“Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time.” -Leo Buscaglia

“Have you ever been to the Manu’a Islands?” I asked Litia.

“No. But they are supposed to be extremely beautiful. And my grandmother told me that ghosts live out there.”

Cheri and I had been exploring the beautiful Samoan island of Upolu in the middle of the South Pacific. As we made our way around, we found a beautiful beach called ‘Lalomanu’ far out on the tip of the island and decided to stay in one of the fales there. Fales are traditional Samoan dwellings that consist of a thatched roof, a wooden floor and open sides that can be covered by lowering a rolled blind of coconut fronds.


It was absolutely idyllic. White sand, palm trees, turquoise water and small restaurant that served local dishes. We ate dinner with other travellers who had been island-hopping through the Pacific and listened to their amazing stories of adventure – though after a few days of lounging and photographing, those conversations were making me restless. We went for a swim and as I looked beyond the reef, I could see the faint outline of another island, which my map told me was Tutuila Island in American Samoa. Nobody here had been to American Samoa; everyone had been hopping across the South Seas, but nobody knew anything about American Samoa.

Waterfall on Upolu Island, Samoa
As I looked at the map a little closer, I noticed three tiny islands beyond Tutuila and in very small print over ‘Ofu’, Ta’u’ and ‘Olosega’ were the words ‘National Park of American Samoa’. These were the Manu’a Islands and they were protected by the park. In the open-air restaurant I found someone’s old tattered copy of The Lonely Planet’s ‘South Pacific’ guide: five of the 928 pages were dedicated to these tiny islands. However, there wasn’t much information there – most of the section was dedicated to the main island of Tutuila and Pago Pago which had a seedy reputation. The tiny Manu’a islands supposedly had “very little infrastructure” but there was “striking scenery, untouched beaches and some of the highest sea cliffs in the world.” That’s where I wanted to go.


I asked Litia, the owner of our fale camp, about the Manu’a islands and the National Park. She told me that Samoans believe their god Tagaloa created a man and a woman on the remote Manu’a island of Ta’u and all Polynesian people are descendants from them. The islands were sacred and beautiful. And mysterious. “My grandmother told me that ghosts live out there.”

Two days later we finished our journey around Upolu and were back in Apia, catching a small prop plane to Tutuila. When we arrived at Tutuila airport we asked about flights to the Manu’a islands.
“Yes, it’s possible. To Ta’u, maybe tomorrow. Come back in the morning.”
“What time?”
“In the morning.”

The Coastline at Mailiu Mai
We organised a lift down the bumpy road toward the coast, hopefully towards accomodation. The warm smell of salt air began to cut through the damp mustiness of the juggled interior. We rounded a bend and the rusty gate of Mailiu Mai came into view. And what a view it was! Powder-blue surf was pounding the black lava coast, shooting spray 30 feet into the air. Dark clouds hung low over the restless sea and the salty spray from the waves cooled our sunburned skin. Powerful fountains of white surf shot up like a series of dominos through the black rocks and down the mountainous coastline. The black-green cliffs of Rainmaker mountain disappeared into the clouds above the bay. It was dramatic, ominous and beautiful at the same time.

The friendly owner of the lodge walked us up to a spartan room above the kitchen. There was a small bar in the back and she offered us a couple of Pina Coladas. We took them and walked out to a small strip of white sand between the black lava rocks. The wind was blowing hard and we occasionally got smacked by the sea spray. The sun was setting underneath the cloud layer and the rays were intense. The Pina Coladas were strong and we were the only people there.

Have you ever deviated far off your original travel plans in search of adventure? How did everything turn out? Are your best travel memories from planned or unplanned adventures?

Your thoughts on "The long way to paradise: a journey to the world’s best secret beach"

  • Sounds awesome! Would have been even cooler if you saw a ghost!

    on April 7, 2010 at 1:01 pm Reply
  • Great article! Can you give an indication about the costs... accommodation, transportation, food, airfare etc? Thanks!

    on April 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm Reply
  • Sounds fantastic! Just let me add it to the list... When I was travelling around South-East Asia and China, I deviated quite a bit from my original plan of doing it entirely by land (mostly train) by flying on a whim to the Philippines to escape the cold March weather in southern China and get some beach time. It was one of the best decisions of my trip! I hardly met any other tourists but instead made some good local friends (almost everyone there speaks English fluently) and found an amazing beach up in the north of Luzon island that was only really known about by locals. Don't get me wrong, I don't have any problem with meeting other people travelling through or in a place, but doing that usually means you don't meet so many local people. It was just a nice change of pace.

    on April 8, 2010 at 6:54 am Reply
  • Looks like a paradise. This beautiful, turquoise water make me want to dive into it. Guys, you've made me dreamy:)

    on April 8, 2010 at 8:35 am Reply
  • Well, I never imagined paradise would be so beautiful. I knew there are beautiful places on our planet but there are places that get beyond our imagination.

    on April 29, 2010 at 5:15 pm Reply

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