This charming colonial-style town is the hub of business, government and shopping within Samoa and is an excellent place to explore or base yourself while you discover Samoa. –Samoan Tourist Authority

By Roger Childs

The main centre

Of Samoa’s 225,000 people 35,000 live in the capital Apia which is located on the north coast of the island of Upolu. Located 32 km east of the Faleolo International Airport the city has the main port, many tourist resorts and plenty of attractions for visitors. All along the road from the airport are villages, churches and schools.

A fascinating sight in the early morning are the distinctive Toyota buses which transport people to work and children to schools, many of which are run by churches. The buses have no glass windows so they are well ventilated, and they are colorfully painted with names such as Lady Lasi, Queen Poto, Rio Transport, Princess Trinity, Marietta and Princess Naomi. 

The Samoan youngsters generally value education and wear their uniforms with pride. They realize that if they eventually want to go New Zealand, Australia or America a very good knowledge of English is essential. The school day is roughly 8.00am to 2.00pm. 

The layout of the city: waterfront, roads, official buildings

Along the waterfront there is a wall with four levels and along the top there is wide platform for walking or running along. Inland from this concrete structure there are some neatly laid-out parks with trees which provide shelter from the sun during the day.

The roads of Apia are generally good and some are four lanes. There are many cars of various ages and driving is on the left like New Zealand, but it hasn’t always been that way. Back in 2009 they changed from right to left and there are still some faint markings on the main roads downtown of the old days. Apparently the transition was initially rather chaotic as expected, but the people quickly adapted to the new traffic rules. Parking is at a premium and cars often double-park or park on footpaths.

Many of the footpaths are well laid out but there are some gaps and potholes that need to be watched by pedestrians.

There are some impressive high rise and other buildings in downtown Apia, many built with the help of foreign aid.  

  • The modern bure-style parliament was financed by Australia.
  • The Nelson Memorial Library was erected with finance from the US and Australia.
  • Japan paid for the Fire and Ambulance Station.
  • China built some government office buildings and the Arts and Culture Centre.


The Samoan Cultural Village is the big one, positioned in pleasant gardens close to the waterfront in the city centre. There are daily shows where tourists can hear about Samoan culture, eat umu cooked food (very similar to a New Zealand hangi), watch traditional carvers and witness Samoan tattooing. Unlike among New Zealand Maori, no Samoan will have his/her face decorated.

Another is the new Arts and Culture Museum financed by the Chinese government. The impressive building has been completed, but it is early days for the development of the exhibits. However, there is a room containing excellent material on archaeology in the islands.

A major attraction is Vailima where the legendary writer Robert Louis Stevenson lived most of his adult life. (I will devote a separate article to this.)


Dotted along the waterfront road are memorials related to historical events. These include remembering the first Methodist missions; the arrival of German authorities; those who served and died in the World Wars; and a poignant statue to the Mothers of Samoa who lost husbands and sons in World War Two.

The MV Joyita was a small American merchant vessel which is regarded as the Mary Celeste of the Pacific Ocean. In mysterious circumstances 25 passengers and crew vanished in late 1955 after setting sail from Apia, while the ship remained adrift in open waters. A memorial about west of downtown Apia remembers those who perished.

Eating places and the market

It does take some leg work to find good restaurants and cafes. All the resorts and hotels have restaurants, and there are other eating places which specialize in Italian, Chinese and Indian food. Because the street lighting is “inconsistent” access can be a problem. We found only one outlet similar to New Zealand style cafés. But there is a McDonalds! 

The Fugelai St Market is a large emporium selling a wide range of foods and goods. Haggling over prices is recommended to get a bargain.


Apia has its problems. Trash is a big one and there are just not enough refuse bins. Litter and cigarette butts can be found in many places. Sadly on a trip around the island heading east from the city is was obvious that a lot of rubbish is just thrown out of the windows of cars.

There are some beggars in the streets and numerous hawkers selling locally produced soft drinks and packets of snacks.

Uneven footpaths, or none at all, can be a hazard and at night the street lighting is irregular.