Travel writers from all over the world visit American Samoa to explore, experience and enjoy what the destination has to offer.
Here are some of those stories and adventures.
The Exotic, Remote Southern Hemisphere USA - John’s Blah Blah Blah Blog, May 2017
By John DeLava
It’s the type of place where going out for lunch might mean grabbing a spear gun to go hunt for reef fish. A place where a walk to the beach may put you in a line behind a village chief, who clears the path with his machete. It’s home of the USA’s only south-of-the-equator national park, a tropical paradise where magical ocean blues and steamy jungle greens collide.
Most people know American Samoa is “somewhere down there” when pointing to its approximate location on a globe or map. But few can actually pinpoint this collection of seven Polynesian islands. It has been a part of the USA before Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii became states. The territorial capital and main port of Pago Pago is fun to say and surprisingly easy to reach, just a five-hour flight from Honolulu. The independent country of Samoa is just 60 miles but 24 hours away, as the international date line runs right between the islands.
This is an island where family first became evident as soon as we left baggage claim. A rowdy crowd filled the waiting area with hand-painted banners, welcoming flowers and huge hugs. Relatives returning from Hawaii were received like celebrities. Minutes later, looking out the window of our hotel shuttle bus, an even more poignant statement about Samoa family bonds became evident: the highway was line with home where front yards doubled as graveyards… to keep the family close.
This is an island where family-owned aiga buses buzz the roads like bees hustling to the hive. Hundreds of old picks-ups and trucks have been converted into colorful, sputtering discos on wheels. Every bus distinct from every other, by design, and they are mobile art as much as transportation. They run in all directions, sunrise to sunset, and you can flag ‘em down and toss a buck or two on the dashboard and pretty much go anywhere.
American Samoa is like Hawaii in the 1950’s, a pure, natural destination ahead of all the development. It is an organic place, primed for gentle ecotourism growth. Presently, there are less than 200 hotel rooms and only one restaurant guaranteed to be open on Sunday. Only a handful of tour operators exist, but oh the places they will take you. We called South Pacific Watersports ad asked Mike and Paula McDonald if they would take us a different direction on the island each of the next four days. The first morning we aimed north, into Paka Fa’asao o Amerika Samoa where dolphins swam in the bay and flying foxes filled the sky. The latter, fruit bats – with wingspans that can reach three feet – are completely obsessed with mangos and other fruit and nearly oblivious of humans. They soar across the sky and roost in both trees and caves. Several trails led to bats eye-views of the thick jungle terrain that rises precipitously above the turquoise waters of the coral reef. Beauty, beasts and only two other human visitors all day.
We traveled west the next day, following the path of the sun while paralleling a coastline that got more enchanting every mile. The coral reef surrounding the island made for alluring tidal pools and varying hues of blue water. Small villages dotted the road, every one with a collection of beautiful churched fit for towns tens times their size Family, faith and the type of living city folks fantasize about. Basketball court-sized islets with solo coconut trees, perfectly shaped waves, boundless shorelines of busted coral and white sand with not a single blanket, umbrella or bottle of sunscreen in sight.
Our “go south day” changed to a hang in the harbor day when we learned a NOAA research ship was in port. We were invited to tour the ship from bridge to control center and learn details about its upcoming23-day voyage of discovery. The Okeanos Explorer would be mapping the ocean’s floor and searching for the unknown equipment that would produce high-def film and collect samples to depths of 20,000 feet. Our day’s education continued at Pago Pago’s renowned Ocean Center, a showcase visitor gallery for the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. NOAA speakers and the center’s own images, displays and videos about the most diverse marine sanctuary in the country’s system, plus a water temperature of 86 degrees around the island, convinced us to get masks and snorkels and explore the reef.
Our last day on the island meant time to head east. We hugged more raw and undeveloped coastline from Pago Pago to a small marina in the village of Auasi. We boarded an eight-seat passenger ferry, greeted by a handsome, rugged Samoa in a lavalava who held out a hand that made mine completely disappear in his shake. Immediately I thought of the mark Samoan studs named Seau, Tuiasosopo, Polamalu, Tatupu made in the NFL. This was Chief Peter Taliva’a, who would lead us on a walk around the 374-acre island of Aunu’u.
Peter spent 12-years off-island in the army as a ranger and a paratrooper, but returned to Aunu’u to become a husband, father, chief and strong proponent of teaching the young Samoan traditions. Through taro fields, beneath orange, mango, coconut and guava trees, atop shoreline cliffs and sandy shore, Peter offered us island history and insight on every plant and critter we saw or heard. His machete came in handy often, to clear trail, crack coconuts, and cut poles to knock down high fruit.
American Samoa had the roads, trails and beaches less traveled we wanted. It offered us a slow-paced week of raw, pure nature in a new culture. And without even leaving the USA. All we really wanted to find was one of those tree-fort like tiki-bars hidden in the rain forest, above a secret beach One where the cold beer and fresh catch was always available. Oh, wait, I almost forgot to tell you about Tisa’s Barefoot Bar.
American Samoa: An outer island experience - Islandtime, July/August 2016
By Scott Lee
As ore travellers seek experiences off the beaten track, islands like the Manu’a Group in American Samoa will become more and more popular. Eco tourism and adventure travel are the buzzwords for a generation of travellers seeking new experiences in places where few have been before and the product is raw, undeveloped and genuine.
THE MANU’A ISLANDS
The Manu’a Island Group, located 100 kilometers east of Tutuila, includes the volcanic islands of Ofu and Olosega (joined by a bridge) and Ta’u. They are sparsely populated – each village has only a few hundred people.
The National Park of American Samoa, which is distributed across Tutuila, Ofu and Ta’u, includes the southeastern half of Ta’u.
American Samoa’s tallest peak, Lata Mountain (966 meters) lies within the park and overlooks the rainforest and steep cliffs. The national park area on Ofu features sand beaches and coral reefs with a mountain backdrop.
Ta’u is only about 10 kilometers long and five kilometers wide. A sealed concrete road runs along the northern coast between the airport at Fitiuta and the main village of Ta’u, which has two shops.
Tourism facilities are light on the ground but there are some well-maintained hiking trails giving access to the national park.
The southern coast offers the most impressive vistas with the sheer mountains plunging 966 metres to the rocky coast and reef.
Saua, on the eastern coast, is believed to be the landing point where the first travelers arrived from South East Asia over 3000 years ago. Most Samoans consider Saua to be the birthplace of all Polynesia and as such it is a sacred spot.
Local guides are recommended and can be arranged at your accommodation or by simply asking a local. While there is no commercial accommodation on Ta’u, houses are available for nightly rental.
We stayed at Ta’u Lodge near the airport. A comfortable three-star lodge with seven bedrooms and two bathrooms, it’s airconditioned and has a huge covered outdoor dining area cooled by the sea breeze.
There is a shop next door, but visitors are urged to bring everything they require, as supplies can be limited and unreliable due to the weather-dependent ferry freight service. Booking can be made through the American Samoa Visitors Bureau.
THE ISLANDS OF OFU AND OLOSEGA
These can be reached by boat from Pago Pago and Ta’u and there is a flight from Pago Pago once a week on Thursdays.
A bridge joins the islands and there is a well-formed concrete road along the southern coast of both. Tourists come to experience the national parks, the scenery and beaches and to enjoy the solitude. Three small lodges offer accommodation and homestays can be arranged in the village.
The ranger station is based at Fatuana Point, about two kilometers from the wharf. Local guides can be arranged and the senior ranger, Ricki, often guides groups and can organize transport to and from the trails ends.
Ricki is of chiefly descent and has a title in his own right. His ancestral lands run from Vaoto Beach up to Leolo Ridge.
Just off the road he will show you the island’s historic water well and the chief’s burial site going back 3000 years. Hiking trails from moderator to challenging dissect the island. All are well maintained by the villagers.
The Tumu Mountain trail is recognized as the most spectacular climbing to nearly 500 meters with stunning views of the Manu’a Islands and the coral lagoons in the national park.
Although it is a marine sanctuary, snorkeling gear is not available for hire on the island, so visitors must bring their own. The swimming and snorkeling on sheltered Va’oto Beach is fantastic.
Our accommodation was at the Horizon Inn, the only commercial accommodation on Olosega Island. Newly built, it sits on the water’s edge overlooking the inner reef, with magnificent vistas out to Va’oto Beach and the towering peaks of Ofu Island.
They offer four beachfront rooms and a family house, and there is a new, well-appointed kitchen and dining area for guests. Horizon offer a full meal plan or guests are welcome to use their kitchen to prepare their own meals. Guests who plan to stay for a while will need to bring their own food. A shop next door supplies the villagers’ every day needs but it’s pretty basic. They do sell Vailima beer and Steinlager!
THE STORE DOG
The skinny store dog had a terrible limp that disappeared as soon as he was out of public sight. I played fetch with him on the beach for an hour while waiting, only to see him limp off around the corner to the shop when a car turned up.
WEIGH IN FOR THE DOMESTIC FLIGHT
As the interisland planes are small, every bag and passenger has to be weighted before boarding. The scales were a set of rusty 1970’s manual scales like you see at boxing weigh-ins. Samoans aren’t known for their waif-like figures but they are known for their sense of humour.
Even though the assistant who was recording the weights was only two meters away from the weigh-in official, he expressed great joy in calling out the weights so loudly the whole terminal could hear. “265 pounds!” he’d chuckle. “You smuggling gold again, Sasa?”
“Fatu! You’re 280 pounds, that’s far too fat.” Racous laughter from the crowd. And on it went half an hour as each victim climbed the scales. I realized later it was the daily “plane is leaving” party and a great time to catch up with friends. It was a lot of fun.
THE FREIGHTER TRIP
There is no direct air link between Ta’u and Ofu, even though both have good airstrips and they are only 15 kilometers apart.
Rather than backtrack through Pago Pago, we decided to chance our luck on the interisland freighter that was scheduled to sail to Ofu on her fortnightly run.
At 5:30am the next day we loaded our mass of luggage onto the MV Sili in complete darkness. At 157 meters in length she is a big, seaworthy vessel licensed to carry 120 passengers plus freight.
As we stood around drinking bad coffee and watching the final farewells on the dock, the aft deck was loaded with vehicles, generators, fuel drums, gas bottles and produce bound for future destinations.
Although the Sili looks like a rust bucket, her seaworthiness certificate from the US Coastguard was up to date (I checked) and we enjoyed a two-hour cruise to Ofu Island.
As we were passing Olosega Island and running down the coast to Ofu, I started to appreciate the sheer beauty of these two gems. Golden sands, virgin rainforest from peak to lagoon and crystal clear waters. The bird life was abundant.
NB There is a new ferry due for introduction in August this year.
THE SUNDAY FEAST
One of the great things about getting off the beaten track is the chance to meet people and share in their daily lives. Samoans are particularly hospitable and welcoming, so I was thrilled to be invited to a luncheon feast after church on my last day in Pago Pago.
We drove to the southwestern corner of the island through Taputimu Village as the locals were walking home from church in their Sunday finery.
As we passed through the nearly kept village, we traversed a rough gravel road to a private fale on the cliff’s edge. Surf smashed on the rocky volcanic foreshore driven by the trade winds. After a swim in a sheltered natural rock pool (complete with fish), we gathered for lunch on the veranda in the cool breeze.
I was expecting a fairly simple affair so I was surprised to see the array of delicacies on offer. There before me was a veritable feast of three large coconut crabs, lobster, yellowfin tuna presented sashimi-style, fried fish, rice and vegetables from their garden.
