Samoa: The 9 best things to do on a family holiday to the Polynesian paradise

Nine amazing activities that show you shouldn't just lie on the beach during a holiday in Samoa.
There's so much more to do in Samoa than simply lie on the beach. Photo credit: Samoa Tourism Authority / Newshub.

Samoa is a chilled out tropical paradise that's a nice short flight away from Aotearoa, beckoning Kiwi travellers with its gorgeous beaches and summer weather all year round.

Often when you talk to a Kiwi who has holidayed in Samoa, they'll fondly talk of booking fale accommodation right on the beach, parking up there for a few days or a week and not moving very far beyond that at all.

That is a great way to relax away from home - especially when you're escaping New Zealand's winter. But seeing such a small part of the country is silly when it has so much goodness to offer in such close proximity to wherever you choose to stay.

Also, having such an extremely laid-back holiday is not an option when you have kids who require constant stimulation and aren't interested in lying about on a beach all day every day.

On a recent trip to Samoa with my wife and four-year-old son I discovered a wonderful range of attractions to explore around the country, and all of them were within a day's travel from each other.

I can highly recommend the below activities, but also advise you don't head over with a plan of when to do what. You can just book in your accommodation - making sure to do at least a few days each on the main islands of Savai'i and Upolu - then do one or two of the attractions per day, whenever it feels right too.

That way you'll still spend a great deal of every day relaxing at the beach, but also get around and check out some of the country's fascinating and unique attractions.

Genuine paradise: To-Sua Ocean Trench.
To-Sua Ocean Trench. Photo credit: Samoa Tourism Authority

To-Sua Ocean Trench

This tops many lists of 'things to do in Samoa' and it's no mystery why: it's a heavenly spot, the sort one envisages when they close their eyes and think of paradise. It offers crystal clear, warm ocean water in a stunning natural 30m deep trench. If you're visiting with a small child, I have to warn you that the ladder down is a stressful experience. I managed to descend with my four-year-old and while he was fine, I was terrified! If you have a carrier or sling for your wee one, take that for a calmer experience. Of course, once we got into the unbelievably picturesque water below, it was all worth it. A good few hours were spent splashing around having great fun while drinking in the truly incredible views and just feeling blessed to be there.

Robert Louis Stevenson Muesum in Apia.
The residence of the late Robert Louis Stevenson, now a museum. Photo credit: Newshub.

Robert Louis Stevenson Museum

As a delightful surprise, this is one of the best experiences of this type I've ever done. It's the classic homestead of the Scottish novelist who penned the likes of Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde before deciding to live out his twilight years in Samoa. He fell in love with the island nation and its people, and they loved him back, as he is said to have helped sow the seeds of independence during a time of rampant colonialism. There is a very special sense of history in this museum with a reverence you can feel in every room. Our guide was engaging and passionate, and she sang beautifully at the end of the tour a song that meaningfully ends the Stevenson story. Not having been a fan of the author, I wasn't too interested in this place, but am very grateful I did it and can easily recommend it to all.

Alofaaga Taga Blowholes
Alofaaga Taga Blowholes . Photo credit: Newshub.

Alofaaga Taga Blowholes 

If you are able to pack a picnic, book out a few hours of your trip to camp up with these blowholes in view so you can joyfully gaze upon them for a good wee while. It's so awesome hearing the thunderous roar of the ocean erupting out of the main blowhole here, but that's not the only attraction - it's a spectacular area to behold as the waves come crashing onto the rocks. Visiting during any tide will be fine, but if the ocean is calm it may mean less impressive squirts. I just dearly want to stay longer next time after only managing to spend 30 minutes or so there.

Shop at Samoa markets.
Great souvenirs and food on offer at a market in Apia. Photo credit: Newshub.


The best places to get souvenirs, one of the best ways to enjoy fresh food and a great way to get a proper taste of day-to-day Samoan life is at its markets. Of course you can stock up on bananas, fish, coconuts, palusami, pineapples and the like for back at your accommodation, but you can also snack on smaller amounts or sip the sweet juice of a nice, cold coconut as you browse the crafts and clothes on offer. 

