Ferries regularly plough the 22km across Apolima Strait between 'Upolu and Savai'i. Tickets cost ST9/65 per person/car. Large ferries officially depart the Mulifanua Wharf on 'Upolu and the Salelologa Wharf on Savai'i every two hours between 6am and 4pm Wednesday to Monday, while a smaller ferry services this route at less regular intervals on Tuesday. Sailing times are thrown into turmoil, however, when big swells roll across the strait and slow the ferries down.
Vehicles should be prebooked through the Samoa Shipping Corporation (in Apia 20935, in Salelologa 51477) to ensure a place.
Getting around by car in Samoa is quite straightforward. The coastal roads on both main islands are sealed and the general condition of most other roads has improved markedly in recent years. A 4WD will make trips down rough, unsealed side roads much more comfortable, but nearly all of these side routes can be tackled in a high-clearance 2WD. After heavy rain, however, some roads will be inaccessible to 2WD vehicles.
At the time of research, motorcycles were not available for hire in Samoa.
When hiring a vehicle, check for any damage or scratches before you get into the car and note everything on the rental agreement, lest you be held liable for damage when the car is returned. Furthermore, fend off requests to leave your passport or a cash deposit against possible damages.
It's essential to have your hire car covered by insurance, as repair costs are extremely high in Samoa. Insurance costs aren't always included in the price of a quote, so always double-check this. Hire cars are subject to a ST2500 insurance excess (nonreduceable) in the event of any accident that's your fault.
Travelling by public bus in Samoa is an experience that shouldn't be missed. The buses are vibrantly coloured, wooden-seated vehicles (prepare yourself for hard jolts) that blast music at volumes that, depending on your opinion of Samoan pop music, inspire you to either boogie while sitting down or become ill with a throbbing headache. But unique as the vehicles are, bus travel is also problematic because services operate at the whim of the drivers. If a driver feels like knocking off at 1pm, they do, and passengers counting on the service are left stranded. Never rely on catching a bus after about 2pm. Buses are also scarce on Saturday afternoon and often only cater to church services on Sunday.
All buses prominently display the name of their destination in the front window. To stop a bus, wave your hand and arm, palm down, as the bus approaches. To signal that you'd like to get off the bus, either knock on the ceiling or clap loudly. Fares are paid to the driver - try to have as near to the exact change as possible.
Although most visitors don't notice it at first, there is a seating hierarchy on Samoan buses. For example, unmarried women normally sit together, while foreigners and older people must have a seat and sit near the front of the bus. Don't worry about arranging this yourself - the Samoans will see to it that everything is sorted out. The way in which Samoans stack themselves on top of each other on crowded buses without losing any dignity is akin to a social miracle.
Polynesian Airlines (21261; www.polynesianairlines.com; NPF Bldg, Beach Rd, Apia; 8am-4.45pm Mon-Fri, to noon Sat) flies between Fagali'i Airport, just east of Apia on 'Upolu, and Ma'ota Airport, 5km west of Salelologa on Savai'i. There are usually two to three services a day and the fare is from ST50/95 one way/return.
Touring 'Upolu and Savai'i by bicycle is a scenic, mostly relaxed option for fit, experienced cyclists - we say 'mostly' because aggressive dogs are a prevalent problem. The roads are generally in good condition and traffic is minimal. The major roads encircling the islands are sealed, but you'd need a sturdy mountain bike to tackle most of the trails to beaches and other coastal attractions. You can transport a bike between Samoa's two main islands on the ferry that crosses Apolima Strait.
A big challenge for cyclists is the heat. Even during the coolest months of the year (July, August and September), afternoon temperatures will still be high. Plan to avoid cycling long stretches in the heat of the day. Also bear in mind that buses are unlikely to be able to accommodate bicycles should you run out of leg power.
Bikes are a common form of local transport in Samoa, so it shouldn't be hard to track down a bike repairer if you really need one. But it's obviously best to bring your own comprehensive bike repair kit, a decent lock and heavy-duty panniers. Some accommodation providers rent bikes, but these are for day touring, not long-distance rides.