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Ofu Beach, American Samoa
By Jenn Plum
The islands of American Samoa, Tutuila and Manua'a, are in good company in the South Pacific, a region renowned for perfect beaches and dreamy hideaways. While Ofu, Olosega and Ta'u are accessible by airplane (about $90 round trip from Pago Pago), they are remote, unpopulated and quiet. The beach at Ofu stretches for just over two miles, but the sheer beauty of this curve of sand and the relative emptiness of its shores make it one of the best beaches in the world. The soft pink sands are ideal for strolling and the protected waters are home to thriving coral reefs and a variety of sea life.
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I first visited American Samoa in 1980, however it wasn't until a subsequent visit, a couple of years later, that I left Tutuila and discovered the Manu'a Islands, specifically Ofu and Olesega.
Circumstances at the time allowed me to spend a great deal of time staying at Vaoto Lodge. It was during this time that I met Marge, Tito, Tom, Moki and of course Chuck Brugman who was running Dive Samoa out of The Lodge at the time.
Living as I did on Ofu was without doubt the best time of my Life. Not only was I captivated by the beauty and calmness Ofu presented, but I count myself fortunate that Chuck introduced me to the pleasures which are to be found under the South Pacific off Ofu and Olesega. I gave up logging the number of dives we did off the reefs in that part of Manu'a.
Every now and then we would have a visitor dive with us. More often than not it would be someone from Australia, New Zealand or the US doing contract work on Tutuila, though there were times when somebody from a far away place would pass through as part of their world travels. This was rare, but it did happen. Needless to say they too were enchanted by the island and made to feel very much at home by Marge's hospitality.
I have been back several times since my own necessary departure all those years ago and am happy to say that I still see, from time to time, some of the people I meet while living and diving on Ofu.
Anyone who finds themselves travelling in The Samoas should take that small detour and fly over to Ofu. They won't be disappointed.
Having visited Manu'a many timesover the years, I have found it to be one place in the world where all of my expectations of south pacific serenity are always met. (Michael Greenough)
Pros: Want to get away from it all? This is the place!
Cons: Don't go here if you bring your problems with you! The Bottom Line If you are an adventurous traveler and willing to let the road take you where it will, this is the place.
A lot of passion has been spent writing about traveling to American Samoa. Most people either really love the place, or absolutely detest it. There seems to be little common ground. The mistake most positive reviewers is they fail to explain how a traveler makes the experience a good one.
A positive review will talk much of the landscape, the underwater beauty, the terrific people and culture (which I'll do as well), making it sound like an unspoiled Shangri-la, without preparing a potential traveler for the reality of spending time in American Samoa.
American Samoa *is* an amazing and unique place, precariously balanced between the commercialization and ultimate cultural erosion of Hawai'i, and the unsullied vision of the South Seas ideal.
Don't go to American Samoa if you expect four-star service; expect to make your own opportunities. Don't go to American Samoa and expect your hotel and room to be like the Hilton Waikaloa Village, you don't travel to a far destination to look at the walls of a hotel. Don't go to American Samoa if you are a condescending tourist who expects "colorful locals" to pander to you, expect to make real friendships with your hosts and people you make the effort to speak to. Don't go to American Samoa if you want to be led around like sheep, go to the islands if you want to find your own adventures.
Bottom line, a good attitude, an open mind and a generous heart will pay you back tenfold in these islands. A smile and a laugh will see you through the most trying situation. You have to be prepared to participate, to try, to see where the road takes you, and to not have a lot of preconceived ideas and plans which are set in stone.
One of my favorite memories of American Samoa took place at the airport during my last arrival. A palagi (white) tourist and his wife were arguing with one another while wrestling a stack of luggage taller that each of them through the crowd which shows up every time the Hawaiian Airline DC-10 arrives. He was hot, sweaty, and angry; she was disappointed and sad. Their rental car wasn't ready and he was blowing his stack. They'd just arrived... I had to laugh! What were they thinking when they made plans to come here? Why do people travel and set these traps for themselves? Aren't you supposed to chill out on vacation?
American Samoa has its own rhythm, its own sense of priorities, and those things aren't going to change for you. If you are prepared to immerse yourself in the warmth of the culture, however, and you'll find the water is inviting, intoxicating, and may provide you with an experience that will not only stay with you for a life time, but change you utterly.
