Photograph by Cornforth Images, Alamy
Read Caption

Ofu Island's coral reef lies within the 13,500 acres of National Park of American Samoa, the first U.S. national park in the Southern Hemisphere.

Photograph by Cornforth Images, Alamy

Visit This Unique, Tropical National Park

The oft-overlooked American territory of Samoa is home to a national park spanning rain forest, beach, and coral reef.

Location: American Samoa
October 31, 1988
13,500 acres (9,500 land, 4,000 marine)

For some 3,000 years, the people of Polynesia's oldest culture have been keenly attuned to their island environment, holding it to be precious and managing it communally. The name they gave their land reflects their attitude: Samoa means "sacred earth."

Located roughly 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii, American Samoa, a United States territory, comprises ten volcanic islands (five inhabited) and two coral atolls (one inhabited). In 1988 Congress authorized the land for a national park. In 1993, Samoan chiefs agreed to sign a 50-year lease that enables the National Park Service to manage an area of rain forest, beach, and coral reef on three islands. Samoans help manage the park, and their villages offer a few guest facilities (ask the park about its unique homestay program).

The park protects hundreds of plant species in five distinct rain forest communities: lowland, montane, coast, ridge, and cloud. It is the only such rain forest on American soil. Among the fauna visitors can see are tropical birds and the endangered flying fox—a fruit bat with the wingspan of a barn owl.

On Tutuila, American Samoa's largest island, lofty volcanic ridges overlook the deep blue waters of Pago Pago Harbor. Except for a few villages, and the scenic drive that skirts the harbor and the dramatic southern coastline, there is little level land. Atop this crumbled terrain and plunging steeply toward the sea on the island's northern side lies the park area—about 2,500 acres of land and some 1,200 acres of ocean.

Parkland on Ta'u, the easternmost island, encompasses about 5,400 acres—including Lata Mountain, American Samoa's highest peak—and 1,000 acres offshore. Unforgettable is the panoramic view from the cloud forest toward the rugged cliffs of the southern coast. Small, remote Ofu Island includes what many call American Samoa's loveliest beach. Its main attraction is the 350-acre coral reef.

How to Get There

There are flights to Pago Pago from Honolulu twice a week that take 5.5 hours. Time from California is about 14 hours, including a 3- or 4-hour Honolulu layover. From the airport, taxi or rent a car to the Sadie Thompson Inn, Sadies by the Sea Hotel, Pago Airport Inn, Tessarea Vaitogi Inn, Tradewinds, or Motu-o-Fiafiaga Motel. From any of those accommodations you can reach the park visitor center in Pago Pago by bus or car. Accommodations are also available on Ta'u, Ofu, and Olosega. To get to Ta'u requires about a half-hour flight from Pago Pago while Ofu visitors are transported to Ofu Island by local fisherman. Ofu's park begins at the edge of the airport; parkland on Ta'u is about a half-hour walk from the airport.

When to Go

Any time. The islands are 14 degrees south of the Equator, giving them a hot and rainy climate year-round. The heat and rain abate slightly from June through September.

How to Visit

Contact the park headquarters before you visit. For information, write National Park of American Samoa, Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799, talk by phone at +1 684 633 7082 ext. 22, or visit the website. You can also drop in at the visitor center, located in Pago Pago across from the Pago Way Service Station.

Fun Fact

The National Park of American Samoa is the only National Park Service site south of the Equator.