I went to Samoa and was particularly interested in seeing the Samoan White-Eye which is reportedly common at higher elevations (Mt. Silisili) on the island of Savaii. To see it, however, is a challenging undertaking. Little information exists on the internet regarding finding this species so this trip report should help those trying. Ultimately, you will need to go to the village of Aopo on Savaii and in Aopo, you will need to hire a guide to take you up the mountain.
Logistics: I have put Google Map coordinates to locate some areas. You must cut and paste the coordinates into Google Maps to identify the correct location. Another program might not give you the correct location.
Airport: The Faleolo (Apia) international airport is on the island of Upolu. Thus, getting to the White-eye involves arriving at the airport, then taking the ferry to Savaii, and then getting to Aopo (the village where the hike starts). Note that the airport is an approximately 45 minute drive from downtown Apia. The airport is also about a 5 minute drive to the Mulifauna wharf. I would highly recommend picking up the free Samoa map at the airport. It has a map of Upolu on one side and a map of Savaii on the other. The map was more than adequate for my needs.
Transportation: I rented a 2 door Rav4. It was a 2wheel drive but has higher clearance than a standard car. I rented from Funway rentals. Their office is in downtown Apia but they will bring the car to the airport. Note that there are no rental car companies at the airport. The rental company has to bring the car to the airport. I rented from Funway because they did not tell me there was a charge for airport pick-up/drop-off (the other companies informed me of this charge). Funway informed me of this extra-charge when I picked up the car so we negotiated that charge to a lower price (I told them the only reason that I rented from them was because they did not charge for airport pick-up and drop-off and then I threatened to take a taxi into town and rent from a different agency). Alternatively, you could take a bus/taxi in to town and rent from a car rental agency in Apia. There are plenty of car rental agencies in Apia. I think that you could get to Aopo without renting a car and it would be much cheaper (especially the ferry crossing) but logistically more challenging (especially getting from the ferry wharf on Savaii to Aopo).
Ferry Crossing: You will need to cross from the Mulifauna wharf (Upolu) to the Salelologa wharf (Savaii).
Mulifauna wharf is at Google map coordinates: -13.830155,-172.036331.
Salelologa wharf is at Google map coordinates: -13.744872,-172.217554
The ferry crossing requires advanced planning. I was warned not to underestimate the difficulty of the ferry crossing and that was good advice. The ferries run approximately every 2 hours but the schedule is different each day with few sailings on Sunday. The ferry schedule is on the internet. Look closely as the schedule changes each day. If you are bringing a car across the ferry, it is very important to have a reservation for the ferry as the ferry is often full and cars are left at the wharf. You should not have trouble if you are a pedestrian. They appeared to let all the pedestrians on the ferry.
Fortunately, I made reservations about 2 weeks prior to my trip. On both my trips across the ferry, cars (without reservations) were left at the wharf. You can email the ferry for reservations for the specific dates and times that you would like to cross on the ferry. The ferry will send you an email back with a reservation form that gives you your dates and times for your ferry crossings. This form is simply a reservation and you will need to bring it and pay for your ticket when you arrive at the wharf. Reservations fill up so you need to contact them and make the reservation in advance. I met a couple that wanted to go across the ferry and tried to make a reservation the day prior and could not get a reservation (ferry booked) so they were waiting in line hoping to get on (they did not). You can pay for your ticket when you arrive at the wharf (one hour before departure). Mulifauna is the wharf on Upolu. Saleloga is the wharf on Savaii. The ferry only operates during daylight hours.
The website for the ferry is here: Samoa Ferry Schedule
The email for reservations is here: reservations AT samoashipping.com
Additional ferry information here: Samoa Ferry additional information
You should arrive at the wharf at least 1 hour prior to the departure. Park your car at the end of the line of cars waiting to get on the ferry and then take your reservation form and go pay for your tickets. I took the 2pm ferry from Mulifauna to Saleloga on a Thursday. This is the smaller, slower ferry (MV Fotu O). I arrived at 12:45pm (about 10 cars were already in line). There are two buildings at this wharf. The building on the left (when facing the dock) has shops with food. The building on the right has the ferry offices and serves as a waiting area for pedestrian passengers. Initially on arriving, I went inside the large ferry building but nobody was in the offices. There are two offices. One office sells tickets for pedestrians and the other sold tickets for cars. The one at the furthest end of the building (west end) sells the tickets for the cars. Around 1pm (one hour prior to departure) the person selling tickets for the cars arrived and I purchased my round trip ticket. They give you a confirmed ticket across and a confirmed ticket back. Do not lose the ticket back. The round trip ticket for me and the car was $190 Tala. I then went back to my car and waited in line. About 1:45pm, the ferry arrived and a ferry person went from car to car looking at your ticket. If you had a confirmed ticket (i.e. a reservation and had paid), they tell you to drive up to the gate (i.e. front of the line). Cars with confirmed tickets are let on first. Cars without a confirmed ticket (i.e. no reservations) get on only if there is room. About 14 cars were put on the ferry. There were 5 cars left at the wharf. The ferry left at 2:05pm and arrived at Saleloga at 3:45pm.
