Discover Samoa’s Most Fascinating Historical Landmarks
With a history dating back to the ancient Polynesian civilisation of the Lapita, Samoa has a wealth of intriguing historical sites and landmarks. Around 300 “star mounds” are said to be scattered across the islands, dating back some thousand years, while monuments to Samoa’s more recent yet tumultuous political history can be found all over the nation’s capital, Apia. Find cyclone-beaten church ruins, lava-flow-encompassed church ruins, legendary caves and more in this list of historical sites in Samoa.
1. Saleaula Lava Field (Savai’i)
Discover the remnants of the destructive Mt Matavanua 1905-1911 eruption on Savai’i at the enchanting Saleaula Lava Field. It’s a short walk to the lava field’s most striking historical feature, the LMS Church which sits in ruins with a lava flow solidified right through its arching entrances. Walk approximately 300 m (328 yards) west following the sign and you’ll encounter the mysterious “Virgin’s Grave” where the lava flow is said to have avoided the grave of a young girl. Past the church ruins is an attractive wetland viewpoint, then head back on the trail and go northeast for approximately 900 m (984 yards) over an exposed lava flow to the striking lava cliffs. With a small entry fee, this attraction also easily makes it into the 50 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Samoa.
Location: Saleaula village, signposted off the main road on the northeast coast of Savai’i.
2. Cape Mulinuu Mauga Fetu Star Mound, Ana O Vaatausili Cave and Vaisuatoto Well (Savai’i)
At the westernmost point of Samoa, accessed via a flat dirt road (suitable for 2WD) through the coconut groves, Cape Mulinuu is home to several well-preserved historical sites. If there are locals around taking entry fees, they are usually happy to tell you about the legends of these sites. Otherwise, the interpretation panels here are sufficient enough. The first site you’ll come across is the Mauga Fetu Star Mound. The rocks here have been placed into a rough star shape, which, if you look closely, have carved grooves where they were once used for grinding tools and ‘ava bowls.
Follow the short rocky trail from the Mauga Fetu Star Mound and you’ll quickly come across a hole in the ground with a sign saying “Ana O Vaatausilli” also known as “The Giant’s Cave“.
Directly opposite Ana O Vaatausili is a well called “Vaisuatoto” translating to “water flows red”. Recently, however, locals undertook repair work to restore the well’s stone walls. Once they did, the water disappeared…
Location: Falealupo Road, approximately 2.2 km (1.3 mi) south of Falealupo Beach on the northwest coast of Savai’i.
3. Cape Mulinuu – Fafa o Sauali’i (Savai’i)
The final historical site of Cape Mulinuu is the tranquil rockpool at the northern end of its beach. The pool here, Fafa o Sauali’i, is said to be the place where the spirits of Samoa depart to the afterlife. As the sun sinks to the west, its rays cast a reflection upon the sea that forms a golden pathway upon the waters, said to be the pathway of the spirits. That’s also why “Mulinuu” translates to “land of the last village”. Needless to say, after you’ve seen the historical sites of this area, stick around for the magnificent sunset as one of the 10 Best Places to Watch the Sunset in Samoa.
Location: Falealupo Road, approximately 2.2 km (1.3 mi) south of Falealupo Beach on the northwest coast.
4. Malietoa Monument (Upolu)
Sitting on the grounds of the Le Vasa Resort on Upolu lies a memorial to peace between Samoa and Tonga after centuries of conflict. In 1250, a momentous battle took place on these grounds where local warriors fought off their Tongan oppressors. While fleeing the scene, Tongan leader Talakaifaiki said, “Brave warrior, bravely fought! I shall return to Samoa no more as a warrior but as your guest.” “Brave warrior” in Tongan is “Malie T’oa”, which sparked the named title of the King of Samoa to be called “Malietoa” which is still used to this day. Check out more historical sites on Samoa’s main island in the 10 Best Historical Sites on Upolu.
Location: Le Vasa Resort (the monument is on the waterfront facing Manono Island). The entrance is signposted off Main West Coast Road in Apolima-uta village on the west coast of Upolu.
5. Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and Tomb (Upolu)
The impeccably maintained grounds and villa of the famous Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1895), who lived in Samoa for the remaining four years of his life, is a historical attraction on Upolu that you can visit today. While “Villa Vailima” has had a few makeovers over the years, the home has been filled with replicas to represent how this classic colonial home would have looked like. That’s not to say there aren’t a few original trinkets, books and personal belongings to admire while taking the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum tour. Learn more about the attraction in the 5 Best Museums in Samoa.
Up the Tomb Track accessible on the grounds of the RLS Museum is also the Tomb of Robert Louis Stevenson, another historical site worth visiting on Upolu. Learn more about the trail there in the 10 Best Walks & Hikes on Upolu.
Location: Signposted along Cross Island Road in the village of Avele, just south of Apia on Upolu.
6. Manono Island Star Mound
Another one of Samoa’s fascinating ancient star mounds, the Star Mound on Manono Island is one of the best examples and easiest to access; you just need to take a boat to get to the island from Upolu. Although no one knows the true purpose of these 12-pointed rocky mounds shaped like a star, it is estimated that they were built up to 1,000 years ago. The one on Manono is located at the top of the 110 m (361 ft)-high Mt Tulimanuiva, which takes about 1h30mins to 2 hours-return to hike to. At the site, you’ll also find the grave of Afutiti, who was buried standing upright so that he could “keep a watch” over the island. Learn more about hiking here in the 15 Best Walks & Hikes in Samoa.
Location: The path begins behind the Women’s Committee building, Salua village, Manono Island. See The Travel Guide to Manono: Things to Do, How to Get There & More to learn about how to get there from Upolu.
