the occasional dark morph Reef Egret and Wandering Tattler working the rocks, and periodic Noddies paralleling the coast.
Interestingly Golden Plovers were almost exclusively lawn birds – from memory, there were more than half a dozen on the lawn of the Piula Theological College (on the way into the sea cave).
We had a few cruisebys from Great Frigatebirds. The first was at the To Sua Ocean Trench. (It is worth climbing down into the linked sinkholes or cenote, where you can swim with the fish in crystal clear water – best visited earlier in the morning before tourist numbers build up).
Waterfalls are a key feature of Samoa, and I had a flash sighting of a pair of Samoan Parrot-finches at the Sauniatu Waterfall.
Mt Vaea has one of the few easily accessible bushwalking tracks on the island. You can start at the Vailima Botanical Gardens or at the Robert Louis Stevenson Museam and stroll up to RLS’s grave near the summit. I had nice views of White-rumped Swiftlets, Polynesian Trillers and Samoan Whistlers along the way.
The Tiapapata Art Centre (near the Baha’i House of Worship) had a very nice cafe on its verandah. The expressos there were the best coffee we came across on the island (Samoans only have UHT milk which affects the flavour of milk based coffee). Matt had a nice view of a Blue-crowned Lorikeet while we were lunching there (on a Sunday when most places are closed).
Overall Samoa was a nice place to visit. The cost of many things were comparable to Australia, fuel was a bit cheaper. There were plenty of grocery stores, but not many eating establishments away from Apia.
There a lots of dogs running around the place. Most appear to be a generic breed and can be quite territorial around their homes. There are a few pigs wandering around some villages and lots of chickens (generally smaller than Aussie chooks). Some of the roosters looked like Red Junglefowl. Most of the omelettes I had were quite tasty.
The main difference with the road rules is that you can turn left on red lights, which can make things hazardous for pedestrians.
Some people are very house proud and sweep leaves off their stony yards (some villages are on bare rock). In other (often scenic) places there is a litter problem.
Country driving is quite pleasant, particularly on the cross-island roads. The mountainous parts are a bit like the Atherton Tableland, Some places have impressive hedges. …
The bottom line is that if you want to spend a bit of time on a Pacific Island that isn’t too hard to get to, the Dave Parker Ecolodge on Upolu isn’t a bad place to hangout.

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