On my way back to Upolu, I took the 0600 ferry from Saleloga to Mulifauna. This was the larger ferry (MV Lady Samoa III). I arrive at 0455 and got at the end of the line. I was the 32nd car in line. Fortunately, I had a confirmed reservation. Around 0535, ferry employees began going car to car looking at your ticket. If you have a confirmed reservation, they sent you to the front of the line. They got 30 cars/vans and 3 big trucks on the ferry. At least 20 cars were left at the wharf (probably more). The ferry left Saleloga at 06:20am and arrived at Mulifauna at 07:35am.
Savaii: After arrival at the wharf at Saleloga, you will need to get to Aopo. Since, I had just come across the ferry with my car, I drove straight towards Aopo. It was easy. I got off the ferry, turned right, went a short distance to a red stop light (T intersection). I turned right at this light, onto the main road that circles the island. I drove on this road until I reached Aopo. It is approximately 72KM from the Saleloga wharf to Aopo. If you do not have a car, I assume you could take a taxi (unsure of the cost) or perhaps a bus but I do not know the logistics for such.
Initially, I contact about five resorts on the northeast side of the island (around the village of Fagamalo). I asked them if they could arrange for my hike from Aopo to Mt. Silisili. One replied back that yes, they could arrange the hike and would check on the price. I gave them my date of arrival (Thursday) and plan for the hike (Friday morning, depart at 0500). They acknowledged. I did not, however, send any money/credit card information. When I arrived at the resort on Thursday afternoon (about 4:45pm), they had not made any arrangements for me to hike up the mountain and I was told the person that would be able to make arrangements was on the “east side of the island and not coming back for a couple of days.” Thus, I would not recommend contacting resorts and asking them to arrange your hike.
Thus, I quickly drove to Aopo to try and make arrangements for my hike the following morning. I arrived in Aopo about 5:15pm.
Google map coordinates for Aopo: -13.537779,-172.517691
Aopo is a small village but there is a sign on the east end and west end of the village so you will know that you are at the correct village. I stopped at the store which is on the south side of the road (left as you are approaching from the east). The store is painted blue and set back from the road and has a bunch of lava rocks around it. They told me to go slightly further and ask at another house (also on the south side of the road). The correct house was opposite the first large church on the north side (right side) of the road. Opposite the large church is a large open platform “house” (painted yellow). The kitchen/sleeping part of the “house” is set back from this platform. At this location, I told two men what I wanted to do (go up Mt. Silisili to look for birds). They said to come back at 0600am the next day and that it would cost $150 Tala. $100 Tala goes to the guide and $50 Tala goes to the village. I could hire additional guides for $100 Tala. So, if you planned to spend the night, I think you could hire an additional guide to carry your equipment. I was told to park in front of this yellow “house” and that we would go the next morning at 0600 up the mountain. He said he would tell the chief and the chief would be expecting me the next morning. The person I talked to spoke good English but my interactions with several others in the village would suggest that many did not speak very good English. My guide did not speak very good English. If you want to do this as a day trip, I would definitely recommend going to the village the day before the planned hike to set everything up. I am not sure how successful you would be if you just simply showed up at 0600 and asked to hike up the mountain. You could probably arrange to spend the night in Aopo, but I did not ask about this.
The next morning I arrived at 0600 and a woman met me at my car. She took me to the yellow platform “house” where they laid a mat out for me and told me to sit down while they found the chief. They gave me some Samoan coco and some fruit that was covered in a sauce. The woman said that she was the chief’s wife. She told me to pay her the money. She also asked for a present for watching my car. I doubt there is much crime in Aopo, but I gave her $10 Tala to watch the car. We then waited and waited. Finally, she told me that they were trying to find the chief and my guide. Eventually, she sent me with one of her sons to drive and find the chief and the guide. We stopped at a couple of houses and eventually, found the chief and he drove back to the original house in his car and we followed. The guide then showed up. Finally, the woman gave my money to the guide who then gave it to the chief. I thanked him and got in the car with the guide and drove off to the start of the trail. It was now 07:10am. So, the $10 Tala for the woman to watch the car was not worth it.