OK. Sermon over. I'll try to encapsulate some of my experiences and recommendations.
Tutuila is the island most travelers see, and it is also where most negative reactions come from. It is an amazingly rugged, rainforest-coated island rising from the Pacific depths. The majority of the population lives here, and what little flat land is crowded with houses, buildings, and the roads are gridlocked with pickup trucks and S.U.V.s.
The harbor area is densely populated, and more than a little run down. When the winds are right, the stomach turning odor of the tuna canneries spill into downtown Pago Pago. Cruisers tell of the filth of the harbor, and these reports are generally true, but this pollution isn't so much the fault of the people than the geography of the harbor that prevent the tides from properly flushing the harbor.
Tutuila has its good points. Transportation is a piece of cake on the colorful aiga busses. There are plenty of great restaurants everywhere, and the prices are very reasonable. Great scenery is everywhere, especially on the east, west and north sides of the island. Tisa's Barefoot Bar and the Yacht Club are great places to meet people and find things to do which you may not have considered.
The Rainmaker Hotel lives up to all the negative things which have been written about it, but there are plenty other, better options. On my last stay, I spent one night at the Pago Airport Inn. My room was clean and comfortable. I had asked for a ride from the airport when I made my reservations, and the driver was waiting for me when I emerged from customs. The staff was friendly and made sure a driver arrived at 4:30am to take me back to the airport so I could make my flight to Manu'a on time.
The best way to see Tutuila is befriend a local. Everyone I've met is friendly and trustworthy (although, as in any situation where people are involved, there are going to be exceptions to the rule), and love to show off their island, taking you to places you don't find in the tourist books.
Ofu, Olosega, and Ta'u are the real attraction in American Samoa. A few cars, small and well-kept villages, friendly locals, and pristine rainforests and beaches are what you'll experience.
Ofu and Olosega are mirror images of one another, each a quarter of an otherwise submerged ancient volcano. A narrow bridge connects these two islands.
The Va'oto Lodge is the only place to stay on Ofu and Olosega, but what a special place it is! Margie and Tito Malae have opened their land to visitors. Ten rooms in five fales face the beach at the foot of Mount Tumutumu. The price is more than right, as well.
The rooms are clean and functional, if not a little run down. Tom, a friend of the family who lives in a house at the eastern end of the property, has been actively repairing many of the rooms lately, so things may have changed since my last visit.
The Va'oto has the best beach in the territory, if not the world. Clean, white sands, and the only footsteps you see will probably be your own. The water is crystal clear and safe to swim in.
Meals are provided for a reasonable price (good thing too, there are no restaurants on Ofu or Olosega). Meals are served in a communal room at a single, large table and are a great opportunity to meet your lodge-mates. The water is safe to drink, and comes from the aquifer under the island where rainwater percolates through the spongy lava rock that forms the island.
Ofu airport, served by the de-Havilland Twin Otters flown by Samoa Air, is footsteps away from the lodge, but not to fear, only two flights a day disturb your stay . . . and it's always fun to wander over to the airstrip to see what new visitors have joined you.
Ofu village lies a mile west of the lodge. Here you'll find the marina, the bank, the post office, a couple of *very* small grocery stores (both marked by tiny signs proclaiming "Store"), a few dozen neat houses, one beautiful church, gorgeous scenery, and the trail to the top of Tumutumu.
West of the lodge is the National Park. Nothing there other than pristine beach and rainforest, as well as some of the most untouched coral reef you'll find in the world. No crowds, no traffic, no rangers, no restrooms, and no gift shop . . . in a word: perfection!
Past the park are a couple of settlements of a few fales, and, just before the bridge to Olosega, one last store selling the only gasoline available on the two islands.
My experiences on Olosega and Ta'u are limited, so I will not be able to go into detail. My impressions tell me that things compare similarly with Ofu; the only difference is that Ta'u hasn't got the great beaches. It is a far taller, and jagged island.
If you are looking to escape your box, to get out of your comfort zone and into something much, much better . . . American Samoa waits for you. If you travel to be waited on and treated like a number on a tourist bus, better stay in Waikiki . . . it will serve your illusions better.
American Samoa has much to offer those who have a keen eye and an open heart.
Some helpful links:
Vaoto Lodge: http://www.vaotolodge.com
National Park Homestay: http://www.nps.gov/npsa/homestay/index.htm