About the Robert Louise Stevenson (RLS) Museum
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Scotland in 1850. You’re probably familiar with at least one of his novels ‘Kidnapped’, ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Mysterious Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.
As he suffered from tuberculosis, he spent his later years searching for a better climate for his health. He first went to Hawaii and then settled in Samoa in 1890. His stay in Samoa was cut short by his death in 1894.
As he lay dying, he made his final wishes be known. First, to be buried in his boots. Second, to be buried at the top of Mt Vaea which was part of his estate.
It’s possible to see how Robert Louis Stevenson and his family lived at a museum established on the site of his estate. It’s also possible to hike up Mt Mount Vaea to visit his tomb.
The museum is open from 9AM to 3:30PM Monday to Friday and 8AM to 12PM on Saturday. It's closed on Sunday.
The entrance fee is 20 WST per adult, while children under 12 years old cost 5 WST. Note it’s possible to hike to his tomb 24 hours a day for free.
How to get to the RLS Museum
These attractions are located close to Apia. It takes about 10 minutes to drive there by car or taxi. If you drive yourself, there is parking available at the museum or at the botanical gardens nearby.
You can also catch a local bus from the Old Apia Market (flea market). Look for the bus going to Vailima or ask a local for confirmation which one goes there. Just let the driver know and he’ll drop you off opposite the entrance to the RLS estate.
Our experience at the RLS Museum
Go through the entrance gate and walk or drive up the winding road through the estate grounds. You’ll see the yellow two-storey colonial-era house with three main sections. There is a car park on the left-hand side.
There is a gift shop where you pay your entrance fee on the left when you enter the building. You will be assigned a guide who will talk you through the different rooms of the house.
In the first room we heard about the history of RLS in Samoa and the museum. As mentioned above, he came to Samoa in 1890 to relieve the symptoms of his tuberculosis but passed away four years later.
His wife returned to her original home of San Francisco and the estate was sold to a German merchant who added an additional wing to the house. He later donated the estate to the German colonial powers at the time and it was passed onto the British (New Zealand) colonial powers after the First War.
Two cyclones in 1990 and 1991 caused substantial damage to the house and it lay in ruin for some time before two Americans bought the property to rebuild it and open the current museum. The house was rebuilt in its original style and filled with actual artefacts from RLS and his family. There are also other curios from the period included to fill out the spaces and provide context.
Upstairs we saw RLS’ library where he spent most of his time writing. His bed was also located here. There were first-editions of his novels donated by Queen Elizabeth II in a display case and other bookshelves full of his books and those of his contemporaries.
We went on to the other rooms of the house where his wife, mother and step son lived. There was also a room that acted as an infirmary for RLS and his family as there was no hospital in Samoa at that time.
We finished the tour back downstairs in what would have been their dining and music room. It was notable that the staircase we used was over 100 years old and the original one built for RLS’ house.
RLS had written a poem to mark his death. We observed the artefacts in the room in respectful silence as our guide provided a beautiful rendition of the poem for us.
Hiking up to see RLS' tomb
After you leave the museum, head left to arrive at the entrance of the hike to RLS’ tomb. You can see photos in the museum when they held his funeral and carried him to the top of Mt Vaea to bury him there per his dying wish.
Walk through the gate into the rainforest to follow in their footsteps. You’ll see a turn off for the car park but ignore that and keep going ahead.
After a short period you’ll be presented with a sign explaining there are short and long routes to reach the top. We chose the long route to go up and figured we’d take the short one coming back down.
The long route up involved hiking over a rock-covered path. It was quite muddy when we visited as it had been raining heavily in previous days.
There were also sections where small creeks were running over the path. We’d definitely recommend wearing proper hiking boots if you decide to hike up the long route.
The cool air of the rainforest was a welcome respite from the heat of Apia. But we quickly built up a sweat regardless as we made our way to the top.
The sign had said that the long route would take about one hour. We stopped to rest or take photographs a few times so our journey took us one hour and ten minutes from the sign (one hour and twenty minutes from the entrance gate).
We reached RLS’ tomb at the top of Mt Vaea. The poem that had been recited to us was engraved onto the side of the tomb. His wife passed away in 1914 and a second poem engraved into the side of the tomb marks her burial with him.
The rainforest canopy now makes it a bit hard to see out towards the ocean, but a viewing platform has been built to provide some extra elevation. Views back down towards the valley below are clearer.
There are also some benches where you can rest and pay your respects to RLS and his wife.
We started back down the mountain via the short route. There were more stairs this way and it was perhaps easier to navigate if you only have normal footwear.
We passed a lot of locals who were exercising going up the mountain via this route. Near the bottom we came to an intersection where you can turn left to go to a rock pool. It took us about 30 minutes to get back down to this point.
A small waterfall surrounded by boulders feeds the mountain water into a pool below. We saw some local kids jumping into the pool from the rock ledge
It looked like fun, but the pool was too shallow for adults to jump into. The water is cool and refreshing. It’s easy to see why RLS liked to swim and relax here! It’s a great spot to visit after completing the hike up and down the mountain.
After leaving the rock pool, you can head back to the car park via the botanical gardens. There are information boards that explain the different trails up Mt Vaea and their connections to RLS museum and tomb.
As you walk along the path, you can see and read about the various native and introduced species of flora in Samoa.
Travel itinerary for Samoa
If you haven't already, read our comprehensive 14-day suggested travel itinerary to make the most of your trip to beautiful Samoa.