Photograph by Carsten Peter
Location: American Samoa
Established: October 31, 1988
Size: 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 five volcanic islands and two coral atolls. 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 Rainmaker 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, or by walking about 25 minutes. Accommodations are also available on Ta'u, Ofu, and Olosega. To get to Ta'u and Ofu requires about a half-hour flight each from Pago Pago. 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. Phone +1 684 699 3982. www.nps.gov/npsa. Or drop in at the visitor center, located at Pago Plaza at the head of Pago Pago Harbor.
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