After thanking the lord for this bounty we ate in silence, enjoying the moment and each other’s company – no need for words. It was a perfect end to my American Samoa adventure.
THINGS TO COME
Interisland travel will get easier when Talofa Airlines introduces a new nine-seater Commando turboprop plane later this year. The plane will service Samoa and American Samoa and the outer islands. Eventually it is hoped to connect with Tonga, which will make the round trip possible.
Also in the pipeline is the Explore Cruise option. These 300-passenger vessels will offer adventure travel options in more out-of-the-way places as she runs from New Caledonia to Tahiti and return. This cruise will stop over in American Samoa’s Manu’a Islands.
American Samoa is a perfect destination for adventure travel and eco-tourism. With adventure comes adversity, so you have to have a sense of adventure and unlimited patience.
Treat the journey as part of the adventure and roll with the punches. For example, to get from New Zealand to Ofu we flew Air New Zealand to Apia, Polynesian Airlines to Pago Pago, then boarded a small plan to Ta’u in the Manua Islands. From there we caught the local freighter to Ofu and Olosega.
That’s a lot of early starts, waiting, delays and intermittent meals. The rewards, however, are substantial. The less-traveled islands are raw, pristine and unpolluted. You’ll see places few tourists visit, and meet indigenous people who are as yet unchanged by the limited visitors they do see.
You’ll enjoy genuine cultural experiences, both traditional and contemporary, and meet genuine people who are generous of heart and full of love – love for their God, love for their family and in love with their way of life – happy and proud!
Children too, will love the adventure. They will remember the sights, the sounds and the sheer beauty long after they have forgotten the pool and the banana boats at your typical resort.
Scott traveled to the Manu’a Islands thanks to the American Samoa Visitors Bureau.
American Samoa - Islandtime, September/October 2014
By Scott Lee
American Samoa is only 100km from Samoa (formerly Western Samoa) as the seagulls fly, but its people are far more affluent than their neighbors. In fact, American Samoa appears to be the most affluent of all the Pacific Islands.
American citizenship, granted after AS signed a Deed of Cession with the United Stated in 1900, allows for job opportunities in the US enabling citizens to send money home to family and to retire, bringing their savings with them. Add to that federal aid to support the islands’ infrastructure and to run their excellent national parks, and you have a relatively high standard of living by island standards. Most houses are of hollow-stone block or concrete construction (there are very few grass huts here).
Properties are well maintained and landscaped and the villages are clean and tidy, many resembling communal parks. There’s also a late-model American ute in most driveways. Despite their relative wealth, American Samoans have maintained their way of life, customs and easy-going attitude.
Much of life is governed by tradition – fa’asamoa or the Samoan way. Samoans consider these islands sacred so all land, water and food is managed to sustain them for the future. While sustainability is the new catch phrase in tourism marketing the Samoans have been practicing for over 3000 years!
Samoan culture, customs and traditions are based on the importance of the extended family and each families’ lands are managed for the common good. Samoans are very religious (there are a couple of churches in every village) and their strong beliefs dictate may traditions and govern life in the village.
For example, every evening at dusk the villagers gather at their home or in church for evening prayers. Entire villages seem deserted as they gather to thank their maker for these sacred lands and their bounty. Many villages also have an 11 o’clock curfew for the younger members. There’s no binge drinking culture here!
SMALL BUT PERFECTLY FORMED American Samoa is made up of five volcanic islands and two atolls.
Tutuila is the main island and boasts the capital Pago Pago, the airport, the port, and about 95 percent of the 70,000 population.
Aunu’u Island is just 2 km off the southwestern coast of Tutuila and is the smallest inhabited island in the group. It is easily accessible by boat on fine days.
The Manu’a Island Group is approximately 100km east of Tutuila and includes the islands of Ofu, Olosega and Tau. These islands are considered the most picturesque in Samoa and there is little development. There are only a few hundred people in each village and accommodation is limited to bed ‘n breakfast style.
Further east still is the Rose Atoll (a US National Wildlife Refuge) and to the north is Swains Island. Both Rose and Swain are closed to the public.
NATIONAL PARKS ARE A BACKBONE
The national parks form the backbone of American Samoa’s tourism product. Run by the US National Parks Service, the 13,500 acre park includes sections of the three main islands and about 4,500 acres of reef systems.
The parks are a nature lover’s, or photographer’s paradise, with towering rugged volcanic mountains, lush mountain to sea rainforests, secluded pristine beaches, remote villages and abundant bird life.
There aren’t many facilities within the parks but adventurers will be rewarded with stunning vistas of land and sea, beautiful and rare plants, and over 35 species of resident and migratory bird life. Visitors are advised to check with the National Parks of American Office in downtown Pago Pago before attempting the more difficult hikes, as local guides are often required. The underwater parks are just as beautiful to snorkel or dive with over 950 species of fish and 250 species of coral.
TISA’S BAREFOOT BAR
Tisa’s Barefoot Bar is one of those gems you occasionally find that epitomize why we travel. Eclectic, funky and fun, it reflects the owners’ personality perfectly. A shambles of a building, loving cobbled together right on Alega Beach it just oozes character. With rough sawn timber and driftwood furnishings and a huge bar, the open-plan design looks like it’s been there forever.
Tisa’s is as famous for it’s events as it is for it’s food and atmosphere.
The annual Tatau (tattoo) festival, full moon tours, nude Fridays (don’t ask about the coconut races), White Sunday, and their Wednesday night umu (earth over) all make Tisa’s a “must visit” option. There is snorkeling gear and kayaks available for hire and rustic beachfront fales for overnight stays. Rays, reef sharks and turtles frequent the beach and whales are often seen from the bar!
News flash… Two Dollar Beach now costs four dollars. Two Dollar Beach (Avaiao is the Samoan name) is an icon in American Samoa and is very popular with locals and tourists alike. It’s a private beach with bathrooms, showers, beach cabanas and lounge chairs. There is a full service bar, barbecue, and snorkeling gear for hire.
The beach is ideal for swimming and there’s a beach volleyball court where your legs are in the water at high tide. Just turn up or groups can book the facilities for the day. Catering can be arranged and they can even organize a cultural floor show on the beach.
The cleanest air in the South Pacific
Anyone with a scientific interest or who is seeking to understand climate change will be enthralled with a visit to the American Samoa Baseline Observatory. Situated in the northwestern corner of Tutuila Island near the village of Tula, the observatory monitors, amongst other things: the weather, carbon dioxide gas, aerosol pollution, ozone depletion and solar radiation.
One of six stations in remote places around the world, the observatory gives an incredibly accurate record of the worlds pollution levels and weather patterns over time. A personal guide and easily digestible data charts make this a fascinating insight into climate change. The monitoring equipment is so sensitive they can pick up the CO₂ emissions when a cruise ship is in Pago Pago, over 15km away. The American Samoa station boasts the cleanest air in the South Pacific.
TAUESE PF SUNIA OCEAN CENTER
The Ocean Centre provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about the natural and cultural resources of American Samoa. The state of the art facility features educational exhibits and interactive learning tools to promote and encourage good marine stewardship.
The Rotunda area features a world leading “Science on a Sphere” exhibit, a room sized global display system that used computers and video projectors to display planetary data on a 2 metre diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe. Researchers at NOAA developed the SOS as an educational tool to help illustrate Earth System Science to people of all ages.
With over 7,000 apps available the system can show anything from weather patterns to aircraft flight-paths, from worldwide cell phone traffic to ocean currents. Almost anything an enquiring mind might seek. When combined with the Observatory these two facilities are ideal for educational groups or indeed, anyone with an interest in our interaction with Nature.
The Fagatele Bay National Park Marine Sanctuary offers the best snorkeling on Tutuila. Beautiful coral gardens, clams and an abundance of fish life within easy reach of the shore, makes this another ‘must do’ while on the island. Hawksbill and green sea turtles, dolphins and humpback whales are common visitors and the surrounding shoreline is a birdwatchers paradise. Visitors should check with either the National Park Office or the National Marine Sanctuary Centre in Pago Pago for directions before visiting.
Based in Pago Pago harbor, Pago Marine Charters have a fleet of modern vessels for charter for diving and fishing excursions. Their most popular diving sites are in Fagatele Marina Sanctuary but as commercial diving is in its infancy they can take clients to a multitude of sites that are absolutely pristine and may have never been dived before! They are very happy to put together multi-day packages to some of the more remote islands and are very happy to offer dive and fish combos. Pago Marine Charters handle all the work for the various government agencies that monitor the marine parks, so clients are guaranteed the best of equipment and safe operating procedures.
Can last from half a day to week-long live aboard expeditions and they are happy to offer diving/fishing combo trips. With no commercial fishing allowed within 30km of the coast and with a series of marine reserves around the islands the fishing from all accounts is excellent. Targeted species include marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna (a prized catch anywhere) up to 90kg.
Clients are welcome to bring their own gear or Pago Charters have a range of top-of-the-line equipment in excellent condition. In fact, their tackle room is the best stocked I’ve ever seen and would rival most fishing tackle stores. Each year in May the Pago Pago Game Fishing Club hosts a very popular international tournament with boats coming from Samoa. Some are even shipped up from New Zealand for the event.
To really get the mosts from a stay on the main island, Tutuila, visitors will really need a rental car. Many of the most beautiful spots need to be discovered so your own transport is recommended. Everyone speaks English so it’s easy to get directions and when you find somewhere special it’s nice to be on your own timetable. For the adventurous local buses (unscheduled) offer an interesting, cheap and colourful way to get around and meet the locals.
Accommodation ranges from beachfront traditional Samoan fales to hotel suites, boutique lodges, and apartments. For adventurous travellers the National Park Service run the National Park Home Stay Programme, where visitors can stay with host families and experience firsthand the many aspects of Samoan culture. Many lifelong friendships have developed as a result of the bonds that develops. Homestays are the only options on the islands of Ta’u and Manu’a.
IN A NUTSHELL
American Samoa is an interesting destination with plenty to offer travelers and adventurers. It’s a destination for people who like to do, not just look – who that want to get away from the buffet table, the air-conditioning and the pool and experience nature. American Samoa is often sold as an add-on to Samoa but it could also be considered as a prime destination for the right target market.
The rejuvenated American Samoa Visitors Bureau, led by the well-known, respected and affable David Vaeafe, has a strategy to build capacity and slowly develop recreation activities and small village-based accommodation options. Airline routes and capacity mean there will never be mass tourism so nature and fa’asamoa (the Samoan way) will endure – and that is what will keep American Samoa so special.
AMERICAN SAMOA the Destination that’s starting to make waves - Islandtime, May /June 2013
By Mark Barrat-Boyes
As a travel destination, American Samoa is very much in the early stages of development. For potential visitors this provides a wonderful opportunity to see one of the Pacific’s most beautiful island groups in its natural state.
Playing with fire.
The shape of a Samoan fire knife looks lethal at any time, but more so when it’s used in one of Polynesia’s most exciting ceremonial dances, known as the siva afi, or knife dance. Burning towels leave sparkling light trails as the performer trails, throws and catches it around his arms, legs and back tempting fate with every moment.
The history of the knife dance goes back centuries, with a modern twist. Its origins lies in the ancient Samoan exhibition called ailao, the flashy demonstration of a warrior’s battle prowess with a war club.
An American Samoan knife dancer named Freddie Letuli added fire to the dance in 1946 when he was performing in San Francisco. Letuli noticed a Hindu fire-eater and a little girl with lighted baton who were also in the show. The Hindu loaned him some fuel, Letuli wrapped some towels soaked in the fuel around his knife, stuck a match and the spectacular dance was born.
