Samoa is a 'must-do' destination, even with a toddler!
A getaway to the islands of Samoa marked the Stirnemann's first trip overseas as a family. Rebecca Stirnemann shares why this destination should absolutely be on your list.
The tropical islands of Samoa are an intoxicating experience. Arriving in the morning gave us a magnificent bird’s eye view of the Samoan islands. The land was draped in lush emerald vegetation and surrounded by calm azure waters.
At 10 months, it was our baby girl Rania’s inaugural trip and a week of sand, sun and adventure was planned. Despite being a seasoned traveller who flies frequently for work, it felt like the first trip for me too – my first as a mother. My husband Markus and I were very aware that this trip would be very different to ones we’ve taken in the past but were looking forward to introducing our girl to the big wide world and hopefully fostering in her our shared love of adventure.
We had selected Samoa since it’s only a relatively short plane trip from New Zealand, is safe, and had easy access to stunning beaches. Despite some nerves, the flight went smoothly. This was partially thanks to a well-packed entertainment bag. The small bag of cheerios was particularly useful for keeping little fingers busy, and thanks to a fortuitous nap time we even squeezed in an in-flight movie!
With Rania safely buckled in her car seat we brought with us from home, we drove the hire car to the capital of Apia. People drove at a leisurely speed along the coastal road. Small coloured bunting flags fluttered along the roads and we admired village houses in bright pinks, reds and yellows, flawless gardens, and returned the friendly waves from the beaming local children.
In Apia, we started our first baby travel adventure at the big local fruit market. With Rania in a backpack carrier, we selected an amazing array of tantalising tropical bounty. Star fruit, custard apples, mangosteens, mangos, and lady finger bananas quickly filled our basket.
We then stopped to quench our thirst. A young man passed us cold young coconut or 'Nui'. Coconut water is so pure that it was reportedly given intravenously to people during World War II when regular IV saline solution was in short supply – as a mum to a busy 10-month-old who can at times feel like I’m 'in the wars', I can tell you this delicious liquid indeed put a much needed pep in my step!
We travelled on and spent our first couple of nights at Taumasina resort in Apia. Despite being very central, the resort felt private. The beautiful pools were the perfect temperature for introducing a baby to a new watery world of fun. She happily splashed and laughed as we took turns playing with her and relaxing with a book or going for a snorkel on the nearby reef. If you’ve never snorkelled before, Samoa is the perfect place to learn. The fringing reefs and inner lagoons tend to be calm and have flat waters so the water quality is incredible.
I floated serenely on the surface feeling like I was in the middle of paradise. Bright blue starfish the size of a dinner plate clung to the rocks below. Striped yellow, white and black liquorice-allsort-like angel fish ducked behind glowing blue-tipped stag horn coral. Orange clown fish darted into the arms of the protective sea anemone they call their home. Their genders are surprisingly fluid, all are born male and when the dominant female dies the next biggest male in the group becomes female.
We set off early the next day to explore Upolu’s South Coast beaches. With magnificent views of the smaller outer islands, Lalomanu Beach is one of the most stunning beaches in the world. White sands, thatched huts called Fales and coconut palms. We made sure we carried Samoan tala (dollars) as the fales can be hired for the day providing a wonderful shady refuge from the sun for a picnic or a nap for the entire family – bliss!
Our next beach discovery was just down the road. Vavau has a sheltered stretch of golden sand, black volcanic rock and cobalt waters which surround a small emerald island. In this picture-perfect protected lagoon, Rania paddled and played with the soft, white sand. She loved eating the local fruit, especially the tiny sweet bananas – the perfect delicious snack for little hands.
Our accommodation for the next few nights was at Return to Paradise. The beachfront family rooms were situated metres from the ocean. In the evening we sat on the veranda while Rania slept. Small colourful lorikeet parrots fed nearby on hibiscus flowers as we sipped tropical cocktails.
Over the next few days time altered and stresses dissolved. Our days were spent exploring the beaches or waterfalls. One of the exciting things about Samoa was not knowing what you would see next. The most surprising combination was seeing large white seabirds flying into the jungle and landing in the giant Banyan trees. We were told they nest in the jungle. Every day the parent birds return from the sea to feed their chicks.
As the days passed in Samoa, I felt re-energised both as a parent and as an individual. The local people of Samoa take such delight in small children; everywhere we went we felt welcomed, and Rania enjoyed cuddles with many new friends!
I was hoping for both a relaxing break away but also a bit of baby-friendly adventure and Samoa fulfilled both these wishes. Travelling with a baby is of course very different than solo adventures, but so worth the extra effort!
TIPS FOR BABY TRAVEL IN SAMOA
❧ Bring a baby car seat with you
❧ High chairs were available in most places but a portable highchair was very useful for the few times one was not to be found
❧ Stroller access wasn’t great, I would suggest bringing a baby carrier or sling
❧ The sun in Samoa isn't as strong as in New Zealand but I would still recommend a full-covering swimsuit and hat for young children
❧ Bring a baby-friendly insect repellent in case there are mosquitos
❧ If you can, bring a travel cot as these were not always available
❧ Bring your own snorkels, masks and flippers if snorkelling is high on your agenda
❧ Baby food and nappies can be purchased from Apia. However, there is a much smaller variety than what you'd readily find in New Zealand so bring your own supplies, especially if you are not planning on starting out your visit in town
❧ Not all tap water is drinkable. There are special filtered water areas around, but otherwise it's best to stick to bottled or boiled water to be safe
Photography: Vivienne Paterson + Markus Stirnemann
Words: Rebecca Stirnemann