Tutuila Island – a South Pacific Treasure

tutuila-beachAmerican Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the USA in the South Pacific, and Tutuila is its largest Island with most of the population. The island is 30 km (18 mi) long and 10 km (6 mi) across at the widest point. The mountainous backbone culminates in Mount Matafao at 653 m (2.142 ft).

Tutuila is notable for the large natural Pago Pago harbour upon which is located the village of Pago Pago and the tuna canneries which are the island’s principal economic activity. Pago Pago International Airport, on the other hand, is further down the coast between Tafuna and Fagatogo. Mount Alava overlooks the harbour from the north and a hike to the summit is rewarded with panoramic views of rugged coastline and virgin forest. There are few beaches and much of the north coast is inaccessible.

Fagatogo, Tutuila’s capital and commercial centre, is also on Pago Pago Harbour, as is Utulei where government bureaucracy is concentrated. Most American Samoans (who are US nationals but not US citizens) live in villages along the south coast, serviced by regular buses from Fagatogo market. This is undoubtedly a South Pacific island, but American influence is pronounced and there are some messy comers. Tourism is not a major activity, though there are a number of motels, hotels and guesthouses around the harbour and west of Tafuna. Visitors come mainly for the wild scenery.

The National Park of American Samoa is on Tutuila and two neighbouring islands – Ofu and Ta’u. It includes coral reefs and some of the best coastal rainforest in the Pacific, with snorkelling, scuba diving and hiking permitted. There are many archaeological sites on the island, which is one of several (including nearby Ta’u) that lay claim to the title ‘cradle of Polynesian civilization’.

Population: 56.000 (2000)

When to go: To be different, try the rainy season between November and April, to see Tutuila’s rainforest at its very best (the mornings are usually sunny, but beware mosquitoes).

How to get there: Fly to Apia on Western Samoa and from there to Tutuila by Polynesian Airlines or Samoa Air.

Highlights: Leone village in the west, where large churches bear witness to zealous missionary activity during the 19th century.

A trip to Aunu’u Island National Landmark off the southeast corner of Tutuila, to see the unusual Red Lake.

The scenic south coast road from the airport via cape Taputapu to the end of the line, Fagamalo village.

Picturesque Alega Beach, with its famous Tisa’s Barefoot Bar.

You should know: Most beaches are village owned and both scanty dress and Sunday swimming are banned.

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