Letuli made a career out of his creation, forming dance troupes which put on shows around the world, and featured in several movies. He became an Assistant Director of Tourism, served as a senator and a judge in American Samoa, and in 2001 he was bestowed the honor of becoming the paramount chief. Although today many commercial performers perform the dance with short staffs or unbladed knives, this is not authentic, and is unacceptable in American Samoa, expect for training purposes.
The Samoa Way.
This ability to absorb new influences while retaining traditions going back centuries is said to be a key to understanding how American Samoa’s people have absorbed the good parts of being a territory of the United States of America since 1900, while remaining true to their culture.
Fa’a Samoa, or “The Samoan Way”, is based on a chieftain system of hereditary rank. Their way of life stems from the aiga, an extended family who all swear a common allegiance to the matai, the family chief who regulates their activities. His role is very complex, as it includes civic, family and political duties in the village.
When family members marry partners from other villages, the in-laws also become part of the extended family. Whether times are good or poor, and the people are happy or sad, everyone comes together. It is one’s duty as a Samoan to be of service to your aiga for life. Most families speak Samoan at home, but English is taught in school from a young age.
The other key element of Fa’a Samoa is the church, which has been very influential in the community since John Williams from the London Missionary Society arrived in 1830 with eight Tahitian and Rarotongan teachers to spread the word.
The village minister has the same status as a chief or matai, and every village has churches of various denominations. Sunday is devoted to church service, worship and family time. If you join a congregation, the devotion and uplifted voices during the singing of the hymns will seem a world away from the typically muted responses of services in New Zealand.
Take note of local customs.
Fa’a Samoa has a strong focus on welcoming visitors, but there are some important protocols to observe so you avoid causing offence and embarrassment.
· Avoid walking through villages during the evening prayer or curfew. It usually takes place between 6pm and 7pm and lasts for 10 to 20 minutes.
· Almost all shops are shut on Sunday although many visitor attractions remain open. Behave quietly and travel slowly through villages
· Avoid skimpy clothing in villages. Women should wear a lavalava (sarong) rather than shorts or pants, especially if they attend church, and avoid going nude or topless when swimming or sunbathing
· Remove your shoes before entering a fale, or traditional thatched house, and never stand within a fale when elders are seated
· When sitting in a fale, avoid pointing your feet at others. Tuck them away, cross them yoga-style or cover them with a lavalava or mat.
· Ask your host if it’s okay to take photographs in a village
· Don’t offer children money, even if they ask
What’s in a name?
The name of the main island of American Samoa, Tutuila, is obscure enough to go into the curly geographic questions section of a quiz night. In reality, it is as beautiful as the legendary Pacific islands of Moorea and Maui, for it also has lush tropical jungle, high peaks which carve out shark-toothed silhouettes against the sky, beaches of pure, fine coral sand and picturesque, tidy villages.
Much of the shoreline is crevassed by solidifies black lava that provides a striking contrast between the streaks of green, blue and pinkish beige.
Coves and bays provide lots of opportunities to snorkel, swim or snooze. If the peaks prove irresistible, tramp along a summit trail high above the Pago Pago Harbor.
National Marine Sanctuary.
One of the best ways to experience the coast is by visiting the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, one of best –kept secrets in the South Pacific. The sanctuary, the southernmost in the United States, protects extensive coral reefs, including some of the oldest and largest coral heads in the world, along with deep-water reefs, hydrothermal vents and rare marine resources. The sanctuary encompasses important fishing grounds and waters surrounding one of the world’s smallest atolls.
Learn about the sanctuary by viewing the interactive displays at the Tauese PF Sunia Ocean Center in Utulei and find out more about the six national marine sanctuary sites located throughout American Samoa, Educational films and global model simulations on an electronic sphere are also enlightening.
If you’re looking for a little more adventure, snorkel in the Fagatele Bay sanctuary site on the western side of Tutuila, located a short drive from Pago Pago and a walking trail. Visitors should contact the NMSAS office beforehand so the local landowners are aware of your visit.
There are other marine sanctuaries on the small island of Aunu’u, accessed by a water taxi for a small fee from the village of Auasi , Ta’u Island, Swains Islands and Rose Atoll (Muliava) are more remote and require a boat charter to access from Tutuila, although the rewards will be just as intense.
Fantastic Fagatele Bay
The bay, a flooded volcanic crater surrounded by lush rainforest, is a true tropical reef, filled with a huge variety of marine life, from brightly colored parrot fish and butterfly fish to lobsters, crabs and octopus.
Southern humpback whales calve there from July to November, and several species of dolphins and sea turtles are regularly seen in the bay. The fringing reef contains more than 140 species of coral in vivid hues, along with giant clams and many species of seaweeds and shellfish. As you swim and glide across the bay, your eyes will be constantly be distracted by the changes of color and movement, making for a memorable experience. The best place to experience the landscape, as well as the snorkeling, is by walking all or part of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa trails, a round trip of about four hours.
Along the way you’ll be treated to secluded alabaster beaches. The reward at the end is the blowhole below the cliff-top Turtle and Shark Legend site, where legend has it that an old woman and her granddaughter were turned into a turtle and a shark.
Fa’a Samoa also applies to Fagatele Bay, by renewing the concept of tapu, or restricting access to natural resources that are becoming depleted. By equating the sanctuary with the concept of tapu, young American Samoans are gaining a fresh understanding of the need to preserve and protect their resources.
National Park of American Samoa
The US National Park network is made up of 67 different parks, but the American Samoa version remains the only one in the southern hemisphere. The stunning natural environment has it rated among the very best. It also happens to be one of the most recently established – 1988 a 50 year lease was signed with villages and the American Samoa governments guaranteeing its creation.
The massive 10,500 acre park is actually split over three islands – Tutuila, Ta’u and Ofu. But the best place to begin any excursion is the National Park Visitor Center in Pago Pago. The park rangers know the park like the back of their hand and can give you some expert guidance on where to go and what to see. If you’re after a guided walk these can be arranged at the office and for those wanting to actually stay overnight, there’s a Home Stay program in various villages that surround the park. It’s the perfect way to meet the locals and get a taste for their unique way of life, while enjoying some of the finest scenery the Pacific has to offer.
Pure magic. The Manu’a Islands.
About 100km to the east of Tutuila is Manu’a, comprising the three islands of Ofu, Olosega and Ta’u. They are notable for their towering cliffs, raucous sea-bird colonies, undisturbed beaches and lagoons with brilliant coral. There are flights between Tafuna International Airport on Tutuila and the tiny airstrips on Ofu & Ta’u, and ferry services which take about eight hours to make the voyage.
When you arrive, the sense of being somewhere unchanged will be acute, and you may feel it’s impossible to get any deeper into the heart of the South Pacific.
Pago Pago Harbor views
Pago Pago’s harbor, with it lush hillsides dotted with bungalows and villas, is one of the most picturesque in the South Pacific. It is best appreciated form the water. Especially from an outrigger canoe. The canoes seat eight, with six guest paddlers and two experience paddlers who also act as guides. You won’t find outboards here.
There will be plenty of time to take in the panorama of Rainmaker Mountain, the marine life and Second World War historic landmarks of Breakers and Blunts Point Battery, with its naval gun. It was part of the fortification of the Samoan Islands which took place after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
American Samoa offers a range of travelers. Every property is locally owned and operated.
On Tutuila Islands there are the larger properties, small be n breakfasts, family spots or an authentic Samoan fale.
Big night out
Palusami or lu’au, made from the eaves of a taro plant and coconut cream, is one of the most popular dishes in American Samoa, along with supoesi, a breakfast soup made from pawpaw and coconut cream. Otherwise, Tutuila’s restaurants offer Asian or typical American dinner home-style home cooking.
Book a fia fia night and experience an authentic Samoan feast cooked in an umu, or earth oven and a floor show featuring the knife dance, sensuous siva dancing and the rhythmic pulse of Samoan drums.
Go by the map
Buy a map of the island, hop on a local bus in either direction to take in the picturesque villages and explore. When the mood takes you, jump off and wander along a beach and have a swim, then catch another to your next destination.
Among the places to see are the village of Leone, the second-largest town on Tutuila, and once the Polynesian capital of the island. It was also the landing site of the missionary, John Williams, who arrived in 1832. One result of his work is his imposing church, the first in American Samoa. It has three towers, faces the sea and has lovely stained-glass windows and beautiful woodwork.
You can also take the bus and tour Maugaoalii Government House. Originally build in 1903 as the Commandant’s Residence during the US Naval Administration; it is the official residence of the Governor and First Lady of American Samoa. Tours are by arrangement.
Let’s go shopping!
This is American, and the range of goods and the prices may surprise you as there is no sales tact or GST to pay! The main shopping areas are Fagatogo, Nu’uuli and Tafuna. Be prepared to have some extra luggage when you go home.
Nothing beats the colorful local market at Fagatogo for fresh fruit, flowers, handicrafts and souvenirs.
Traditional Samoan garments, with women wearing a puletasi (a long, two-piece fitted blouse and skirt) and Samoan island shirts for men make great gifts.
Numerous sewing shops on Tutuila can make a puletasi or shirt in a day to any design you choose at low cost. Choose the material and they will make it for you.
April 17 marks the anniversary of American Samoa becoming a United States Territory. It’s the single biggest event on their calendar, as it was on this date in 90 that Captain Benjamin Franklin Tilley of the US Navy raised the American Flag on Samoan soil and the territory was born.
The 55,000 people of American Samoa commemorate Flag Day with traditional dancing and singing, colorful parades and fautasi, or longboat racing, with the flag flying from all public buildings.
Rise to the occasion
While not a national holiday, the rising of the palolo is just as important to American Samoans.
Once a year during the last quarter of the moon I October, the palolo reef worm rises from the coral to spawn. Samoans regard them as a delicacy, so they rise early and wait diligently before dawn with their lanterns and nets to catch the worm spawn which floats to the surface.
Discoverer’s Day, also known as Columbus Day, celebrated during the second Monday of October, leads into the Moso’oi Festival.
The festival crowns Miss American Samoa and features Tisa’s Tattoo Fest, youth sporting competitions, fireworks, traditional food, music and cultural activities. There is much to celebrate.
How to get there
At present there are no direct flights to American Samoa. Instead Kiwi travelers will need to fly into Apia (Samoa) first and the catch a connecting flight with Inter Island Airways, Polynesian Airlines or Samoa Air.
The great this is that holiday makers can experience the best of both worlds, it, the totally untouched beauty of American Samoa along with the more established setting of stunning Samoa. And when you travel between Samoa and American Samoa, you are also traveling back in time by a day, arriving yesterday and then into the future by a day on the return flight.
Air New Zealand Holidays and Or Pacific are both selling a range of package deals combining a two or three night stay in American Samoa with a longer stay in Samoa. American Samoa properties including Turtle & Shark Lodge, Sadie’s by the Sea, Tradewinds Hotel, Moana O Sina, plus there are a range of half-day and full day tours to choose from.
Currency: US dollars, Visa and Mastercard also accepted
Electricity: 110 volt American plugs
American Idyll - Air New Zealand Kia Ora Magazine, April 2013
By James Borrowdale
American Samoa presents a potent mixture of jungle fringed delight and the slightly ad-hoc charm of a place only beginning to realize its own beauty.
