The South Pacific tour continued to Samoa, just an hours flight east of Tonga. Our flight left at 9.30pm and we were driven to the airport by a retired Methodist minister helping out with his son’s business. He was fascinating to talk with as he’d been all over the Pacific islands with his church and told us all about Fiji, Hawaii and of course Samoa.

We landed at 'Upolu airport later that night and wandered out in to the arrivals hall looking for ‘Aunty Moa’ who was to meet us. Not having a clue what she looked like and not spotting any name cards we batted off the prospective taxi drivers and before long a lovely Samoan lady approached us with a tentative: "Are you Sarah?". We’d found her.

She had bought two friends with her and together we loaded up her van and began the forty minute journey in to the capital, Apia.

On the way we got to know each other and swapped stories of the family, only a tiny proportion of which I knew, and we filled her in on our plans for the next month.

Although it was past midnight by now, the drive back showed Samoa was far more organised than Tonga and boded well for exploration in daylight.

As we drove into Apia itself, Moa pointed out various landmarks such as the 24hr market (deserted), the many large and ornate churches and of course, MacDonalds!

We turned on to a back street and drove a short way to an apartment building shrouded in darkness. Moa explained that we would in fact be staying with her nephew (I think), Winston and his wife Sahruna. Moa and her family didn’t have enough room for us for which she apologised repeatedly.

Sahruna and another family member, Lattafale, were waiting for us and explained that they had only just finished getting our room ready. They showed us in to the ground floor of the building where our own bedroom, bathroom and sitting room were waiting.

They couldn’t have been more kind and welcoming – especially considering the late hour. We left them to retire and Nigel and I retreated outside to catch our breath before settling down for the night.

The next morning dawned sunny and hot and after a shower we ventured out in to our sitting room. Moa had provided everything we needed for a great Samoan breakfast – coffee and fresh fruit.

Later that morning we went to visit her at the housing ministry where she works. The government building is the largest office in the capital, built on four wings with a dome styled roof. Very impressive after Tonga.

Unlike Nukulofa, Apia felt vibrant and successful. About the same size as it’s Tongan counterpart this capital had many well kept buildings, interesting shops and a wide variety of restaurants and cafes.

We checked in with Moa who told us she’d organised a car rental for the next day and then paid a visit to the Tourist Bureau for maps and accommodation info.

After a trip to the bank for some Samoan Tala we found a restaurant recommended by our friend at Tonga’a Royal Sunset Resort, Sails, right on the waterfront. We sat upstairs on the wind blown terrace with a view over the harbour and had a leisurely lunch. The building was one of the first places in Samoa that Robert Louis Stevenson stayed when he moved here for health reasons.

Continuing the theme, we took a cab to his home high in the hills above the town and spent a great couple of hours wandering around ‘Valima’. The house is stunning. Not over the top when built and since tastefully refurbished in to a museum. The views from the upper verandahs over the hills to the ocean are beautiful, and the gardens and grounds – planned by Fanny, his wife – are lovingly preserved and would make a Kew gardener jealous.

That night we set off on foot in to town in search of some food. Just as we started to walk the heavens opened and we got drenched. We found a welcoming cafe and sat inside steaming whilst dodging the ever increasing mosquitos.

The next day we picked up the hire car and embarked on a few days exploration of the island. As we drove out of the town and in to the countryside we were amazed at how well kept each village was. It was like driving through an enormous exhibit at a botanical garden.

The grass verges were trimmed and lined with painted lava stones and flowering shrubs. The coast-side of the road boasted towering palm tress tilting over the white sand beaches; and the pacific ocean was turquoise and indigo by turns. And this went on for miles.

We had visitors to prepare for as Peter & Linda Woodgate were breaking their trip en route to New Zealand with a week stopover in Samoa. We’d promised to find a suitably idyllic place to help them over jet lag and prepare for their new life in kiwi-land.

There are lots of accommodation options on 'Upolu, but only a handful of ‘resorts’. By far the biggest category of tourist accommodation are the beach fales. These, in the main, are open sided wooden shelters where you sleep under the stars and heavy mosquito nets. Very romantic but not terribly secure when you have your worldly possessions with you as Linda & Peter would have. We therefore needed to find something a bit more substantial.

The first resort we checked out was Coconuts – a large place on a so-so beach run by a couple of retired LA lawyers. It was much as you’d expect – could’ve been anywhere – but did have some interesting room variations such as tree houses and huts over the water. But it was pretty soulless and quite pricey so we moved on.

Just down the road was another large complex ‘Sinelei’. This was owned by a Dutch brother/sister team and they’d spent a lot of money on the rooms and public areas. It was certainly more in the spirit of Polynesia but cripplingly expensive with rooms starting at US$300 per night. We checked out a couple just for the hell of it and discovered they’d ignored the little things like plugs for the sink, light bulbs missing and dirty spas. Not too impressive – although their swimming pool was gorgeous!

Carrying on round the coast we continued through pristine villages, waving and smiling back at the children and dodging pigs and hens in the road.

Then we happened upon The Samoan Village Resort and pulled in for a gander.

This place was stunning. It had been beautifully landscaped with rows and rows of coconut trees and grassed walkways. It was small with only a handful of rooms, each one with a magnificent ocean view and all built in the traditional Samoan style. We had a chat with the manager John (an octogenarian from Newcastle!) and negotiated a price for the honeymoon suite, well rude not to, and the room next door. Perfect relaxation, almost empty and only the sounds of the wind and sea to disturb you.

India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa