National Park of American Samoa

Wow. I can’t believe I’m sitting down to write about my final national park trip! This journey has been several years in the making. When I started, there were 59 national parks, and since then, 4 new ones have been added. I always hoped I’d make it to all the parks, but never knew if it’d actually happen. Life can throw you some pretty crazy curve balls, but I’ve also learned it has a funny way of working out… and here we are. Whether this is your first time reading my blog, or you’ve been here since the beginning- thank you for coming along for the ride!

National Park of American Samoa is the only U.S. National Park in the Southern Hemisphere, and is said to be the heart of the South Pacific. The park is distributed across three different islands: Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta’u. Tutuila is the main island, where the capitol (Pago Pago), airport, and national park visitor’s center are located.

Traveling to American Samoa is definitely an adventure in and of itself. It’s no mystery that this is one of the most remote national parks in the United States. American Samoa is located some 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii, and you’ll need a passport to get there, even though it’s considered U.S. territory. Flights to American Samoa depart from Honolulu twice a week via Hawaiian Airlines— you can choose to fly on a Monday or Thursday. We decided to fly on a Thursday, however the direct flight from Salt Lake City arrived to Honolulu at the same time the flight to American Samoa departed… meaning if we still wanted to get to Samoa on Thursday, we’d need to adjust our schedule and fly to Honolulu on Wednesday. An extra 24 hours in Hawaii isn’t something I’d ever complain about, however travel these days is unpredictable at best, and we were both just kinda of holding our breath until we landed in American Samoa. We both agreed we didn’t care what went wrong on this trip, as long as it happened after we had made it to the park!

Thankfully, we landed in Pago Pago the next evening with no issues. We had four nights and five days to explore the island of Tutuila before flying back to Hawaii. There’s always something special about arriving to a new destination at night— getting to take in the scenery for the first time as you wake up the next morning is some kind of magic. We stayed at Sadies by the Sea, where luckily all the rooms had oceanfront views *insert heart eyes emoji*.

Our first stop that morning was to the visitor’s center. Because we didn’t rent a car, we caught one of the local busses. On the island of Tutuila, “Aiga” are local, unscheduled buses that will take you almost anywhere on the island for just $1. You just look for one of the colorful, open air busses driving by and wave them down to be picked up— pretty easy! It’s also a fun and unique way to interact with the locals— we learned that because American Samoa is so remote, there isn’t a “tourist season,” but they welcome all visitors with open arms.

At the visitor’s center we were greeted by Ranger Pa’i, who was a true delight. We told her this was our final national park to visit, and she made us feel like rockstars. She made us official national park certificates, took our picture, and genuinely celebrated this achievement with us.

While at the visitor’s center, we met a few other “parkies,” one of whom we really connected with. Her name was Lizz, and she gave me permission to share a bit of her story. Lizz was born with cystic fibrosis, and is rocking it 7 years post-double lung transplant! She’s on a journey, just like we were, to visit all the national parks in the United States. Lizz is an inspiration and truly approaches each day as a gift, which is such a great reminder to us all. We feel so, so lucky our paths crossed. Lizz was also the smart one out of the three of us, and rented a car— while we had originally planned to make due with the local busses, we quickly learned that the busses didn’t drive to the park boundaries (whoops). Thankfully, we became fast friends with Lizz, and she let us tag along with her to explore the park! Without her, I’m honestly not sure what our time in American Samoa would’ve looked like— for so many different reasons. Thanks for being the real MVP, Lizz!

We left the visitor’s center with big smiles and happy hearts, ready to go exploring! First up was the scenic drive— honestly though, everywhere you drive on the island is scenic. We eventually made it to the top of one of the mountain passes, and ventured on our first hike. We started with the Lower Sauma Ridge Trail— rated as moderate, yet was short (less than 1 mile RT). This interpretive trail took us through a rainforest, and eventually lead to spectacular views of the northeast coastline of the island and the Vai’ava Strait National Natural Landmark.

Our second hike was the Pola Island Trail. This was an even shorter, fairly flat trail along a rocky beach with views of the coastline and Pola Island. There are about a dozen hikes around the island of Tutuila, ranging from easy to challenging. If you’re visiting for more than a few days, I’d recommend checking out as many trails as you can. Just remember hiking in Samoa is hot and humid, to say the least. Be sure to wear sunscreen, bug spray, sunglasses/hat, and bring along more than enough water!

The next day, we planned to explore the island of Aunu’u. This island isn’t technically a part of the national park, but still very much worth exploring. To get to the island, you drive to the eastern tip of Tutuila and ask one of the boats waiting in the wharf to take you across. The boat ride costs $2 per person, each way, and is a relatively easy 10-15 minute ride. Once we got there, we walked down the road a bit before parking ourselves on the beach. Our plan was to spend the day snorkeling, however the tides made that quite challenging— it was difficult to even stand up in the water without getting knocked off your feet. We only lasted an hour or two before ultimately deciding to head back, but I’m still glad we made the trip!

As we were driving back towards our hotel, we decided to try and find this roadside bar and grill we thought we saw earlier. Tisa’s Barefoot Bar is owned by Tisa and her husband who are from a local village. It’s just the two of them running their establishment, and they only serve foods they have personally grown or caught. We learned they are usually open by reservation only, however they graciously let us stay, and cooked us up some delicious food while we enjoyed each other’s company. They have no menus, and payment is only accepted via Venmo or PayPal, but trust me when I say this was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten! The beachfront view didn’t hurt either 😉

Once we made it back to the hotel that evening, we did some snorkeling. The coral was vibrant, tropical fish abundant, and I even saw a turtle! I could’ve stayed out there for hours playing with my new underwater camera case I brought along.

Our next full day on the island was Sunday. In the Samoan culture, Sunday’s are reserved for church and resting. Ranger Pa’i invited us to attend church with her, so that morning we met her at Capstone Assembly of God. The service was spoken in their native language, but everyone was very welcoming, and it was a great experience. We spent the rest of our morning on a driving tour of the west side of the island before finding ourselves back at Tisa’s for another amazing meal. A rainstorm came through right as we sat down to eat, with a stunning double rainbow following shortly thereafter. I swear, every day I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Monday was our last full day in American Samoa. Lizz had to return her car in the morning, so our plan was to relax and snorkel at our hotel. Unfortunately, the weather threw a wrench in our plans and it rained most of the day. The hotel let us pay a little extra for an extremely late checkout at 6 pm, so we passed time by doing laundry and watching movies. After checkout, we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant before making our way to the airport. Our flight didn’t leave until 11:30 pm that night, and with an overheated & overcrowded plane, neither of us slept much at all 😦

We landed in Honolulu the next morning, and after a mad dash through customs, immigration, and security, we made it on our flight to Kauai by final boarding. When we landed in Kauai, we were both in survival mode after not sleeping for too many hours to count— “get the rental car, breakfast & coffee, and head straight for the beach,” was our plan. We made it to Poipu beach where the sea turtles were waiting for us & the rest is basically history!

We enjoyed a quick, yet full three days in Kauai which included: napping, snorkeling, sea turtles, delicious food, Waimea Canyon, Kauai Coffee Company, exploring Hanalei Bay, shaved ice, getting tattoos, tastings at Koloa Rum Company, and more sea turtles. Before we knew it, the end of our amazing vacation was upon us, and we were boarding another red eye flight. What a truly wonderful last parks trip it was!! ❤

One thought on “National Park of American Samoa

  1. Krista, you’re such a talented writer! Enjoyed reading this and reliving that wonderful trip. Was so happy to meet you and Destiny and thankful to have been able to share the experience of visiting American Samoa!

    Liked by 1 person

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