From the ocean, several kilometers offshore, a 25-knot-wind-driven swell hid Tutuila’s coastal fringe of human habitation, and pitched the 38ft Bonavista II about. Above the craggy, fluid peaks of the Pacific, the craggier peaks of American Samoa’s largest island climbed verdant and green – to a cumulus toupee. Islands the size of Tutuila, 30km long and never more than six wide, sometimes seem insignificant in the midst of that much water, and in some ways the land itself is: American Samoa looks outward, and the ocean that surrounds it lies, in many ways, at its center.
From the bridge, Russ Cox, who runs Pago Pago Marine Charters, maneuvered the boat with a captain’s logic, searching the skies for the exact configuration of sea birds that signified fish below. On the deck, Sam Fuamatu readied the six 80lb lines for a bite, reeling them in when they became tangled, and unhooking the hot-pink lures which hide a fearsome hook among their fronds. They look, to the uninitiated, like some medieval flagellation device.
The boat’s rocking produced a meditative kind of lethargy. But it was soon broken. In the middle of some contemplation a line started to rattle, I was thrust into one of two game chairs, and soon settled into the rhythm: pulling back on the rod, then reeling in furiously as I lowered it. Before long, I caught my first glimpse of the electric-blue flash of a dolphin fish within the more sedate azure of the ocean. That the fish still shone so brightly, I was told, meant it still had plenty of fight, and sure enough, I still had work to do before it had been gaffed and laid down flapping on the deck, the formerly exotic yellow of its underside now faded and dirty.
Over the next hour or two, I added three more to the hold, every time bringing Cox down from the bridge. He has the easy nature of a man who makes a living by indulging a passion, and still maintains a vibrant enthusiasm for something he’s done thousands of times before (“Love it! Love it!” he exclaimed on one occasion).
Originally from Tauranga, Cox has lived in American Samoa for the past six years, and, having lived elsewhere in the Pacific, says the territory has the most abundant fishing he has experienced – wahoo, dog tooth tuna, marlin, and dolphins fish all live here in large numbers. After taking our share of the latter we headed in. I sat on the bridge as the harbor crept closer, the latest of several celebratory Coors Lights encased in a foam beer holder. The wind had dropped, and as we got close the harbor’s influence began to calm the ocean’s roll.
English author Somerset Maugham visited American Samoa in 1916 and set one of his most famous short stories, “Rain”, here. “It was,” he wrote in that story, “a great land locked harbor, big enough to hold a fleet of battleships; and all around it rose, high and steep, the green hills.” That harbor is all that remains of the volcanic crater that spewed forth the land now crouching around it protectively, like a crab’s claw. It’s the island’s defining feature and the site of its capital city, Pago Pago, which lies at its most acute point, completely hidden from the open ocean.
One of the finest in the South Pacific, Pago Pago Harbor was used as a refueling station for French, British, German, and American vessels during the 19th century. Following the Tripartite Convention, which partitioned the Samoan islands between America and Germany in 1899, the existing coaling station was converted into an American naval base. And then, just over 30 years after Maugham wrote that sentence, during the turmoil of WWII, Pago Pago was indeed awash with military vessels.
Pearl Harbor highlighted the South Pacific’s vulnerability to Japanese aggression, and son after American Marines descended on Tutuila. It became a major base, a training ground of sorts, through which 20,000 Marines passed before going on, acclimatized and battle ready, to meet the Japanese elsewhere in the Pacific. Only one did that meeting take place on Tutuila: on January 11, 1942, a Japanese submarine fired shells at the American naval station from the north of the island, over the mountainous spine, managing little damage other than destroying a shop owned by one of the few residents of Japanese descent.
Opposite the capital, on the harbor’s east, the land rises to Mount Pioa, nicknamed the “Rainmaker” for its habit of trapping rain and dumping it periodically on the harbor. “If you can’t see the Rainmaker,” Cox said, sharing a piece of island wisdom, “it’s raining. If you can, it will.”
The previous day, with guide Rory West of North Shore Tours, I had explored the island to the east and north of Pago Pago. It was a Sunday, and the roads were quiet; most of the traffic consisted of buses and utes ferrying parishioners to and from church, We drove out of Pago, as locals call it, the air conditioner taking its first bite out of my perspiration, and skirted the harbor, passing the two tuna canneries that constitute American Samoa’s largest industry. The roads are rough, full of potholes, and generally make the island’s 25mph speed limit seem like the apotheosis of optimism, even for the SUVs and pickups everywhere.
The Rainmaker looms above the landscape and, having left the last vestiges of Pago behind, we headed high into its lap. The Doors were playing on the radio, courtesy, West explained, of “some old hippies” who operate a weekend-only underground radio station. At Afono Pass, we stopped to look down the harbor, then headed for the northern sore, a sizable wedge of which constitutes a section of American Samoa’s National Park.
West knows the National Park intimately, and in fact lives in it (pointing vaguely to some are “up there” when asked to specify), and walking through it with him is an enlightening experience. North Shore Tours grew out of another of West’s businesses, Polynesian Herbs, which sources and supplies traditional herbs for medicinal use. More than 500 species densely coexist in the rainforest, and over the 32 years he has lived in American Samoa it seems West has learned to identify every single one; our conversation was full of detours as he reached overhead to grab a leaf known to alleviate tumors, or another for stomach ache. Crab-punctured coconuts littered the ground, and the sun threw its canopy-dappled light on the forest floor.
We came to the trees’ edge and looked down on waves frothily terminating against the cliff face, filling a rock pool. To the east the lines of the reef, the waters’ edge, the beach, and the jungles hem stretched out around coves, as if the island was charting its own contours on a topographical map. To the west lay the silver of Pola Island, just offshore. “There’s something about nature that releases the inner child,” West told me. “It rubs off on you.”
Pola island rises – narrow, spiny, dorsal – 128m straight out of the water, like the fin of some enormous by infinitely static primordial beast whose mass lurks just under the surface. “Pola” translates as “long table full of food”, so named for the birds – roddies, frigate birds, brown boobies – that nest here, and the ample fishing that surrounds it. It’s a short walk north of the tranquil Vatia Bay, but here the ocean was rough; a menacing undertow audibly dragged rocks along the sea floor, and wild currents swilled the small breach between Pola and the mainland. Young men used to make the climb up these formidable cliffs to demonstrate their bravery.
The majority of Tutuila’s coastline is far more sedate. We headed east, along the main coastal highway, every bend revealing a reef-fringed beach. Above a perfect example, Alega Beach, perches Tisa’s Barefoot Bar, cut into the jungle, almost completely invisible from the road. It is run by Tisa and her partner, another Kiwi expat, who introduced himself as Candyman (journalist inquiry engendered nothing further than this reply, given with a smile: “First name Candy. Second name Man.”)
The bar is built of recycled materials and is completely open to the air. As we sat on the port, my beer sweating as much as I was, a black tipped shark played in the shallows – Candyman said they had been watching and feeding the family for eight years. It scattered shyly when anyone got close. Beyond the reed, the water drops off to alarming depths, alarmingly fast – in season, whales’ breach just 50m from where you sit.
Behind a screen a tattooist practices his art on a horizontal customer’s shoulder. The tattooist sat cross-legged, beside him a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a little bowl of black ink into which he would dip his tattooist’s comb momentarily, before bringing it back to the customer’s shoulder. With a series of swift, precise taps with his free hand he would leave the latest arks of a large, intricate design. An assistant wiped off excess ink with a cloth, and his partner again lowered the comb to the bowl.
It was the kind of charmingly incidental attraction I had come to expect of American Samoa; tourism here is in its infancy, and everything seems an offshoot of something else. Even Pago Pago Marine Charters grew out of another business, Industrial Gases, and I spent the last night of my stay outside a workshop on the premises those businesses share, drinking beer with Cox and his colleagues. The sun had sunk, but the air was still balmy and close, with a hint of the ocean. A ute pulled up and its driver got out to pick up some fish, exchanged for the promise of a box of beer to come later. “You see where I live here?” Cox had asked me some time earlier. On the drive back to the hotel, with a bag of dolphin-fish fillets on my lap, the Pacific stretching endlessly into the dark; it was the only thing I could see.
Tradewinds Hotel is American Samoa’s newest and biggest hotel. It’s located conveniently close to the airport, and the friendly staff are committed to helping you make the most of your American Samoa experience. Tradewinds.as.
You’ll need to pass through Apia on your way to Pago Pago, and there is no better place to stay than Aggie Grey’s Lagoon, Beach Resort & Spa. Right on a pristine white-sand beach, it is the perfect way to begina Samoan holiday. Aggiegreys.com
Explore the island with the incredibly knowledgeable Rory West of North Shore Tours. West offers a range of activities including reef walks and boat tours, but prefers to keep it flexible to suit the fitness and inclination of the customer. Polynesianherbs.angelfire.com
Pago Pago Marine Charters is your best bet for a bit of fishing. Staff makes even beginners feel like experienced anglers. Pagopagomarinecharters.com
With a focus on Samoan seafood, everything served at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar is fresh, including, potentially, the lobster you catch on a snorkeling tour. Tisasbarefootbar.com
Goat Island Café on the harbors edge is an ideal spot to enjoy fresh fish, a few beers, and an ocean breeze. Saideshotels.com
The Equator Restaurant at Tradewinds Hotel serves a mix of Samoan and Western fare. There is a real focus on fresh fish – they’ll even cook up your bounty from a day fishing for the freshest possible meal. Tradewinds.as
Air New Zealand operates direct flights from Auckland to Apia, with ongoing connections to Pago Pago.
Phone: 0800 737 676
Air New Zealand Holidays Store
Off Shore Adventure: Kiwis fish American Samoa - New Zealand Fishing News, July 2012
By Sam Mossman
The 13th Steinlager International I’a Lapo’a Game Fishing Tournament
A unique tournament trail and tropical fishing opportunity is developing around the two Samoas: Samoa (formerly Western Samoa) and nearby American Samoa, about 80 kilometers away.
In New Zealand terms it all started when ex-pat Kiwi and long-term Samoan resident Vaughan Simpson (owner of the White Pointer Fua II) offered the Waihau Bay-based a White Pointer Tournament a prize package of a trip to Samoa to fish the Samoan International Game Fishing Association’s Apia-based tournament. This was very well received and raised a lot of interest in fishing the Samoan Tournament, but the charter fleets of any of our Pacific Island neighbors are not of great size, so at tournament time the number of available boats limits the participation level of visiting anglers.
Consequently, the idea developed to ship New Zealand trailerboats to Samoa so they could participate in the tournament. Then, with the vital support of the team at shipping company Pacific Forum Line, this became a reality, and for a number of years now a bunch of White Pointers have traveled to Samoa by ship to fish the tournament. (See last month’s Fishing News for a report on this year’s SIGFA tournament.)
Several years ago, the link was made with the I’a Lapo’a (‘Big Fish’) Game Fishing Tournament in nearby American Samoa. The two tournaments were aligned so that the visiting Kiwi boats could cross the channel between the two countries and also fish the I’a Lapo’a tournament during their visit to the islands. Most groups also do some fishing before and after the two tournaments to get full value from the exercise of shipping their boats up to the Samoan Islands.
I won’t go into the huge amount of organization that goes into making it easy for the New Zealand crews in Apia as this was covered in Grant Dixon’s report last month, but anyone who has shipped boats around the Pacific can tell you that entering a foreign country by sea (as you do when traveling to Pago Pago in American Samoa) can be a complex exercise. There are visas, berthage fees, port clearances, customs, health services, agriculture and immigration to deal with. And, when fishing, there is ice, fuel, accommodation, food, security, transport, communications, and potentially maintenance and repairs to think about as well.