We drove 3.7 kilometers west of the house to a fenced area with a couple of houses. Behind the fence was an area with old forestry equipment. The woman at the house came out and unlocked the gate for us and we drove in. On the southwest side of this compound is an old forestry road. We were able to drive 1.1KM up this road until it became too overgrown to drive. I did not need 4WD to get this far. It was very overgrown and I am not sure how far you could actually get with a 4WD. It was so overgrown that you would need a big 4WD (high clearance, big tires) to get any further than I did.
We began hiking around 7:20am. We walked up the old forestry road at a brisk pace, stopping rarely to look at birds. The forest looks good and there was plenty of song in the morning (mostly Wattled Honeyeaters and Cardinal Myzomelas and constant Swiftlets). Initially, the trail is not too steep but then it becomes steep with a few switchbacks. After the switchbacks, the trail straightens out, but it is still steep and was very overgrown. The guide had been using his machete on the way up but along this section he actually needed to use it to cut the trail. Although it was not raining, we were both soaked from the dew on the plants. In general, the plants on the trail were knee high but there were sections where the plants were waist high and sometimes over 6 feet high. After 2 hours and 40 minutes of hiking we came out of the forest, to an open area where the trail became lava rocks without any plants growing on the old road. The trees, now were not nearly as tall and there were some shorter scrub. At this point, I started seriously looking for the white-eye. We continued up, occasionally stopping to look and play tape. Despite being late morning, there was plenty of bird activity (but no white-eyes). Cardinal Myzolemas, Wattled Honeyeaters and Samoan Starlings were all very common. I also began seeing the Samoan race of Island Thrush. We hiked past a campsite where there are remnants of prior campers. We kept going for another 2 hours without any luck. Eventually, I decided we should turn around and we kept looking for white-eyes on the way back without success. Luckily, as we just entered the main forest on the way back down, the guide pointed at a bird foraging just above eye-level. I looked at it, expecting another myzomela only to see the white-eye. I watched it forage for a couple of minutes before it moved on. It was by itself without any other birds.
The walk down was challenging. I did not expect to have that much trouble finding the bird (the prior information that I had was that the bird was common once you got to the elevation). Thus, I did not bring enough food/water. I expected to hike up about 3-4 hours, see the bird and then a 3 hour hike down (6-7 hour roundtrip hike). Taking 4 hours to find the bird was not expected. I ran out of water on the way down and it was hot with the no clouds. At the spot, we saw the bird, it would have been less than a six hour hike (up and back). However, with all the difficulty finding the bird, we ended up hiking for 10.5 hours. So, plan to bring enough food water for up to 12 hours. The hike is not too steep and there was nothing technically difficult about it. I never needed a walking stick for support and you do not have to cross any streams. If it rained, it would probably be slippery. However, do not underestimate the difficulty of the hike as it is long and there is a significant elevation gain.
Reference material: I downloaded target species (Samoan White-eye) to my MP3 player. There are no recordings on xeno-canto but there are recordings on the Macaulay Library.
I had a small speaker with plans to tape in the white-eye. I never got a response from the white-eye tape but the Cardinal Myzomelas and Wattled Honeyeaters regularly came to the tape.
Timing of the trip: I went in July. I think most people go June – September. November through April is the rainy season.
Language: Most people speak English. In Aopo, however, English was very limited.
Weather & Clothing: I was comfortable (shorts and a shirt) going up and at the high elevation (where it was windy). It was hot on the way down without any cloud cover. There was no rain on the entire trek, but that is probably not the normal situation. Short frequent rain showers seem to be normal in Samoa. I was, however, soaking wet from the dew on the plants. One the way back down the plants had dried out, and I was dry and hot.
Biting animals: There are chiggers.
Advice: Some more general advice.
You will need parts of 3 days and at least 2 nights. One day is needed to cross the ferry and go to Aopo to arrange the hike up to Mt. Silisili. I would recommend taking at least the noon ferry (I took the 2pm ferry but that is probably too late and I had to drive fast to get to Aopo before sunset). One day is needed to do the hike. Then, the next day you can cross back over on the ferry.
Do not rely on a resort to make any arrangements for the hike. My experience was that they were either unreliable or never responded. You should go to Aopo yourself and make the arrangements.
Plan to lose time in the morning because the locals will not be ready.
Bring food and water for a planned 12 hour hike. There is an old campsite if you choose to camp.
Make sure you are physically fit and prepared for a difficult hike. It is not as technically demanding as the hike for the Truk White-eye on Tol South (where there is not much of a trail and you simply have to find your way up the mountain), but it is longer and more elevation gain than the Tol South hike.
Trip list is in eBird: Aopo Hike