Comprised of three islands in the South Pacific, the National Park of American Samoa is the only property in the National Park System to exist below the equator. Its stunning beauty is attributed to its volcanic makeup and tropical location, where rain forests thrive in rich soils and mountains shoot up from the seafloor.
But this park also protects over 250 species of marine coral and 950 species of fish, all visible to curious snorkelers and divers. A visit to the islands of Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta‘ū will elicit coos of pleasure and disbelief at such colorful and abundant landscapes, sea life and splendor.
History of the National Park of American Samoa
The islands that constitute American Samoa have been inhabited by Polynesians for over 3,000 years. The United States came into the picture while battling with Germany over the entire Samoan region in the late 1800s. The two countries came to a standoff when a tsunami demolished the boats of both nations, and eventually, the region was split up, with the United States annexing the eastern islands in 1899.
Pago Pago Harbor became the location of an important naval station in the new American territory, and the islands were in a strategic position to keep Japan at bay during World War II. In the 1970s the Apollo program utilized the region, as its returning astronaut crews from Apollo missions were retrieved from the waters a couple hundred miles from Pago Pago.
But by 1988, the National Park Service saw the need to place the islands’ land and water assets under protection, creating the National Park of American Samoa. There was only one problem: the government entity could not purchase the land, as American Samoa law requires all landowners to be at least half Samoan.
So, in 1993, a 50-year lease was signed between the Park Service and the Samoan village councils, allowing preservation of tropical rain forests, coral reefs, and beaches on three of the islands.
As a collection of three islands, the National Park of American Samoa is definitely not RV friendly. But if you have a desire to see the South Pacific or happen to be in Australia or New Zealand, this park should be on your bucket list.
Leave your trailer or motorhome on the mainland and hop a flight from Honolulu or Sidney to Tutuila, as there are several places to stay on the big island or on Ofu.
Then you can indulge in the island life, taking in the tropical environment and embracing the Samoan people, while exploring the park’s terrain and the vast treasure of marine species. This breathtaking Pacific paradise is woth visiting at least once.
Places to Go
Enjoy exhibits and information on the park’s coral reefs, rain forests, and local fruit bats at the new visitor center in Pago Pago on the big island of Tutuila.
Park rangers are on hand for information, and a movie about the park is available. Special events like a local welcome ceremony by Samoan natives are a great introduction to the local culture here, as well.
Things to Do
Some of the most spectacular snorkeling locations exist in American Samoa, with a starting point on the big island of Tutuila. Swimmers can dive from shore there, but Ofu Island offers the very best waters for snorkeling. However, getting to the island is rather involved.
Travelers must fly into Ta‘ū, then hire a local fisherman to take them to Ofu. Because tourism is nominal, there are no charter boat services, but the effort made to get to Ofu will be repaid in spades with the technicolor fish and plentiful sea life divers and snorkelers will glimpse here.
The park has 13 designated hikes that encompass all three islands and vary in degree of difficulty. Visitors will find trails that ascend mountains, meander along beaches and take the adventurous to archaeological sites. There are even hikes that end at gun battery points, where the islands were protected from Japan during World War II.
Some trails venture out of the park, and a few go across private land, where permission should be asked before hiking. But all trails offer a taste of the varied topography and environments and showcase some of the Samoan cultures along the way. Here is a map with trail descriptions.
Ofu Island is also home to some unspoiled white sand beaches, where visitors can enjoy waves lapping the coast while being surrounded by jagged volcanic peaks and palm trees swaying in the breeze. It’s a perfect personal oasis!
When to Visit the National Park of American Samoa
With a location in the South Pacific, the park is temperate year-round, so pick a season that you would like to escape from at home and head to American Samoa to enjoy sun, sand, and snorkeling! The park is always open but has experienced emergency closings with national disasters like a tsunami in 2009. Check online for alerts on closures.
Where You Can Stay
Since there are no RVs on the islands, those accustomed to camping will have to adapt to lodging in hotels or through a unique “homestay program.” Samoan residents offer accommodations in their villages, where visitors can learn about local customs and cultures.
Getting To and Around This National Park
Access to the National Park of American Samoa is via the friendly skies. Flights from Honolulu depart twice a week or catch a plane from many Southeast Asian countries or Australia.
You will land on the big island of Tutuila, and if traveling to Ofu or Ta‘ū a 30-minute flight to Ta‘ū is required. Then a local fisherman can transport you to Ofu. It requires a bit of planning, but the result is a unique vacation of exploration in a rare tropical paradise!
Pacific Ocean Oasis
It is a mystery that the National Park of American Samoa has not become overrun with travelers, as its natural beauty and diversity of marine life make it a most valued destination.
But the park’s location in the South Pacific seems to have kept this gem a secret to many national park enthusiasts. Don’t pass up an opportunity to “discover” the lush rain forests, pristine beaches and an ocean full of vibrant aquatic creatures on your next trip abroad. Chances are, you’ll find your own private oasis!
Have you ever been to the National Park of American Samoa? What were your experiences there?