Bush walks in Samoa.
Photo credit: Samoa Tourism Authority

Bush walks

There are a lot of spectacular bush walks to get amongst in Samoa. You'll want to be taking insect repellent - unless you can handle a fair amount of bug action - and definitely plenty of drinking water. Like Aotearoa, Samoa offers vast areas of beautiful bush to explore, with a variety of walks of varying lengths and difficulties for the whole family to enjoy. A a day on one of these tracks makes the ocean swim at the end of it feel even better and the pina colada taste even more delicious than usual!

What remains of the LMS Church at the Saleaula Lava Field.
What remains of the LMS Church at the Saleaula Lava Field. Photo credit: Newshub.

Saleaula Lava Field

A relatively huge area on the north coast of Savai'i is covered in the rock of what was lava from the volcanic eruptions of Mt Matavanu from 1905 to 1911. People have started moving back to the area after it was abandoned during the eruptions, but it is a spectacular and somewhat eerie place to drive through and marvel at. The place you actually pay to do a little tour of includes checking out the seaside where the lava met it, the remains of a half-destroyed church and a fairly incredible gravesite the lava seemingly magically avoided. It poured while we were there and watching torrents of rainwater move across the volcanic rock formations was oddly satisfying as a very visual demonstration of elements colliding and the cycle of nature. Also, playing 'floor is lava' is very popular in my household, so going to a place where the floor was actually lava was quite a thrill for my boy - if a little confusing!

Churches of Samoa.
Churches of Samoa. Photo credit: Newshub.

Church spotting

It may be troublesome to think about how much the people of Samoa tithe to their churches even when many don't have much to give, but one cannot deny the beauty of the church buildings themselves. Spend any amount of time travelling around the country and you're bound to be surprised at the whopping number of churches there are, but also how unique and impressive each and every one of them is. The most impressive is the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Apia, but all around the country are churches with marvellous architecture and artwork. I'd recommend not driving past them all - take the time to see them up close and, if it's appropriate, venture inside to see what beauty lies within.

Papapapaitai Falls and Afu Aau Waterfall.
(L) Papapapaitai Falls; (R) Savai'i's Afu Aau Waterfall, with someone swimming near the base of the fall to give an idea of size. Photo credit: Newshub.


There are plenty of beautiful waterfalls to enjoy in Samoa if your idea of a tropical paradise includes fresh water fun as well as beach time. Savai'i's Afu Aau Waterfall, also known as Olemoe Falls, is my pick of the bunch. It's a three-minute walk from the carpark and has a few great positions to leap from rocks into the water, it's got picnic spots and it's just an ideal waterfall to swim in with a nice, large pool. Togitogiga Waterfall is a lot smaller and less spectacular, but it's also got a lovely swimming hole and is on Upolu - so if you're on that island and need a freshwater swimming hole fix it's a good spot. There's also Papapapaitai Falls, which is tricky to get to for a swim, but at 100m or so is the highest waterfall in Samoa and just super spectacular to gaze at, with a good viewing spot just off the road.

Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.
Samoa Cultural Village in Apia. Photo credit: Samoa Tourism Authority

Cultural village

I don't imagine anyone could visit Samoa and not fall in love with the country's culture and welcoming, friendly people. But to gain a greater understanding of the Fa'a Samoa (the Samoan way), this place is a must. You'll see wood carving, basket weaving, tapa making and maybe even a traditional tattoo procedure. While there you can also dine on food freshly cooked in an Umu and get involved with the festivities yourself.


Before this latest trip, I was one of those Kiwis who had previously gone to Samoa and parked up by a fale for pretty much the entire holiday. It was great, but I won't ever holiday there like that again.

There's just too much to do in that wonderful country as well as lie on the beach.

Daniel and his family were hosted in Samoa by the Samoa Tourism Authority.