7. Grave of 99 Stones (Manono Island)
Another one on Manono Island, the Grave of 99 Stones is a little easier to get to located on the 1h30mins trail that circumvents the island. The two-tiered grave, actually translating in Samoan to “Grave of the Missing Stone”, is dedicated to the high chief Vaovasa who was killed after the unsuccessful attempt to abduct his 100th wife from Upolu. The missing stone at the centre of the formation is said to represent his missing wife.
Location: Lepuia’i village on Manono Island. See The Travel Guide to Manono: Things to Do, How to Get There & More to learn about how to get there from Upolu.
8. Mulinuu Peninsula Memorials (Upolu)
On the Mulinuu Peninsula lining the Apia Harbour are a number of historical memorials to make for an interesting side trip from town. From the tombs of various heads of state to memorials to Samoa’s German affiliations to commemorating Samoa’s independence, many representations of Samoa’s political history can be found here. Learn more about the individual memorials in the 10 Best Historical Sites in Apia.
Location: Mulinuu Peninsula, Mulinuu Road, Apia, Upolu.
9. Falealupo Church Ruins (Savai’i)
On the way to Falealupo Beach and Cape Mulinuu on Savai’i stands the ruins of Falealupo’s Historic Catholic Church. A plaque attached to the front of the church describes how the church was destroyed by the waves of Cyclone Ofa in 1990. The site was free when our research team last visited but there are sometimes villagers taking a small entry fee to see this site.
Location: Cape Vaitoloa, Falealupo Road on the northwest coast of Savai’i.
10. John Williams Memorial (Savai’i)
Speaking of Samoa’s relationship with the church, standing in front of the London Missionary Society/Congregational church in Sapapali’i village is the stone memorial commemorating the landing of British missionary John Williams who arrived in 1830 to introduce Christianity to Savai’i. He came at a time of war when he successfully converted the victorious Malietoa Vainu’upo, who accepted the Christian message as a fulfilment of an ancient prophecy of a new religion by the goddess Nafanua. Thanks to Maleitoa’s example, many Savai’ians were encouraged to convert. It wasn’t until some 45 years later that other missionaries started arriving on Savai’i to establish missions. Learn more about Samoa’s religious history in The Guide to the Religions in Samoa.
Location: Sapapali’i village, along the main road on the east coast of Savai’i.
11. Immaculate Conception Cathedral (Upolu)
This striking cathedral looming over the Apia Harbour might have been rebuilt since its original construction in 1884, but there’s no denying its majesty. The Immaculate Conception Cathedral boasts an ornate timber ceiling and vibrant stained-glass windows that can be admired most of the time, as long as there’s no service/event, as the cathedral doors are usually left open. The reconstruction of the church is estimated to have cost ST$13 million. For more impressive churches to visit, check out the 10 Best Churches in Samoa to Experience as a Visitor.
Location: Beach Road opposite the Samoa Tourism Information Centre, Apia on Upolu.
12. Mau Resistance Headquarters (Upolu)
The historical headquarters of the resistance that fought for Samoan independence, the Mau Headquarters is a site preserved for visitors to admire to this day. The hexagonal building stands proudly on display in the village of Vaimoso on Upolu. Go to Falemata’aga, The Museum of Samoa and you’ll see old photographs of the Mau Movement at this very building while you learn more about their influence in shaping Samoan history. You can also learn a little bit about them in A Brief History of Samoa.
Location: Visible from Vaitele Road, Vaimoso village, just west of Apia on Upolu.
13. Apia Clock Tower (Upolu)
Standing in plain sight at Apia‘s main roundabout on Beach Road, the Apia Clock Tower commemorates the Samoan soldiers that died during World War One. The clock was originally gifted to the town in the 1920s by one of Apia’s most successful entrepreneurs, Ta’isi Olaf Nelson. Reading the plaque at the base of the clock tower can be a dangerous endeavour considering its position on a busy roundabout, so see a close-up photo at Falemata’aga, The Museum of Samoa to read the 60 names of those that died in the war. By the way, you can read more about the museum in the 5 Best Museums in Samoa.
Location: Beach Road roundabout, near the Government Building, Apia, Upolu.
14. Aggie Grey’s Hotel (Upolu)
In 1942, the daughter of a British chemist and a Samoan villager saw an opportunity to build a hotel to cater to the American soldiers present in Apia during World War Two. The hotel of Agnes Genevieve Grey, who was affectionately known as Aggie Grey, fast became famous Pacific-wide as a social gathering place. Since then, she was known as Samoa’s most famous tourism pioneer until she died in 1988, and was even thought to have inspired “Bloody Mary” in James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. You can pick up her biography, Aggie Grey of Samoa, in the Nelson Memorial Public Library or on Amazon.
Location: Beach Road, on the east side of the Apia Harbour, Apia on Upolu.
15. Pulemelei Mound (Savai’i)
Although one of the most interesting and impressive historical landmarks in Samoa, we list the Pulemelei Mound on Savai’i last as it’s the hardest to get to. Measuring 61 x 50 m (200 x 164 ft) but reclaimed by dense forest and vegetation, Pulemelei Mound is Polynesia’s largest ancient structure. The use of the structure, which was thought to be built around 1,400 AD, whether it was ceremonial or a burial site, still remains a mystery.
Location: Letolo Plantation, Palauli village on the southeast coast of Savai’i. You can enquire with locals about getting there – it’s not too far from the Afu Aau Waterfall, but even locals struggle to find it.
More About Historical Sites and Landmarks in Samoa
Now that you know some of the fascinating historical sites in Samoa, how about finding more through the following guides:
- 10 Best Historical Sites on Upolu
- 10 Best Historical Sites on Savai’i
- 10 Best Historical Sites in Apia