Facing this on your own would deter most people, but such is the organization at the Steinlager International I’a Lapo’a Game Fishing Tournament, steered by Peter Crispin and his team at the Pago Pago Game Fishing Association, this is pretty much all taken care of. The Pago Pago authorities are keen to encourage tourism, and with the full cooperation of the Visitors Bureau, the Office of the Governor, Ports Administration, Custom, Health Services, Agriculture and Immigration most charges and fees are waived and procedures streamlined (even to the extent of supplying cellphones for the visitors to use whilst in the country), making it all very simple for the tournament teams.
Most of the boats crossing from Apia to Pago Pago have an unofficial ‘time traveler’s race’ across the channel (crossing the international date line), then fish Pago Pago waters until clearance is given to come into port. The previous year’s tournament winner has the privilege of leading the fleet. This year 17 boats – 12 from New Zealand and five Samoan – made the trip to American Samoa to supplement local entries, making a respectable line-up of 22 teams and 101 registered anglers for the tournament, now in its 13th year.
Pago Pago is the base for a fleet of tuna boats that fish all over the Pacific and supply the canneries there. You might think that because of this the local fishing would be shot, but with a 50nm exclusion zone around the island applying to big commercial boats, the fishing is in fact excellent. The huge, protected deep water harbor suffered quite a bit of damage from the Samoan tsunami a few years ago, but now has largely been rebuilt, including a 10-berth recreational marina that is being expanded to 14 berths, plus the main pier where the weigh-in takes place.
A fuel tanker arrives each day to fuel up the boats (petrol there is about NZ50c a liter cheaper than in New Zealand) and the ice truck was on hand early each morning to re-supply boats.
Manu of the visiting crews stayed at the Sadie Thompson Inn (where a big ‘fisherman’s breakfast’ was supplied early each morning), just across the road form the marina, or the associated hotel Sadie’s by the Sea, which ran a shuttle van to the marina, and hosted the prize-giving and the final banquet. Considering the huge number of details the organizers had to handle, things ran very smoothly.
The tournament is strongly supported, with the list of nearly 40 sponsors too long to mention here, but with Sunshine Inc. – local agents for Steinlager – having the naming rights.
The first morning of the four day tournament began with a ‘shotgun’ start (actually the whistle of the harbor tug) and the boats ran for the open sea, some fishing inshore structures like the Taema or Nafanua Banks and local FADs, while others headed to offshore banks and seamounts like South Bank, East Bank, Two-Percent and others. All the visiting boats were supplied with the GPS marks for the local structures to create a level playing field.
Kiwi anglers may find this a little hard to come to grips with, but in American Samoa table fish such as yellowfin, wahoo and masimasi (mahimahi) are more highly regarded than billfish. Consequently, the tournament is weighted in this direction, with tag-and-release marlin scoring a flat 200 points each, but weighted fish accumulating a point per old-fashioned pound (this is American territory, after all).
Nineteen fish were weighed for the first day, including yellowfin, wahoo, maimasi and barracuda, as well as two blue marlin tagged by Kiwi boats Girlfriend (Darren Spillane) and Game Keeper (Ian Fulton). The big movers on this day were the crew of Samoa oat Fu’a II – Vaughan Simpson, Brian Atkins and John Booker – who found a hot bite on South Bank and loaded up with a mixed bag of masimasi, yellowfin and wahoo to open up a good lead on the rest of the field.
Day two was hard fishing, with only a handful of masimasi, yellowfin and wahoo weighed, but three visiting Kiwi boats (the Kiwis tended to concentrate on billfish) all tagge blue marlin: Girlfriend (Darren Spillane), Southern Ikon (Guy Hindmarsh) and B-Caus (Matthew Randrup) Notable was the capture of the best yellowfin of the tournament, a 41.6kg fish for Russ Cox on Bonavista II. The fish count does not tell the full story however; as there were a lot of fish caught that did not make the minimum weight each day, and a lot of marlin ‘dropsies’.
On the third day, as we drew further away from the huge full moon, the sea conditions settled and the fishing picked up. Twenty-nine fish were weighed, mostly wahoo and yellowfin, including the first weighed marlin for the tournament, a 177.7kg blue for local Mike Apted fishing from the Chris Donato-skippered Southern Destiny. Three more marlin were tagged by Bonavista II (Sam Fuamata), Brave Hart (Christine Elmiger) and Fu’a II (Brian Atkins), It had been another big day for the Fua II team – along with their tagged marlin, they boated a swag of wahoo and yellowfin to hold onto their overall lead.
It all came down to the wire on the final day of the contest, which was another good one. Eighteen fish were weighed, mostly wahoo and yellowfin, but including a second weighed blue marling of 138.8kg for local Sepp Steffany fishing from Southern Destiny. Weighing this fish was a smart move. Although skipper Chris Donato releases most of the billfish that come to the side of his boat, the extra points from weighing this one, added to their other weighed marlin, brought the team steaming up into second place.
Three more marlin were tagged B-Caus (Matthew Randrup), Southern Ikon (Sam White), and Kingfisher II (Alfred Schwalger).
The tournament leaders, Fu’a II, had a quiet last day. Shadowed by other boats, their ‘honey hole’ on South Bank failed them at least, and they managed only two weighable wahoo – but that was enough to keep them in first place overall.
Even the smallest boat in the fleet, the 5m Marco Happi Hooka, with candymanand his buddy Kurt Hagedorn aboard, weighed-in with a couple of snarly-toothed barracuda, the biggest being over 16kg.
The awards banquet was a fun affair, with plenty of food, drink, music and dancing. Winners (see adjacent page) were awarded engraved beer glasses and gorgeous trophies carved form hardwood and broadbill swords by Samoan mast craftsman Beau Rasmussen, as well as cash from a pool of somewhere around US$20,000, plus other prizes.
The overall winners, Vaughan Simpson, Brian Atkins and John Booker on Fu’a II, also received an invitation to fish the IGFA World Offshore Championship, to be held next year in Costa Rica. This was a popular win, as modest Vaughan Simpson is a key behind-the-scened supporter of the SIGFA Tournament in Samoa, which has a big flow-on to make Pago Pago’s Steinlager I’a Lapo’a Tournament so successful.
Altogether, 67 fish were weighd (including two marling) and a further 11 marlin tagged and release for a total of 78 fish. The locals reckoned it was a ‘slow’ tournament, pointing to the previous year when there had been 125 qualifying captures, including 28 tagged billfish – but this year’s results seemed pretty good to me!
Experienced South Pacific billfish skipper Chris Donato said that he had never seen blue marlin that fought as hard as the fish at this tournament. “It’s like they are on steroids”, he said.
Brent White from Kiwi boat Southern Ikon showed me a stainless game hook that had been turned into a corkscrew by a fish that was lost at the boat. Their explosive fights gave a great challenge to anglers and allowed many to escape.
Given that most local boats don’t really target billfish, and that a big percentage of the beakies that struck were dropped (a rough straw poll amongst some of the teams gave a strike-to-capture ratio of only about 5:1), I reckon that American Samoa might potentially have one of the best blue marlin fisheries in the Pacific. Certainly most of the crews involved indicated they were keen to come back for a return bout in next year’s tournament. Keep an eye on the Pago Pago Game Fishing Association’s website www.ppgfa.com for more details a little further down the track.
Overall Team Most Points: Fu’a II, 804.2 pts, Southern Destiny, 762.4 pts; Bonavista II 463.8 pts;
Overall Team Most Species: Fu’a II, (four species caught);
Tag and Release Marlin: first-equal (two fish each) Matthew Randrup B-Caus; Darren Spillane, Girlfriend; second-equal (one fish each) Ian Fulton, Gamekeeper; Guy Hindmarsh, Southern Ikon: Sam Fuamata, Bonavista II; Christine Elmiger, Brave Har; Brian Atkins, Fu’a II, Brian Atkins, Southern Ikon, Alfred Schwalger, Kinfisher II
Harvest fish landed: blue marlin: Southern Destiny, Mike Apted, 177.7kg; yellowfin: Bonavista II, Russ Cox, 41.6kg; masimasi: Fu’a II, John Booker, 18.4kg; wahoo: Fu’a II, Brian Atkins, 17.3kg; dogtooth: Kingfisher, Peter Bain, 8.4kg; barracuda: Happi Hooka, Kurt Hagedorn, 16.3 kg;
Champion Anglers: Female: Christine Elmiger, Brave Hart; Male: Brian Atkins, Fu’a II
Sportsmanship Award: Andrew Peart, Techtona;
Top Scoring Boats: Samoa: Fu’a II, Vaughan Simpson, 804.2 points; American Samoa: Southern Destiny, Chris Donato, 762.4 pts; New Zealand: Southern Ikon, Brent White 400 pts.
Sam Mossman and Fishing News would like to thank: David Vaeafe at the American Samoa Visitor’s Bureau for travel assistance; Sadies Hotels (www.sadieshotels.com) for accommodation; Peter Crispin and the Pago Pago Game Fishing Association team (www.ppgfa.com); ‘JD’ for tournament data; and Andy Wearing and Russ Cox on Bonavista II (email@example.com), Greg Hopping on Pure Indulgence (www.fishsamoa.ws) and Alfred Schwalger on Kingfisher II (www.alfredsfishingcharters.ws) for days on the water.
Game Fishing In American Samoa - New Zealand Fishing News, January 2012
By Sam Mossman
The phrase ‘best kept secret’ is well overused in the tourist industry, but if there is a Pacific Islands destination that it applies to the most, it is probably American Samoa.
In New Zealand we know American Samoa exists, but for most of the us that is about all, and considering our close ties to Samoan (formally Western Samoa) and the fact that the two islands are only 40 nautical miles apart, it is really surprising that we never seem to hear anything about the place.
I like to think that I know a bit about the fishing around most of our Pacific neighbors after a quarter century of knocking about the various islands, but beyond the fact that were a couple of tuna canneries in Pago Pago and a fleet of purse-seiners based there, a few months ago I could have told you little more. I guess this is because, as an American territory, most of the news from there goes north to Hawaii and the US, while any from nearby Samoa, an ex-New Zealand protectorate, and comes south. Consequently, what I found there during a visit in November at the invitation of the newly-invigorated American Samoa Visitors Bureau was a bit of a revelation.
The islands of American Samoa (there are five main ones: Tutuila, Ta’u, Ofu, Olosega, Aunu’u and Nu’utele) have a total land area of 197 square kilometers. Tutuila (of which the town of Pago Pago – pronounced pango pango – is the main center) contains about two-thirds of the total area and is home to 95% of the 65,000 islanders. It is believed that the original Polynesian explorers arrived there around 3000 years ago, and first contact with Europeans was with the Dutch in 1722.
American Samoa has been a territory of the United States since the signing of the Deed of Cession in 1900. The Pago Pago Harbor area was the site of a coaling station and a naval base that became of particular strategic importance to the US during WW2, when roads, airstrips, docks and medical facilities were built. Government now seems to be by an island version of the American political system. The Executive Branch is led by a governor and lieutenant governor, the Legislative Branch has an elected House of Representatives, and the senate is made up of a village matai (chiefs). The judicial branch is part of the US judicial system, and American Samoa has a non-voting representative elected to the US Congress.
To me, American Samoa had little of the feel of an unspoiled and undeveloped Hawaii: a thin veneer of Americanism overlaying a strong Polynesian culture. Huge American pick-ups and 4x4s dominate the roads, and many of the local Samoans have an American accent.
