Samoa & Tonga: travel books to read before you go


This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Samoa & Tonga guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

Gavin Bell’s In Search of Tusitala – Travels in the Pacific after Robert Louis Stevenson retraces the principal South Sea voyages of the Scottish writer, who settled on ’Upolu during the final four years of his life.

An entertaining account of travel through the South Seas is Slow Boats Home by Gavin Young, the sequel to Slow Boats to China. Combined, they recount the author’s 1979 around-the-world boat-hop on vessels large and small. A good part of his journey is aboard a Tongan boat, and there’s a well-observed Samoa chapter.

Transit of Venus – Travels in the Pacific, by Julian Evans, is a wellwritten account of the author’s shoestring travels around the Pacific by boat and ship. It includes very entertaining chapters on the Samoas and Tonga.

A book travellers love to hate is The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific by Paul Theroux, in which the perpetually miserable author kayaks around South Pacific islands. Cynics will love the amusingly downbeat prose; Theroux is particularly hard on Nuku’alofa.

Friendly Isles: A Tale of Tonga; ’Utulei, My Tongan Home; and The Tongan Past by Patricia Ledyard Matheson all relate anecdotes of Tongan life and make easy, interesting reading.

Tonga Islands: William Mariner’s Account by Dr John Martin and Tales of the Tikongs by Epeli Hau’ofa should be mandatory companion reading for visits to Tonga. The former provides a fascinating historical background to many sights throughout the islands, while the latter is a collection of wry, satirical vignettes on life in ‘Tiko’.

For a glimpse of American Samoan life in the mid-1970s through the eyes of a cynical American humorist, track down a copy of Tales from the Margaret Mead Taproom by Nicholas von Hoffman. It’s illustrated by Garry Trudeau, the Doonesbury cartoonist.

My Samoan Chief by Fay G Calkins is a wonderfully entertaining account of how a young American woman deals with the often confounding customs of traditional Samoa after she moves there with her Samoan husband.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.