Three Weeks In Samoa, by guest blogger Donna Barr

There they were! I’d spotted the dark shapes of the flying foxes hanging by their feet in the ironwood trees by Pago Pago Bay. I’m always amazed and thrilled to see these large native fruit bats (peʻa) when I visit the Samoan Islands. Later that day I saw them soaring overhead with their three-foot wingspan exceeding that of the white-tailed tropic birds gliding alongside.

I’d come to the islands for three weeks to visit both American Samoa and (Western) Samoa. In 2007-08 I served in the Peace Corps in a small village on ʻUpolu Island. I had an amazing adventure and became part of my Samoan family. In the spring of 2023, I was finally able to visit for the first time since the islands’ borders were closed for more than two years due to the worldwide pandemic. The half hour flight from Apia to American Samoa was highlighted by stunning views of the coral reefs and aqua seas below.

I was on the island of Tutuila in American Samoa to visit the National Park of American Samoa (NPSA), one of seven park partners of  Hawaiʻi Pacific Parks Association (HPPA). The park visitor center is in center of Pago Pago while the national park boundary begins a few miles away where visitors can drive and hike the volcanic terrain blanketed with dense tropical rainforest and ringed by dramatic coastlines. About 2,500 hundred miles southwest of Hawaii and 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand, NPSA is the only U.S. national park in the Southern Hemisphere. The park is distributed across three islands (Tutuila, Ofu and Taū) and includes 4,000 acres of  biodiverse marine areas offshore.

The displays in the visitor center are beautifully done and tell the stories of the islands’ geology, archaeology, flora, fauna, and legends in Samoan and English. Indeed, many of the park materials are presented in the two languages to represent and respect the traditional culture of the Samoan Islands that still exists today. HPPA’s unique NPSA items are for sale in a kiosk at the center entrance. Park staff say they are delighted to be able to offer once again not only items that make traveler’s lives a little easier like water bottles and totes, but also those materials that share interpretive, educational, and research programs, and connect people to NPSA in a way that will encourage lifelong learning and enable a deeper connection to the park.

We drove from sea level up to the top of the ancient volcanic crater that surrounds the harbor, winding our way as we came to the park entrance. The highest mountain on Tutuila is Matafao (2,100’), said to refer to the fact that, from its peak, in fair weather, one can see as far as Mount Fao on ʻUpolu Island in Samoa. Soon we came upon the beginning of the famous Mt. Alava Trail which traverses three and a half miles along the ridgetop to the mountain’s summit. Intrepid hikers can continue for almost two more miles to the Village of Vatia on the northern shore, climbing numerous ladders up otherwise inaccessible slopes, some of them vertical! There are three villages within the national park.

Not being that intrepid, we drove on to Vatia and the spectacular views of Pola Island, a protected seabird nesting area and important cultural site. These 400-foot cliffs, the most active seabird nesting area on Tutuila, make ideal nesting areas for noddies, frigatebirds, and brown boobies. The nearby forest provides nesting for red-footed boobies and white-tailed tropic birds. My time there was too short, so I plan to go back again one day soon.

I’ll travel to ʻUpolu again next year to visit my Samoan family and to celebrate the publication of my memoir about my stay there – My View from the House by the Sea: A Life Transformed by Samoa and the Peace Corps. I look forward to another visit to American Samoa as well. I think that next time I’ll hire a local fisherman to motor us to Ofu Island to see some of the 950 species of fish and 250 species of coral in these protected waters. I’m looking forward to it already!


Donna Marie Barr is a former HPPA board director, and has begun work on a new book about the historic trails of Hawaiʻi Island.

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Hawaii Pacific Parks Association Location Map

Hawaiʻi Pacific Parks Association. P.O. Box 74 Hawaii National Park, 96718 HI