. At a party in Apia, on the Samoan island of Upolu, my conversation with a new acquaintance proves so animated and entertaining that he invites me to drop by his office the following day to continue it. That he is Samoa's prime minister, with demands upon his time more pressing than my propensity for a chat, doesn't seem to matter. Ushered into his office early the next afternoon, we pick up where we left off the night before, though with less background noise. In what could be a stellar example of the famed fa'a Samoa (the Samoan way), Sailele Tuilaepa has cleared his schedule for an hour so we can re-engage in conversation. We arrive swiftly at the one inevitable topic in the lush and languid 'treasure islands' of Samoa - Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson. The author of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Kidnapped was welcomed by the Samoans. When Stevenson, much taken by the volcanic-etched terrain and the handful of amiable expatriates, settled with his family in Apia in 1890, he became active in the Samoan independence movement and had bestowed upon him the name Tusitala (teller of tales). On his death in 1894 he was afforded a burial ceremony on a scale normally reserved for royalty. Today, his plantation home, Vailima, maintained as a museum, is a principal tourism site. Many visitors also climb the steep, forested Mount Vaea to see the graves of Stevenson and his wife Fanny. Even so, the words from that period most often quoted to sell Samoa - if indeed an idyllic parade of natural splendours and engaging folk needs to be sold - come from English poet Rupert Brooke, who also visited. He described Samoa's 'sheer beauty, so pure that it is difficult to breathe it in' and waxed lyrical about 'the loveliest people in the world, moving and dancing like gods and goddesses, very quietly and mysteriously, and utterly content'. Sitting proudly at the top end of Beach Road (with the Tusitala Hotel at the other) is Aggie Grey's Hotel and Bungalows. Grey was supposedly the inspiration for the character of Bloody Mary in James A. Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, though she first came to fame by serving decent hamburgers to battle-weary GIs during and after the second world war. Today the hotel she founded - not to be confused with a larger resort opened by her grandson near the airport - is as much an essential sightseeing stop as a place to lay one's weary head. Beyond and below the main building, replete with hundreds of fascinating historical photographs of Samoans somewhat more svelte than they are these days, is a densely vegetated complex of fales (rooms or bungalows) named after Aggie's friends: Michener, William Holden, Marlon Brando and Gary Cooper among them. Grey's name is synonymous with Samoa, and if Pamela Stephenson has her way, so too will be Fanny Stevenson's. It was after conjuring up the writer's wife during a dream in an Auckland hotel room in November 2003 that the comedienne-cum-clinical psychologist decided to embark on a 10-month sailing adventure around the Pacific in an old steel-hulled sloop named Takapuna, after her New Zealand birthplace. Though her husband, Scottish comic Billy Connolly, was horrified when she told him of her plans, she set off fearlessly, with her 16-year-old daughter, Scarlett, accompanying her for much of the journey and Connolly joining them occasionally. The result was her book on the Stevensons' South Pacific wanderings, Treasured Islands. Connolly was able to experience first-hand the 'playing, singing and dancing' part of the Samoan mantra. The Takapuna sailed inside the Sinalei reef and anchored for a couple of weeks while its passengers lodged at the presidential suite of the Sinalei Reef Resort and Spa, on the southern coast of Upolu. No sooner had he arrived than the comedian sat down at the bar with his trusty banjo and recreated the hootenanny spirit of the Humblebums, the Scottish folk trio he recorded with before turning to comedy. The riotous renditions would go on into the wee hours. Declaring it to be their favourite getaway, Connolly and Stephenson sailed away reluctantly. The same gusto that wrings 1,000 songs out of a simple ukulele is applied to other Samoan pursuits, such as rugby, boxing and fire-dancing. This bonhomie is in evidence on a day-trip to the small island of Nu'usafe'e (Octopus Island). A former rugby great - employed these days as a piano mover - becomes a sort of magnetic buoy in waist-deep water around which cocktail-sipping guests and the odd expat float. Sinalei Reef Resort co-owner Joe Annandale and some guitar-bearing resort staff revisit the 1960s songbook while fresh fish sizzle on a barbecue. We have a ridiculously good time. Samoa stands aloof from the divisions and uncertainties that have rent a number of its neighbours. It seems to have clung to its traditional, family-centred culture more strenuously than other Pacific island communities. English may be widely used, but Samoan is still the first language in the hundreds of villages on the islands. It is in those villages young women learn the slow rhythmic and subtly sensual Taualuga dance. Here, too, groups of dancers work to a pulsating drum beat to master the sa-sa and a select few learn to toast their bodies only lightly in the famous 'fire knife dance', now performed from Hawaii to San Francisco. Samoan dance - for which the performers usually wear a tuiga, a headdress made of feathers and human hair - seems to be the area of Samoan culture least affected by contact with western civilisation. Though most visitors now encounter it at a fiafia (a traditional large Samoan meal) presented by a hotel, at its best it can be a stirring link to a time of tribal warfare and clan rivalry. The same can be said for tatua, the traditional tattooing of genealogical information on men and women from navel to knee. All these things remind you of where you are, but none are as enveloping as a particular feature of Samoan life that has survived the impact of outsiders and flourished in the churches they introduced. Wrote Stevenson: 'Song is almost ceaseless. The boatman sings at the oar, the family at evening worship, the girls at night in the guest house, sometimes the workman at his toil.' Getting there: Virgin Atlantic ( www.virginatlantic.com ) flies from Hong Kong to Sydney, from where Virgin Blue ( www.virginblue.com.au ) flies to Apia. Bookings for the Sinalei Reef Resort can be made through email@example.com . See www.visitsamoa.ws for more information.