The island of Tutuila is high and volcanic, with dramatic peaks (including Matafao Peak, North Pio ‘the Rain-maker’, and Mount Alava, all of which tower over Pago Pago) and an ancient caldera forming a huge, deep, sheltered harbor. The people live and farm on the narrow coastal fringes, while the rugged central core is covered with unspoilt rainforest. The coastline is a mix of volcanic rocky shore, some magnificent white sand beaches, and coral reefs.
The standard of living is quite high by island standards, supported by US federal money and the main industry of tuna canning. Although the infrastructure is relatively well developed, tourism is in its infancy. To me this is a good thing, as many aspects are unspoiled. However, the thought of commercial tuna fishing had led me to consider that the fishing would not be up to much. I was certainly wrong about that!
FISHING AMERICAN SAMOA
Along with federal money, a large part of American Samoa’s economy is underpinned by its tuna canneries, which process commercial purse-seine and long-line catches from all over the Pacific, and supply a large percentage of the American mainland’s canned tuna. Consequently, you might think that the pelagic fishery around the islands would be shot – but you would be wrong. With a 50-nautical mile exclusion zone around the islands for commercial boats over 15m and some excellent offshore structure, in terms of sheet action; the recreational fishing must rank as one of the best in the Pacific Islands.
Early on Saturday morning, charter boat skipper Andy Wearing picked me up from Sadie’s by the Sea in a huge black Ford ute and took me down to the harbor where the rest of the team were waiting – Russ Cox (another ex-pat Kiwi) and Samoan Samuelu (Sam) Fuamatu. We were soon heading out of magnificent Pago Pago Harbor, passing by the handy structure of the Taema and Nafanua Banks just offshore, and past the local FAD, heading for the South Bank, a big seamount 36nm out. Fuel is relatively cheap in American Samoa, and we weren’t hanging around.
Arriving at the bank, which comes out of about 2300m up to 100m, we set the lures, with skirted trolling lures such as Black Magic’s ‘Pursuit Jellybean’ and ‘Freedom Grand Slammer’ being the hot favorites. I soon found out the reason why Bonavista II had two game chairs after a double strike of wahoo and dogtooth tuna, followed by a triple of yellowfin!
By way of exploration, we stopped and put some braid rigs on the bottom, the circle hooks baited with yellowfin belly meat. I use an old Shimano TLD 20 loaded with 24kg Rainbow Braid for this sort of fishing, and it proved ideal. In depths ranging from 100-200m the currents were strong, but we managed a bunch of tropical deepwater snappers, mostly goldbanded jobfish, as well as the odd small ruby snapper and grouper. Then it was back to trolling.
The afternoon bite was a hot one, and to someone who has been starved of yellowfin tuna action in New Zealand waters in recent years, pretty neat fishing. Not big fish – up to 25kg (it was too early in the season for the runs of big ‘fun’) – but it was fast and furious, with mostly multiple hook-ups and the odd dogtooth, big rainbow runner and other pelagics thrown in. By the end, arm muscles were cramping up and people were standing back, trying to con others into pulling in the fish. You couldn’t much around too much though, as there were a few sharks pulling in a big whaler that had been foul-hooked in the side.
We ended the day with about 25 fish on ice, the bulk of them yellowfin, and back at the dock there was no shortage of friends and whanau happy to get a feed of fresh fish. I ended a long day by watching the final of the Rugby World Cup in the bar at Sadie’s by the Sea, the hotel I stayed in, with a bunch of enthusiastic ex-pats and Samoans, drinking beer and eating fish. A pretty good day.
As mentioned, there is a wealth of offshore structure around Tutuila, and the next day we explored more of it. It was another early start and this time I was doing a ride-along on Bonavista II for the Pago Pago Game Fishing Club’s Women’s and Junior’s Tournament. It was pretty much the same crew as the day before, with the addition of our designated angler, Rose Talalotu.
This day we headed out for the East Bank, some 22nm out. It was not really firing though, so we continued on to another structure called the Two Percent Bank, a further 11nm out.
There was more life here, and we started with multiples of skipjack and the odd small yellowfin jumping the big skirted lures. Rose dropped one reasonable fish after a good run, then was broken – or cut off – by a reel screamer, a small blue marlin that jumped about a dozen times after the line parted.
In the Pacific Islands – and American Samoa is no exception – fish is a prime resource, and the importance of the catch as food is just as great as the fun had by catching it. Consequently, the Pago guys tend to chase prime table fish such as tuna, wahoo, mahimahi and the like, rather than billfish. I noticed we were fishing on top of the banks, for example, rather than along the drop-offs where big billfish are more likely to lurk. Even so, they hook plenty of marlin and don’t complain too much when they do.
After yet another four-way of small yellowfin and skipjack was dealt with, a 37kg rig hammered down and the line screamed off. It had a more emphatic look to it, and I was not surprised to see a blue marlin take into the air! The dish carved up the surface about 200m out, jumping about 15 times. Then the hard work started for Rose. The harness was a bit big for her and she couldn’t get full pressure on the fish, but slowly won back line. The fish ‘stuck’ about 50m out and 20m down for quite some time, with Rose not winning or losing line. She stuck at it calmly and gamely, with a lifejacket stuffed inside the harness back helping. Finally I suggested circling the fish with the boat to break its pattern. I don’t really like doing this, changing angle can sometimes pull a hook, but in this case it worked and the fish popped up – a pretty 90kg blue – after a near two hour fight. There were line cuts in the tail and anal fins, so it may well have been wrapped in the leader before we started running around it.
It was Roses’ first marlin, and it and one of her yellowfin cleaned up the ladies’ prizes at the tournament weigh-in later that afternoon. (She showed her blistered hands as a badge of honor for several days afterward.) The Junior section was won by George Poysky Jr IV with an 18.9kg yellowfin.
I had one more day on the water, and while we knew there was plenty of action on the offshore banks, we decided to try some other alternatives. Bonavista II left harbor with Andy Wearing skippering, Sam Fuamatu, co-owner Peter Crispin, local hotelier Tom Drabble (who owns Sadies By the Sea and Sadie Thompson Inn establishments) and me aboard. WE threw a few poppers around Aunu’u Island for no result (although there are gian treval present in American Samoa), then ran some trolling lures over the shelf edge at the east end of Tutuila. A dogtooth tuna was followed by a triple of yellowfin, then a wahoo. Traveling over more structure on the remote north of the island, I dropped a Halco Lazer Pro minnow out into the set of skirts. It ran very well as speed and the dogtooth just loved it, with three more hitting the deck in short order. When you are getting dogtooth just loved it, with three more hitting the deck in short order. When you are getting dogtooth on surface-trolled lures in the middle of the day, you know that a fishery had not had much pressure. Dropping jigs on some of those north coast pins would produce some pretty exciting fishing, I’ll bet.
We had time for one more experiment, so elected to drop some cut baits to the bottom in 400m on the western end of the island, hapuku style. I love trying this sort of fishing in tropical waters, as it can turn up all sorts of interesting (and tasty) fish. Nailing a mackerel tuna for bait from a passing school with a pink Waxwing lure, we dropped some braid rigs down. It didn’t take long before we started catching fish, and they were worth the long crank up: longtailed flame snapper and ruby snapper (or palu-loa and palu-malau as the locals call them). These are gorgeous looking scarlet and silver fish, and possibly the all-time best eating fish in the ocean. I had caught a few before in Niue and Vanuatu, and they all acted the same – a big hit then a slack line as they race upwards for 20m or so. You need to crank fast to catch up, but the circle hooks mostly hold on. With four of each species on ice, it was a fine end to the day.
The fishing in American Samoa was great, and while I had a taste, there are many angling avenues to explore. A good reason to do this (if you need something to hang your hat on) is the 13th Steinlager I’a Lapo’a (Big Fish) International Game Fishing Tournament, to be held from 7-12 of May, 2012. This is timed to follow hot on the heels of the International Tournament in nearby Samoa. This last comp is well attended by Kiwi anglers, who freight their trailer boats up from New Zealand to take their boats up from New Zealand to take part (a special deal is organized with Pacific Forum Shipping Lines); a number of them have taken the opportunity to run their boats across to American Samoa to take part in the Steinlager I’a Lapo’a over the last few years, along with boats from Samoa.
This tournament is in its thirteenth year now. In 2010, 22 boats registered with over 100 contestants – more than 60 were visitors from New Zealand, Australia and Samoa. They do not want for fish, either. The 2011 tournament catch report lists 25 tagged marlin and one weighed at 117kg, three sailfish tagged, 33 yellowfin to 69kg, 43 wahoo to 19kg, six masimasi (mahimahi) to 16kg, four dogtooth, and a bunch of lesser fish, totaling 125 captures. You can’t complain about that amongst boats and anglers. Four boats were White Pointers shipped up from New Zealand to fish in both tournaments.
The Steinlager I’a Lapo’a Tournament has solid sponsorship: Steinlager (through their local agents Sunshine Inc.); the American Samoa Visitors Bureau; Sadie’s by the Sea and the Sadie Thompson Inn; the Turtle and Shark Lodge; Pago Pago Marine Charters; Industrial Gases (boat services and Evinrude); and Tool Shop and Buiding supplies (Evinrude Sales, marine supplies). The 13th tournament is a ‘qualifier’ for the IGFA Offshore World Championship and will have cash prizes in the realm of US$20,000, along with a daily jackpot of around US$12,000.
Kiwi anglers interested in fishing the Steinlager’s I’a Lapo’a Tournament have several options to explore.
· There is the possibility of shipping your own boat up to Samoa to fish the SIGFA tournament, and continuing across the 40nm channel to fish the tournament in American Samoa (a great adventure).
· Book a boat with Pago Pago Marine Charters – they have three: one full charter boat and two bare-boat charters (a local skipper can be arranged), but you would need to be quick. See www.pagopagomarinechartes.com or their advertisement hereabouts for contact details.
· A further alternative is that guest anglers can be ‘billeted’ with local boats. This can be organized through the Pago Pago Game Fishing Association, as can tournament entry. See their website www.pppgfa.com for contact details and more information. The tournament director is Peter Crispin.
Thanks to David Vaeafe and the American Samoa Visitors Bureau; Inter Island Airways; Tom Drabble of Sadie’s Hotels; Peter Crispin and Andy Wearing of Pago Pago Charters; Lisa and Sosene Asifoa of Alofa’s Tours; Rory West of North Shore Tours; Tisa’s and CandyMan at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar and the Pago Pago Game Fishing Club for making this feature possible.
Flights: I flew to Samoa with Air New Zealand, then caught an onward flight to American Samoa with local airline Inter Island Airways. Other airlines also fly these routes. This is an American territory, so holders of New Zealand passports can travel on the American visa waiver scheme if staying less than 30 days. Immigration was pretty relaxed – I had no problems with one of the older-type passports, and there were none of the retinal scans and fingerprinting you are subject to when entering the mainland USA these days.
Other travel options: The Samoa Shipping Corporation based in Apia, Samoa, operates once-a-week ferry sailing between Aleipata, Samoa and Pago Pago, American Samoa. The MV Lady Naomi departs Aleipata, Samoa, on a Wednesday night, arriving in Pago Pago Thursday morning. The ferry then returns to Aleipata the same day, departing Pago Pago later in the afternoon.
