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The North Coast of Tutuila

A paved road turns off the main highway at Spenser's Store in Pago Pago village and leads up Vaipito Valley, across a ridge, and down to Fagasa, a village huddled beside picturesque Fagasa, or Forbidden Bay, on Tutuila's north shore. The road is steep but paved, and the view from atop the ridge is excellent. The track up Mount Alava begins on the saddle. Legend says that porpoises long ago led a group of three men and three women to safety in Fagasa Bay, which has long been a porpoise sanctuary.

The East Side of Tutuila

The 29km (18-mile) drive from Pago Pago to the east end of Tutuila skirts along the harbor, past the canneries and their fishy odor, and then winds around one headland after another. Watch particularly for Pyramid Rock and the Lion's Head, where you can wade out to a small beach. (Never go in the water anywhere here unless the locals are already swimming there.)

From Aua, at the foot of Rainmaker Mountain, a switch-backing road runs across Rainmaker Pass (great views from up there) to the lovely north-shore village of Vatia, on a bay of the same name. If you're going to venture off the main road, this is the place to do it. The north-shore coastal road runs through National Park of Samoa land and is the only way to visit the park without hiking . World War II pillboxes still dot the beach here. At the north end of Vatia Bay sits the skinny, offshore rock formation known as the Cockscomb, one of Tutuila's trademarks.

Another paved road leaves Faga'itua village and climbs to a saddle in the ridge, where it divides. The left fork goes down to Masefau Bay; the right goes to Masausi and Sa'ilele villages. Near the east end, a road from Amouli village cuts across Lemafa Saddle to Aoa Bay on the north coast.

To my eye, the southeastern coast road is the most scenic in American Samoa. The route twists and turns from one gorgeous little bay to the next, most of them with villages beside white-sand beaches. Aunu'u Island will be visible from the main road as you near the east end of Tutuila. The top of a small volcanic crater, Aunu'u has a village near a famous pink quicksand pit. Motorboats leave for it from the small-boat harbor at Au'asi, opposite it on the southeast coast.

Alao and Tula villages on the east end of Tutuila are the oldest settlements in American Samoa. They face a long, gorgeous surf beach, but be careful of the undertow from waves driven by the prevailing southeast trade winds. The road turns the northwestern point and climbs precipitously over a mountain ridge and down to Onenoa, a picturesque village tucked in a little bay. You'll have a fine view of the north shore and the Cockscombs as you descend into Onenoa.

The West Side of Tutuila

You saw some of Tutuila's rugged coast on the drive from the airport west of Pago Pago, including the Flower Pot, a tall rock with coconut palms growing on its top sitting in the lagoon. About halfway from the airport to The Rainmaker Hotel, an inland road (at Tom Ho Chung's store) leads to the Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center in the Faga'alu Valley. If you feel like taking a hike, take the left fork in the road past the medical center, and when the pavement ends, follow the track to Virgin Falls. It's not the easiest walk, but the falls have a nice pool beneath them. Allow several hours for this sweaty outing.

The airport sits on the island's only sizable parcel of relatively flat land, and the main road west from there cuts through rolling hills and shopping centers until emerging on the rugged west end.

At Pava'ia'i village a road goes inland and climbs to the village of A'oloaufou, high on a central plateau. A hiking trail leads from the village down the ridges to the north coast. From here it drops to A'asutuai on Massacre Bay, where Samoans attacked the La PĂ©rouse expedition in 1787. The French have put a monument there to the members of the expedition who were slain by Samoan warriors. Don't try this hike unless you have experience on mountain trails, and if you do go, take plenty of water to drink.

Back on the main road, head west and watch for a sign on the left marking the turn to the villages of Illi'ili and Vaitogi. Follow the signs to Vaitogi, and when you're in the village, bear right at the fork to the beach. Take the one-lane track to the right along the beach, past some graves and the stone remains of an old church, and up a rocky headland through pandanus groves. When you reach the first clearing on the left, stop the car and walk over to the cliff. According to legend, Vaitogi once experienced such a severe famine that an old blind woman and her granddaughter jumped off this cliff and were turned into a shark and a turtle. Today the villagers can reputedly chant their names, and the turtle and the shark will appear. The view of the south coast from Turtle and Shark Point, with the surf pounding the rocks below you, is superb.

The Rev. John Williams chose the village of Leone, which sits on a white-sand beach in a small bay, as his landing place on Tutuila in 1830, and it became the cradle of Christianity here. There is a monument to Williams in the village. The road beside the Catholic church leads about 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) to Leone Falls, which has a freshwater pool for swimming (but as in the equally religious Samoa, never on Sun).

The road from Leone to the western end of the island winds in and out of small bays with sandy beaches and climbs across a ridge to Poloa village on the northwest coast.

National Park of American Samoa

The National Park of American Samoa was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1988. Although its facilities have been slow in coming (little has been developed except a few rough hiking trails), the park has amassed more than 10,000 pristine acres -- 3,000 of them on Tutuila and another 6,000 in the Manu'a Islands. In all, they protect some beautiful shoreline, magnificent beaches, cliffs dropping into the sea, reefs, and rainforest reaching to serrated, mist-shrouded mountain peaks. Unlike other U.S. National Parks, in which the federal government buys property outright, here the National Park Service has leased the land from the villages for 50 years, thereby protecting both the natural environment and traditional Samoan ownership customs.

Because development is ongoing, you should stop by the Park Visitors Center, in the Pago Plaza shopping center at the head of the bay, or contact them at NPAS, Pago Pago, AS 96799 (tel. 633-7082; fax 633-7085; www.nps.gov/npsa). The center has exhibits that explain Samoa's prehistory.

On Tutuila, the park starts along the ridge atop Mount Alava and drops down sharp ridges and steep valleys to the north coast. It includes The Cockscomb off the north coast and the scenic Amalau Valley, near the picturesque north-shore village of Vatia, where you can see many of Samoa's native bird species plus flying foxes (fruit bats).

Hikers can scale 1,575-foot Mount Alava via a trail that begins in the Fagasa Pass and ascends steeply through the rainforest. It's a 3-hour walk uphill along a seldom-used four-wheel-drive track, and it takes about 2 hours to get back down, but you'll be rewarded with a view over the entire Pago Pago Harbor and most of Tutuila Island. It's one of the most spectacular vistas in the South Pacific, if not the world. Be sure to take plenty of water.

An easier hike follows the paved road between Afono and Vatia on the north shore. This route skirts cliffs and beaches, and you'll have a view of the Cockscomb offshore. Birds, bats, and land crabs will keep you company.

Rory West of North Shore Tours (tel. 644-1416 or 733-3047) has various expeditions to the north coast, including hiking, camping, and fishing trips.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.