THE modern approach to Samoa is a direct flight from Brisbane, although it is worthwhile stopping off for a couple of hours in that unsung and unexpectedly attractive city to sail up and down the river free on a ferry and envy the climate and relaxed lifestyle that allows bikini-clad women to mingle by the riverside with fussily dressed city-types. However, nothing should detain the traveller from making their way rapidly to the land its own tourist brochures describe unashamedly as “beautiful Samoa”.

The traditional way was by sea. Anyone from Scotland travelling to the Samoan archipelago will have their head filled with thoughts of Robert Louis Stevenson, who sailed across the Pacific in a yacht, settling in Samoa in 1890 after an island-hopping cruise. In spite of initial misgivings, he chose Samoa as the most suitable residence for a man of his chronic ill health, and the island has repaid him generously. Its people, their way of life, their culture and history all stimulated his already fertile imagination.

Samoa is now as then an alluring land. Stevenson himself wrote that the first glimpse of a South Seas island was one of life’s unique experiences, like falling in love, as he put it. If seeing Samoa through his eyes is captivating for the imaginative traveller, the place is not unrecognisable from his day – but it is much changed. The rows of modern shops in Apia, the capital, have suppressed all trace of the colourful life of the “Beach”, that straggling line of foreign stores and drinking dens frequented by beachcombers and misfits of many nationalities. Stevenson occasionally frequented such places when he tired of his home life.

There are newer and deeper concerns now. Samoa has moved from being an economy based on farming and fishing to become a self-confident society far removed from any image of a third-world country. Its planning allocates tourism prime place among its sources of national income, even if undue reliance carries its own risks, as became clear during the recent lockdown when the cruise ships stopped calling. There is also the concern, expressed to me by Seuula Ioane, minister for culture, over finding a balance between the wish to attract tourists and maintain the distinctiveness of the fa’a Samoa, the way of life. To this can be added a worry about the impact of climate change, which risks making some Pacific islands uninhabitable, and a different concern over Chinese expansionism. The famed Aggie Grey’s Hotel, which featured in South Pacific, has new, Chinese owners and the government has just awarded a Chinese company the contract to build a new cross-island road.

The Bay of Apia, often compared to the Bay of Naples, retains its splendour. Once, the navies of three imperialist forces – Britain, Germany and the US – were anchored there in a mission to support the imperialist ambitions of their countries, only to be destroyed in a devastating storm in 1889, recorded by Stevenson in one of his lesser-known works, A Footnote To History. He believed that hurricane changed the course of world history, forcing the US to abandon its own expansionist policies, although they were resumed after his death.

The National: Since New Zealand took over the German group of Samoa, the British Governor is living in this Historic residence --Valima--. The home of Robert Louis Stevenson, where he wrote his famous Valima letters. Stevenson lies buried on the top of the hill at the

His presence is still felt, and today he contributes notably to Samoa’s sense of self and economic prosperity. Vailima, the house he built for himself and his family, is, according to Mr Ioane, a powerful draw for today’s visitors.

Stevenson was exemplary in his respect for Samoan life, and the minister highlighted his respect for the chiefs and his defence of Samoa against European and American imperialist schemes. Now he says Stevenson features in the education curriculum, inspires Samoan writers, like Albert Wendt, and his songs are sung. No higher tribute can be paid to any writer.

The name Vailima was taken from the confluences of rivers which met there, although whether there were three or five waterways there is disputed. Built to the specifications of himself and his American wife, Fanny, it was the first two-storey residence on the island. It also uses wood imported from California, as required by Fanny, Stevenson’s American wife, as well as Scottish curiosities like a fireplace, an item quite unknown in Samoa and quite unnecessary in that climate.

The Samoan residence, or fale, is an oval or circular building, with external poles rather than walls, occasionally shut off by curtains, and in that single room people eat, sit, chat, sleep and perform all the acts of living.

Vailima sits grandly in the midst of lawns and gardens planted by Fanny, a keen botanist, and not far from woods which were believed to be haunted and in which their Samoan staff walked unwillingly. It has always been a magnet for visitors to the island, first for crews from the Royal Navy, and more recently for parties from the cruise ships which dropped anchor in the port of Apia, the capital. RLS used to joke that Scots landing there were drawn to his home “like homing pigeons”.

It is some way up a steep road, and walking in the heat is not advisable. And why bother, when travelling on a Samoan bus is a unique, idiosyncratic experience? The vehicles are like elongated lorries, with wooden seats and openings where windows would normally be. Individually owned, they arrive and depart according to no timetable. Each is given an exotic name, with Lady Lash being one and Stevenson Carriage another. Travelling in that style fosters the harmless illusion in visitors that they are integrated into the fa’a Samoa.

Tourists nowadays may not be like the homing pigeons of other days and are given a tour round the house by Margaret Silva, the manager of what is now a museum. The central section is as it was in his day, but the two wings were added later. Stevenson dressed his staff in royal Stewart tartan and was a kind of clan chief. Visitors can walk the flooring he trod, stare at paintings he placed on his wall, examine books from his library and even touch some of the furniture from his day. They can wonder why he and his wife slept in separate rooms as they peer at his desk beside his bed, although he preferred striding up and down to dictate to his daughter-in-law, Belle.

The experience induces a feeling of awe, even if it is hard to pin down the appeal of visiting places associated with favourite writers or artists, whether on a Pacific island or in Tuscany.

Stevenson chose to be buried on the island at the top of Mount Vaea, which towers over his home. He died suddenly and the people of Samoa gathered to hack out overnight a path up the mountain. The men had to be tethered together in their efforts to haul his coffin up the mountainside. The mountain is not high but the ascent is arduous. The grave stands on a little plateau, surrounded by the rainforest and with a breathtaking view down to the sea.

The tombstone is engraved with his famous epitaph, “Under the wide and starry sky”, but marred by an egregious mistake which has upset those of a delicate, poetic temperament. The poem should read “Home is the sailor, home from sea”, but the engraver changed this line to “Home from the sea”. This anonymous figure has never been forgiven. There is no dispute over the final sentiment: Here he lies where he longed to be. The Samoan chieftains declared a taboo on hunting on the hill to ensure that there would always be birdsong around his tomb.