Accommodation and eating out: Many Pacific Islands have a literary or artistic connection. Samoa has the Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson and Tahiti has French Painter Paul Gauguin, for example. American Samoa has British writer (and some-time spy) W Somerset Maugham. One of his best-known short stories Rain, published in 1921, was set in Pago Pago and follows the moral disintegration of an intractable missionary attempting to convert a fun-loving (in the broadest sense) prostitute called Sadie Thompson. It has been adapted as a play and filmed three times.
Perhaps the locals identify with Sadie’s attitude to life, as the character is commemorated by the Sadie Thompson Inn (where I had a magnificent dinner with some of the members of the Pago Pago Game Fishing Club) and Sadie’s by the Sea (the hotel where I stayed during my visit, and ate often – see www.sadieshotels.com). Other accommodation and dining options include the Turtle and Shark Lodge, and a great many more. See www.americansamoa.travel for further listings. A ‘must visit’ while on the island is Tisa’s Barefoot Bar, a quirky beach establishment in the best traditions of the Pacific and the home of the Pacific Tattoo Festival. Each Wednesday night Tisa and her partner CandyMan (an ex-pat Kiwi) put on a traditional Samoan umu feast that is not to be missed. The food is delicious and CandyMan mixes a mean cocktail! Reservations are required so email firstname.lastname@example.org
Currency: US dollars are used here, but I suggest changing money in New Zealand before you go – unless you enjoy taking a number and sitting around in a bank waiting for half an hour. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Getting about: Driving is on the right-hand side of the road, and as mentioned, vehicles tend to be large pick-up trucks (utes) and 4x4s. The speed limit is 20mph (32kph). If you want to drive yourself, ten vehicle rental agencies are listed on the American Samoa Visitors Bureau website www.americansamoa.travel. Taxis are readily available and there are a lot of buses on Tutuila (they run less regularly on weekends, especially Sunday); if not near a bus stop when one comes along, just flag it down.
I did a couple of tours around various parts of Tutuila to get a feel for the place. One was with Alofa’s Tours (email@example.com), where Lisa and Sosene Asifoa treated me like I was family, showed me around many parts of the island, and talked candidly about life there. The other was with ex-pat American Rory West of North Shore Tours (firstname.lastname@example.org), who tool e to the isolated North Shore of the island and the National Park concentrating on the natural world. We go on well and had some very interesting discussions.
Electricity: It’s 110v here, so if you have multi-voltage adapters (my camera battery charger will work with 240v and 110v for example) you will require an adapter plug to fit US configurations. These are available at most travel shops.
Charter boats: Tourism is still in its infancy in American Samoa, and currently there is only one charter fishing operation in town: Pago Pago Marine Charters (www.pagopagomarinecharters.com), owned by Peter Crispin and Andy Wearing. Both are long-term ex-pats; Peter is a Brit, via many years in New Zealand, while Andy is a Kiwi bloke. Their main charter boat is a 40’ aluminum fly bridge cruise Bonavista II, a no-nonsense fishing machine powered by twin Caterpillars. It gets along a bit, and has an open layout tooled up with Schaefer outriggers and shotgun, Shimano Tiagra 50W and 80W reels on Tiagra and Kilwell Sceptre rods, and two basic game chairs. As mentioned elsewhere, the two hairs come in handy quite often…
Pago Pago Marine Charter also has two other game fishing boats: an 8.2m Boston Whaler and a 9.1m catamaran powered by twin 90hp outboards: available as bare boats or with a local skipper supplied. Both have outriggers and full safety gear, meeting both US Coastguard and local Marine Patrol standards. Anglers just need to being their own tackle, lures, gaffs, etc.
The Other Samoa: The only U.S. territory south of the equator is wildly beautiful, mindfully welcoming and strangely overshadowed - Islands Magazine, April/May 2011
Story by Edward Readicker-Henderson; Photos by Jon Whittle
Am I the only one aware our boat may be sinking? Because here’s the thing: I know the math of horizons at sea; the island we left has almost disappeared, and the island we’re headed to is a mountaintop, nothing more. I wonder if I should point out what a good idea bailing would be.
But it isn’t necessary. These thoughts are all the fault of sleepless nights. Tossing in bed for the last few months, thinking the past year had been terrible and the most terrible thing about it all had been me. Plain and simple, I had been far from my best, and I desperately needed a reminder of what “best” meant.
Then another thought: To find my own best, I need to see the best of my own country. You know, purple mountains’ majesty, fruited plain, all that stuff. Which means a trip to the national parks, the places that, as Wallace Stegner wrote, “reflect us at our best, rather than our worst.” And the park I’d never thought of visiting, perhaps the most majestic of all, is just over this boat’s bow. Right now, however, the shining sea is getting way too close for comfort.
Here’s what you do to get to the southernmost national park in the United States: First, spend considerable time on a westbound plane. Then take another long plane ride, surrounded by extremely large people, headed southwest. Take a final plane to where Margaret Mead did her fieldwork and the god Tagaloa created the first people. Get in a homemade catamaran with an engine more suitable for a small lawn mower. Cross an hour and a half of open sea. Sink as slowly as if you were sailing in oatmeal, and with great relief, watch a pair of islands rise as jungled mountains that look like what’s left after someone took a whack at them with a giant ice-cream scoop.
From there, I accept a ride from one of the locals who has turned out to see why a boat has appeared, docking under the shadow of Foisia, once a hero and now a great big rock. Who watches for threats coming from afar.
And at last, the reward: “This,” says park ranger Darren Doderer, “is the most coveted stamp for visitors in all of the Park Service.” It reads, “National Park of American Samoa, Manua Islands.” We’re certainly no in Texas, or Florida. We are below the equator on the islands of Ofu, Tau and the territory’s main island, Tutuila – land the Park Service set aside “to preserve and protect the tropical forest and archeological and cultural resources of American Samoa, and of associated reefs, and to maintain the habitat of flying foxes.”
Maybe not exactly what Teddy Roosevelt had in mind when he created the national park system, but personally, I like that we have a park for flying foxes. I like that a lot. Makes me feel downright patriotic. After all, what’s better than giant bats that look like flying foxes?
Maybe this: While driving on Ofu, the island’s lone road moves in and out of the park like needle stitches on cloth, depending on who wanted to lease their land to the government and who didn’t. This is the only national park that’s borrowed, not owned. The few people who live here seem to be in a permanent state of relaxed napping, and things are so quiet the local dogs look like their heads are going to explode if they see two cars moving at the same time, since it’s way too much effort to have to chase them both away.
The coolest thing about the National Park of American Samoa on Ofu, though, is a perfect stretch of unbroken sand, shaded by three-foot batwings, by palm trees and coconut crabs that look like extras from 1950’s horror movies. Mountains curve around in a Polynesian cliché, as if this is the spot all the other islands tried to imitate with their landscape. Fish swing confetti patterns in shallows as clear as a flattended aquarium, and over it all, white fairy terns make air currents their playground.
And on what is ,far and away, the best beach I’ve ever been on anywhere in the world I all aloe because a0 even though it is a national park, one of just 58 in the entire country, not many outsiders are willing to go through what it takes to get here; and b) this particular beach has way too many ghosts for locals to want to hang out on it.
Wow, I feel good. My country ‘tis of thee, indeed.
A sculpture of Charlie the Tuna looks over Pago Pago Bay with fishy benevolence when park ranger Sarah Bone suddenly says, “Wait, I’ve got to listen to this.” She turns up the radio as the Emergency Broadcast System test comes on. You know, that annoying horn followed by the stentorian announcement, “This has been a test…”
The unincorporated U.S. Territory of American Samoa has an undeserved PR problem. Think Hawaii 50 years ago. No crowds and a jungle of almost all native plants, with flowers the size of Frisbees. Plus lots of giant bats.
But these charms are hidden, says local Erika Radewagen. “Any map you look at, we’re in the fold.”
Even for those few who have heard of it, there’s a glitch still deeper than the fact that the main city’s name, Pago Pago, is proof either the early missionaries couldn’t spell, or they were lousy linguists, because it’s pronounced Pango Pango.
The truth is, the territory’s very name eliminates all bragging rights. Where do you want to claim you’ve gone” the independent nation of Samoa, or the territory of American Samoa? Same people, same cultures, islands merely 40 miles or so apart, yet somehow, “American Samoa” comes off sounding as thrilling as a drive to the corner market.
Never mind that the corner market here has maybe 30 kinds of pisupo corned beef and a glass case full of Hostess Cup Cakes. American Samoa is very much itself. Kids may use the same textbooks as kids in Topeka, but each evening, the island comes to a ead halt for the pause of sa, ‘sacred time,’ when young men prowl the streets to make sure everyone else is indoors with family, a daily reminder of what matters most.
These values exist in downtown Pago, which lies along “a great harbor big enough to hold a fleet of battleships; and all around it, high and steep, the green hills,” wrote W. Somerset Maugham in “Rain.” Again, it’s a PR issue: Western Samoa got Robert Louis Stevenson; American Samoa got one Maugham story about a bad girl gone worse in a downpour.
At the head of the harbor are surprisingly few reminders of why Sarah and I are listening to the Emergency Broadcast System. Because of Sept. 29, 2009, when it wasn’t only a test. When American Samoa got whacked by a tsunami.
“I ran up that mountain,” Sara says, pointing above. “From there, it just looked like water coming up and down. It was still and quiet. But it had the whole force of the Pacific behind it.”
The tsunami destroyed building on Pago Pago Harbor. But “it brought us together,” says transplant David Herdrich. “No waiting for the government. We took care of things.” Damage wasn’t limited to Pago. Because the trigger event was a local earthquake, villages around Tutuila Island got hit.
There are still signs of the tsunami’s impact driving from village to village. Maybe an island with about 20 miles of road shouldn’t have villages, but that’s one of the beauties of Tutuila: From the industrial side of Pago, it takes only 15 minutes to drive past the stench of the tuna cannery to a village that feels like the end of the world, the place where dragons are, right before you fall off the map. Where the few U.S. politicians to visit have been roundly berated for not bothering to wave when they drive by people. How could they be so rude?
And at the very end of the road – through the village of Vatia, where we dutifully wave at some guys cutting up a tree in the middle of the road – there’s another section of the national park.
We walk past lots of houses showing the scars of repair when neighbors came together after the wave, and finally onto an untouched rocky beach, wild waves crashing, the horizon curving like a magician’s bent spoon.
The sky is the same color as a pair of cherished eyes I know back home, and I think of ways to tell her about this. How good it is to be in a place where time with the people you love, time taking care of your family neighbors, is considered sacred.
I’m awakened by the sound of bats overhead, weaving patterns through the colossal Southern Cross. As my lavalava threatens to leave me to the trade winds, I’m not thinking about the past, or this island of Ofu. I’m thinking how if we allow ourselves we can do way more than e thing we can. And I’ fairly sure that’s what Roosevelt wanted to preserve with the park system. Reminders of how big both we and our world can be.
So I go back to the haunted beach. Although there should be plenty of ghosts – leftovers from a village once here, people who liked this spot so much they skip the afterlife parties for this view – the closest I see to one is an octopus, which changes colors every few seconds, and then simply becomes invisible, o way to tell it apart from the world.
I stand in the water, the waves lapping at my ankles, while yellow and blue fish swim closer, as if to look at my tattoos. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I can breathe.
Which is not a bad thing to do here. On nearby Tutuila Island, NOAA has a monitoring station for air quality. The numbers are so pure; this is the standard by which all other air in the world is measured. This territory is the baseline.
