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Samoa: Savai'i lava fields

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Savai'i lava fields | Samoa | Oceania

[Visited: October 2012]

There had already been plenty of signs that Savai'i is a volcanic island on my way around it: lava rocks, black sand beaches, and on the approach by ferry, you could clearly see cones sticking out of the landscape. Early one morning, I left Manase and went to Saleaula, which is where the lava from one of the relatively recent eruptions of one of the volcanoes came down between 1905 and 1911. I saw black rock on both sides of the road, parked my car at the official information fale of Saleaula, paid the entrance fee and walked a path down through a small grove with the great scent of frangipani flowers. The lava here looks rough and almost new, which in geological terms is undoubtedly the case. Soon enough, I arrived at the LMS church, which only has its wall standing, and where lava flowed right through the building. A layer of more than a metre thick lies inside the roofless church, trees grow using the walls as a support, and with their roots entangled with the stones.

Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): Trail over the lava field near Saleaula

Walking from this church to the northwest, you walk right on the lava field, which in some parts is a 150m thick layer of black rock, wondering how the trees and flowers you see can ever grow on this solid ground. The Virgin Grave is a famous place, where a virgin lies interred, her grave untouched by the lava as it miraculously flowed around the tomb; obviously, this was explained by her good nature, which had the lava leave her resting place alone. It is a strange sight: lava everywhere, only interrupted right on this spot. Walking a little further, I came across another house, and later, discovered bigger lava fields with rough formations of the broken black rock until the horizon, in many places vegetation contrasting with the lava.

Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): Lava field right through the windows of the LMS church

It was time to go up to the culprit of it all, so after two scuba dives into the water that morning, where I didn't see any lava at all, I waited until the worst rain was over, and drove up my poor 2WD car the 10km road. I would have much rather walked, but with the unstable weather, and time running out, I ended up driving, hoping the road was passable. After the village of Paia the road deteriorates, and in parts is just a lava rock road. There were lots of animals around, staring at me, and I sometimes had to drive very cautiously. But the car did the trick, and I arrived at a barrier sooner than I expected. A Samoan came out of his small cabin, and when I got out of the car, I assumed him to be the famous Craterman. The sun had come out, and I very much wanted to see the crater, but we got involved in an interesting conversation, which was difficult to interrupt. When I continued driving up, I suddenly felt it was a big mistake to drive here, parked the car at the first possible occasion in a curve in the road, and hiked up the rest. It felt better: I was outside now, had a free view of the surrounding landscape and the coast, and did not have to worry about driving a simple car up the treacherous track anymore. Moreover, it allowed me to stop at the many wooden signboards that Da Craterman has erected everywhere, messages from people around the world who have visited the crater, as well as the second fale of Da Craterman. The last part of the hike from the car park is a little steeper, through a forest, and then, suddenly, you find yourself on the rim of the crater of Mt. Matavanu. There are plenty of signs warning not to get too close to the edge, but of course this is very tempting to get better views. There is a trail running along a part of the rim, from which the views are quite spectacular. You look straight into the deep depression, completely filled with a blanket of green vegetation, there are only a few parts where the rough surface of rocks reveals the true character of the landscape. At the eastern side, there is a depression through which the lava flowed, you can look straight down to the Pacific. Just thinking that the thick layer of lava I had seen that morning had flown right through this gap was amazing. When I reached the dirt track again, I felt tempted to follow the trail further up, hoping to find some other interesting things, but the trail became vague, and eventually, led to many different trails. I started to walk back, and while the weather had been quite good, it suddenly started to rain heavily; now I was happy to have parked the car; after the drive down to the Craterman cabin, I stopped and sat down with the open, good-humoured, and interesting character, ending up talking with him for an hour and a half over a cup of Samoan cocoa in which he told me about his life, his efforts to keep access to the crater open, his private life - a most enjoyable conversation in which he also revealed he had just celebrated his birthday two days before. One of the first things he asked, was my nationality: he had been a little disappointed that mine was already in his collection. In his guestbook, he keeps a list of all nationalities and territories, and has received visitors from 127 so far - and with a big smile, said: "I don't have to travel the world because the world comes to me." When it was time to say goodbye, I wondered what I had liked more: seeing the crater of Mt. Matavanu, or talking to Da Craterman.

Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): The crater of Mt. Matavanu, filled with trees
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): Layer of lava inside the LMS church
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): The rim of the crater of Mt. Matavanu with trail
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): Thick layer of lava with a big crack in it
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): Lava covering the inside of LMS church
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): Saleaula lava field with frangipane trees
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): The ruins of LMS church destroyed by the lava flows from Mt. Matavanu
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): The lava flow left this tomb of a virgin untouched
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): House near Saleaula, overgrown by trees
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): Lava field with vegetation growing through cracks
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): Frangipane flower on the black lava field
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): Imprint of the corrugated roof of LMS church on the lava field
Picture of Savai'i lava fields (Samoa): Dirt track on Mt. Matavanu

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