Samoa offers visitors the chance to experience Polynesia at its most authentic. The capital, Apia, lies on the beautiful north coast of Upolu, the largest and most populous of the country's nine islands.
In the Aleipata district, waterfalls and white-sand beaches dominate the landscape. A 65km (40 mile) drive from Apia leads to the Falefa Falls, Mafa Pass and the Fuipisia Falls. Indeed, Samoa's natural attributes have an intoxicating effect on first-time visitors – islands' teeming jungles, mighty waterfalls and stunning sea have won many a tourist's heart. Thankfully, there are no colossal resorts to mar this landscape, while the locals are humble and welcoming. For the closest thing there is to earthly bliss, head to Savai'i, a veritable land before time, only a stone's throw from the relative civilisation of Apia.
The fa'a Samoa (the Samoan way) is arguably the most vibrant living culture in Polynesia, with a heritage that dates back 2,000 years. Only a small nation, Samoa is nevertheless the heart of Polynesia both culturally and, indeed, geographically. Compared to almost any other Pacific island, its hangs on staunchly to the traditional Polynesian way of life. Efforts by 19th-century missionaries sought to challenge the time-worn ways of the Samoans, to little effect. Ruled by both Germany and New Zealand in the 20th century, Samoa gained independence in 1962.
The Scottish poet and novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, spent his final five years living on the island – his tomb on Mount Vaea is visible from the lawn of his house, now a museum. That Samoa must have influenced Stevenson's most famous book, Treasure Island, hardly needs saying. Samoa is as isolated as it is enticing, much-loved of the adventurous and with a rich, precious culture to boot. There are few destinations as unique as this one.