After I get home, I will check books and film clips, and finally e-mail NASA, trying to chase down a moment in territory. Because here in these waters where the seven islands of the territory rest as lightly as punctuation, the Apollo lunar missions splashed down in what Mission Control told Apollo 12 was “a nice little section in the South Pacific reserved for you.” What I will try to find out is this: When the astronauts splashed down – these men who proved we can accomplish anything by putting their footprints on the moon – when they climbed out, or were they still breathing canned air, or were they breathing this, the scent of jungle and beach and ocean? The best air in the world, the scent of this far flung bit of American, of home?
I suppose it really doesn’t matter. Breath itself is enough. Because it is always possible to find yourself something you didn’t mean to be, lost in a sinking boat, looking at mute stars far too far off. It’s always possible to make yourself less. But it’s not necessary. If you’re lucky, no matter how far you go, eventually you land, take a deep breath, the sky reaches above and you’re everything you want to be. And right where you want to be: on a perfect beach with giant bats.
American Samoa: Pristine paradise emerges from colorful colonial past - Destinations Magazine, Spring 2010
American Samoa – the only United States territory in the South Pacific – has emerged from a colorful colonial and wartime history to become a pristine and prized destination for world travelers.
These eastern islands of the Samoan archipelago became a US territory in a Deed of Cession agreement signed in April, 1900, whereby Germany took possession of the western islands – now known simply as Samoa – which became an independent state in 1962.
American Samoa played an important role in the Pacific during the Second World War. US Marines in Samoa outnumbered the local population and had a huge cultural influence on island life. Young Samoan men from the age of 14 and above were combat trained by US military personnel. Military service in US forces continues to this day, with American Samoa soldiers suffering disproportionate casualties per population in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The dangers posed by the vastness of the Pacific we always present when airlines began introducing the world to these alluring isles. In 1938, the noted aviator Ed Musick and his crew died on Pan American World Airways’ S-42 Samoan Clipper over the capital city of Pago Pago during a survey flight to Auckland. Some time after take-off, the aircraft experienced trouble and Musick turned back toward Pago Pago. The crews were dumping fuel in preparation for an emergency landing when a spark in the fuel pump caused an explosion that tore the aircraft apart.
“Talofa” (welcome) is the greeting for travelers arriving in these rainforest covered tropical islands, where the locals are proud of their strong Samoan culture and heritage.
Forget five-star hotels, designer stores and mass tourism, travelers instead discover affordable accommodation and services, a great selection of retail shops, an eco-tourism paradise and some of the friendliest people in the Pacific.
Archaeologists record that early Polynesians traveled from southeastern Asia into the western Pacific, populating the islands from Papua New Guinea to Tonga and Samoa. Some time later they migrated east from Tonga and Samoa and populated the Cook Islands, Niue, Tahiti and Rapanui (Easter Island), before heading north to Hawaii and south to Aotearoa (New Zealand) on the last legs of the great Polynesian migration.
Today, Samoans are regarded as the largest full-blooded Polynesian race left in the world. Family life and Christian values form the basis of society. Fa’a Samoa, or the Samoan way, is the foundation of Samoan culture and heritage. Aiga, or extended family, is the core of Fa’a Samoa, where matai or chiefs are at the head of the family, with each family member playing their role in their tautua, or service to the extended family.
Samoan customs and culture are more than 3000 years old and have changed very little. The most major western influence accepted into Samoan custom has been Christianity, which forms the spiritual basis of their society.
Visitors and eco-tourists searching the world for an undiscovered vacation spot will find lush tropical rainforests offering challenging trails and breathtaking views of an ocean filled with abundant sea life, including whales, dolphins, turtles and exotic fish. Visitors who go diving enter a world of brilliantly colored reefs and fish. Fishos can try game fishing and hook a tuna, marlin or sailfish.
Shoppers will be surprised at the vast and very inexpensive range of American goods on the island, while history buffs should visit the Historic Preservation Office and pick up guides to the territory’s US Naval history ad visit gun placements at Blunts and Breakers Points that protected the entrance to Pago Pago Harbor during the Second World War.
TWENTY THINGS TO DO
1. Tour Maugaoalii Government House. Originally build in 1903 as the Commandant’s Residence during the US Naval Administration, Maugaoalii Government House is the official residence of the Governor and First Lady. Tours are by arrangement.
2. Visit the National Park of American Samoa on Tutuila and the Manu’a Islands. Enjoy trails through the rainforest, the views and secluded beaches, then stay with a local family in the village at the end.
Contact National Park Visitors Center, phone (+1 684) 633-7082 for information or to arrange a free guide.
3. Drive from Pago Pago Harbor to the village of Vatia on the northern coast. Stop at the top of the mountain ridge and enjoy the view of the harbor. Further on, pull over to the scenic lookout with views to Cock’s Comb and Pola Island before reaching the tranquil village of Vatia.
4. Drive west and turn off to Larsen’s Bay and the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The walk down to both bays is rigorous, but once you get there they offer secluded beach settings lie no other, with pristine surroundings. Swim or snorkel to view abundant sea life.
5. Lunch at the Goat Island Café in Utulei and enjoy the view across Pago Pago Harbor to Rainmaker Mountains. Boats, yachts, ships and canoes glide past and the occasional turtle pops its head up to see what is around.
6. Experience a traditional Samoan Fiafia night Show, where a buffet of authentic Samoan food is served and groups perform the renowned Samoan siva and fireknife dance.
Contact the American Samoa Visitors Bureau, phone (+1 684) 699-9805 for venues ad times.
7. With a map in hand, hop on a local bus and head east or west and take in the picturesque villages and generally explore. When the mood strikes, jump off, wander along a beach or have a swim before catching another bus to the next destination.
8. American Samoa’s motto is “Samoa Ia Muamua Le Atua”, God is first. Sunday is for worship and spending time with family. Whatever your religious background, visit a local church on Sunday morning and enjoy a rousing sermon and melodic singing.
9. Go shopping! A huge range of products are available at the main shopping areas of Fagatogo, Nu’uuli and Tafuna.
10. American Samoa is steeped in history, as the US Navy once administered the territory. The American Samoa Historic Preservation Office (ASHPO) has produced a Walking Tour of Historic Fagatogo booklet, and the National Park of American Samoa office has maps of the gun placements at Blunts and Breaker’s Points, which guarded the entrance to Pago Pago Harbor during the Second World War.
Contact ASHPO at (+1 684) 699-2316
11. Fly to the Manu’a Islands, half an hour east of Tutuila Island. Known as the sacred islands of the territory, in 190 their chiefs were the last to sign the Deed of Cession, handing over control to the United States. The three lush islands are home to fewer than 2000 people and have some of the most dramatic landscapes in American Samoa and the tallest peak, Lata Mountain, standing 966 meters high.
12. The waters surrounding Ofu Island in the Manu’a Islands are probably the most pristine in the territory. In 2009 one travel website voted Ofu Beach as the most beautiful undiscovered beach in the world.
13. Head east from Pago Pago Harbor to Auasi Boat Harbor and board a local alia boat for the short trip to Aunu’u Island. Swim at the island’s main beach and walk to the quicksand lake.
14. Visit the Tia Seu Lupe Park (Starmound) in Ottoville and view an ancient stone structure. Archaeologists believe they were platforms build for the chiefly sport of catching pigeons.
15. The view of Pago Pago Harbor from the water is one of the most spectacular in the Pacific, especially from an outrigger canoe. Pago Pago Harbor Outrigger Tours provides canoes seating eight, guided by to experienced paddlers, on a tour across the harbor. The paddlers will take in panoramic views of Rainmaker Mountain and the Second World War historic landmarks of Breakers and Blunts Point, as well as viewing underwater sea life.
16. Traditional Samoan garments are great gifts to take home. For women the puletasi is a two-piece long, fitted blouse and skirt, while men wear Samoan island shirts. Numerous sewing shops on Tutuila can make an inexpensive puletasi or shirt in a day to any design.
17. Drive up to the mountain village of Aoloaufou where the air is cooler and take in the Tafuna Plain and the northern coastline. On a clear day, the islands of independent Samoa can be seen in the west.
18. Visit the Jean P. Haydon Museum in Fagatogo for its historical artifacts and exhibits, including a small display of American Samoa’s link to the Apollo moon missions, when the astronauts splashed down in the territory’s waters and transited through Tutuila on their way back to the US mainland. One display includes a small American Samoa flag that was carried to the moon.
Contact the Jean P. Haydon Museum, phone (+1 684) 633-4347
19. Fagatogo Marketplace is a local favorite shopping spot. Buy fresh fruit and flowers, or handicrafts and souvenirs to take home.
20. The thrill of catching tuna, marlin and sailfish lures sport fishermen from around the world to American Samoa, where untapped game fishing waters are just half an hour offshore. The territory hosts the Ia Lapoa (Big Fish) Game Fishing Tournament every May.
American Samoa is half way between Hawaii and New Zealand. The islands are five hours flying time from Honolulu, Hawaii and 35 minutes by air from Apia, Samoa.
The total land area of 197 square kilometers is largely made up of five volcanic islands (Tutuila, Aunu’u, Ofu, Olosega and Ta’u) and two atolls (Rose and Swains).
The territory’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone is about the same size as New Zealand’s. Ninety percent of the islands are covered in untouched tropical rainforest with some flora and fauna. The islands’ rugged interiors rise to 966 meters on Mt. Lata on Ta’u Island. At 653 meters, Mt. Matafao is the tallest peak on the Tutuila Island.
The National Park of American Samoa, the only US Park in the Pacific, offers dramatic hiking trails to historic sites, secluded beaches and villages. Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary is one of only 13 conservation areas in the United States.
Samoan and English are spoken by over 95 percent of the population, with English being the main business language.
American Samoa is tropical, with temperatures averaging 28 degrees Celsius throughout the year, while the ocean averages 28 to 30 degrees. The wet season is usually between December and March and the dry seasons from April through to September.
American Samoa is 11 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time.
Air New Zealand, Air Pacific and Polynesian Blue have regular services from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Hawaii into Apia, Western Samoa. Passengers transfer to the American Samoa airline Inter Island Airways or Polynesian Airlines for the flight to Pago Pago.
Hawaiian Airlines offers two flights a week from Honolulu to Pago Pago and three flights a week during the peak seasons, Christmas and summer time.
Inter Island Airways also flies between Tutuila Island and Manu’a Islands.
American Samoa has local aiga or family buses, as they are called. Visitors can wait at a bus stop or simply wave it down.
All buses have village names on them and travel from their respective villages to the bus depot at Fagatogo) next to the Marketplace) in town and then return. Services end around 5pm during the week but are infrequent on Saturday and especially Sunday.
Visitors must have a valid driver’s license from their home country to drive in American Samoa. Traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road and the maximum speed limit is 25 miles per hour (about 40 kilometers per hour). School buses have the right of way.
Visitors can choose between traditional Samoan food, Chinese or an old-fashioned American diner for home-style cooking. Several hotels and other venues offer a Fiafia Night once a week with a traditional Samoan buffet and a floor show.
Where to stay
Whether it’s a beachfront Samoan fale, a boutique lodge, an apartment or hotel suite, all American Samoan travel accommodation is locally owned and operated. Power is 110 volts using American power points.
Banks and currency
American Samoa has two major banks 0 the Bank of Hawaii and the ANZ Amerika Samoa Bank. The currency is the United States dollar.
All visitors to American Samoa require a valid passport, return ticket or onward ticket and sufficient funds to support your stay. US citizens and US nationals may enter and leave freely. Citizens of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are issued with a 30-day permit under the US Visa Waiver Program when they enter American Samoa. Other international passport holders must apply for an entry visa.