Upolu’s Most Fascinating Historical Landmarks
Samoa and especially Upolu has a fascinating history of colonisation, from the Tongans thousands of years ago to the Germans during the 1800s European expansion to New Zealand during the 1900s. Most of Upolu’s historical sites are monuments to the occasions that shaped Samoan history, while the odd original historical landmark from the island’s ancient Polynesian civilisation can mostly be found on the island of Manono. Tick these sites off your list as you travel the islands of Upolu and its surroundings!
1. Malietoa Monument
Sitting on the grounds of the Le Vasa Resort 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.
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.
2. Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and Tomb
The impeccably maintained grounds and villa of the famous 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 still 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.
Location: Signposted along Cross Island Road in the village of Avele, just south of Apia.
3. Immaculate Conception Cathedral
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.
Location: Beach Road opposite the Samoa Tourism Information Centre, Apia.
4. Manono Island Star Mound
One of approximately 300 known ancient stone mounds in Samoa, 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 10 Best Walks & Hikes on Upolu.
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.
5. Grave of 99 Stones
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.
6. Aggie Grey’s Hotel
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.
7. Mulinuu Peninsula Memorials
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.
8. Mau Resistance Headquarters
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. 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.
9. Falealili Church Remains
One of a few church ruins you’ll find around Samoa – check out the one on Savai’i in 10 Best Historical Sites on Savai’i – Falealili Church was a building abandoned by the village of Malaemalu in 1970-73 when villagers decided to relocate a couple of kilometres inland – most likely as a result of the rising seawater. The move was certainly considered a fortunate one for the community when the 2009 tsunami swept through the old village. The ruins of this old Methodist church are now being taken over by vegetation and the sea.
Location: On the coast of Malaemalu along Main South Coast Road – ask villagers for the specific location.
10. Apia Clock Tower
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 the town’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.
Location: Beach Road roundabout, near the Government Building, Apia.
More About Historical Sites in Upolu and Samoa
Now that you know some of the fascinating historical sites on Upolu, how about finding more through the following guides:
- 15 Best Historical Sites in Samoa
- Sightseeing in Upolu: Top 10 Sights on Upolu
- 10 Best Churches in Samoa to Experience as a Visitor