American Samoa National Park preserves tropical rain forests, coral reefs, and an endangered 3,000-year-old culture. Tutuila, the largest island of American Samoa, is crowned with two great volcanic peaks rising above steaming rain forests. A great natural harbor nearly cuts the island in two. At its head lies fabled Pago Pago, sometimes called Pango Pango, a South Seas island village that is American Samoa's capital and only port of call.
The northern and most accessible section of the park rises above Pago Pago's harbor in great volcanic ridges covered with dozen upon dozens of species of tropical trees and vegetation. The park encompasses coastal villages, tropical lagoons, and a dramatic scenic highway with fine views of a Pacific coral reef. Among the unusual wildlife found here are more than 35 species of brightly colored birds, as well as the endangered flying fox, which is actually a fruit bat with a three-foot wingspan.
The largest section of the park, about 5,000 acres, lies on Ta'u, the easternmost island and a half-hour flight from Pago Pago. This section includes Lata Mountain, which seems to rise nearly straight up from the Pacific and at 3,170 feet is the highest volcano in the islands. The Ta'u section of the park also includes 300 offshore acres.
The park's smallest section is on Ofu, a volcanic island just west of Ta'u. It encompasses only 260 acres of land and water, but has one of the finest beaches in the South Pacific. Most people would agree that this stretch of white sand and stately palms defines what a tropical paradise should look like. Lying just offshore and protecting a lovely blue lagoon, a healthy coral reef teems with a vast array of sea life.
The Coral Reefs at American Samoa National Park
Visitors to American Samoa National Park have an opportunity to see firsthand some of the best preserved coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean.
The reefs harbor an astonishing array of sea life. Vibrantly colored fish in hundreds of varieties dart around the spectacular limestone formations that protect them from the vagaries of the weather, strong Pacific currents, and such predators as the several species of sharks that haunt the reefs.
Coral reefs are produced over centuries by the secretions of colonies of tiny polyps, usually stony corals. The accumulation of their skeletal material is gradually broken and piled up by the motion of the waves. The structure of the reefs changes constantly, although this is not evident to the casual observer.
There are three kinds of coral reefs: the barrier reef, which usually lies far offshore and protects a wide deep lagoon, such as Australia's Great Barrier Reef; the atoll, a reef surrounding a lagoon with no central island; and the fringing reef, a coral platform close to the shore that follows the coastline, such as the reef found in American Samoa National Park.
American Samoa National Park Photo Opportunities
Amateur photographers can find any number of compelling portraits at American Samoa National Park. Here are some suggestions:
- South Beach: Located on Ofu Island, South Beach is made of fine coral sand. Across the bay on nearby Olosega Island, Sunuitao Peak and Piumafua Mountain rise up, creating a dramatic contrast to the placid blue waters.
- Amalau Valley: Flying foxes, or fruit bats, are often spotted in Amalau Valley, located on the scenic Pago Pago road on Tutuila Island. There are also lovely waterfalls, which are high but surprisingly gentle, on display in the valley.
- Mount Alava: The tallest mountain of the Samoan islands, the 1,600-foot Mount Alava is located on Tutuila Island and offers sweeping views of Pago Pago Harbor and Rainmaker Mountain.
- Afono Pass: On the road from Pago Pago, between Rainmaker Mountain and Maugaloa Ridge, is the Afono Pass. From there, panoramic views of verdant mountain ridges guarantee great photos. Over the pass sits the village of Afono, where Samoans live in traditional thatched huts.
In addition to the natural beauty of the islands, the American Samoan culture is fascinating and highly accessible to visitors. Learn about the Samoan way of life on the next page.