10 Days In American Samoa

August 9, 2016

Part 2: The Manu’a Islands – Ofu & Olosega (7 Days)

Panoramic View of Ofu Tropical Beach American Samoa

A travel cliché says that the toughest places to reach are often the most rewarding. This is absolutely true of the twin islands of Ofu and Olosega in the Manu’a Islands of American Samoa, among the most remote tropical islands that can ‘relatively’ easily be reached.

Touchdown on the beachside runway in Ofu signals the start of the weekly rush hour, as locals greet relatives returning from Tutuila with a big smile, government workers change shifts and a few lucky tourists begin the vacation of a lifetime. On the menu? Jungle covered peaks hiding rare coconut crabs under the canopy, some of the cleanest air in the South Pacific, sleepy villages waking up only for Sunday church service, and a beach worthy of an Oscar – if only ‘The Academy’ would be aware of its existence.

Relaxing on hammock at Ofu Beach American Samoa

Any traveler in search of a pristine, yet to be discovered destination and with a love for the tropical outdoors – should absolutely make the effort to make it to Ofu. After All… you’ve come this far. The only catch? Once you’ve visited paradise, how will everything else compare?!

Ofu Travel Tips

  • Polynesian Airlines landing in Ofu Island American SamoaFlying is your only (practical) way to get to Ofu. At the time of writing this guide, Polynesian Airlines was the only airline serving the Manu’a Islands, with a weekly direct flight to Ofu from Pago Pago (30-40 mins), therefore making sense to spend an entire week in paradise. UPDATE: as of June 2017, Manu’a Airways is planning service from Pago Pago to Ofu (and from Pago Pago to Ta’u) starting in mid-2017. I don’t know if they’ll actually make this date or how long they’ll be in business but this is very good news for both locals and tourists trying to get to Ofu. 
  • You can fly to/from neighboring Ta’u, more frequently serviced by direct flights from Pago Pago by Polynesia Airlines. However, you will need to arrange a boat transfer to Ofu which costs about $150 per boat (and can be choppy). Your host will help you arrange this and the more passengers to share the ride, the cheaper it is per person.  
  • One thing to note: the FAA keeps a tight lid on small airlines servicing the islands. It, therefore, renews the airline’s license on a monthly basis, which means securing your Ofu flight can only be done within the month you wish to travel. Paradise is hard to reach but trust me, it’s totally worth it. UPDATE: the government of American Samoa is currently taking steps to ease these regulations. So by the time you’re reading these line, the booking window may already be over 30 days.  
  • Overweight flight to Ofu in American SamoaIn Pago Pago, get to the airport at least 2 hours prior to your flight. If the check in counters are not yet manned, leave your bags by the counter to mark your spot. Planes are very small and tend to reach their weight capacity quickly, with ‘heavy’ locals flying to/from the islands along with cargo which often includes coolers packed with fresh fish. To avoid the near heart attack I had, it’s better to get to the airport early!
  • There are no ATM’s on Ofu and Olosega so bring all the cash you need. Each village does have at least one small grocery shop but if you have some extra weight in your bag, pick up some snacks in Pago Pago for the week.
  • There is no cell phone reception in Ofu but there is surprisingly very fast internet. Do yourself a favor and use this week in paradise to do a digital detox.  
  • Break in coral reef dangerous swimming - Ofu Beach American SamoaAvoid swimming near the small break in the reef on Ofu Beach as you can get sucked out to the open ocean (and nobody is around to save you). Look for the warning sign on the beach and inquire with your hosts. In any case, it’s located in a spot that’s not great for swimming so you’ll likely not make it out here.
  • Aside from enough cash and some snacks, pack with you: hiking gear (long hiking pants), mosquito repellent, sandals/reef shoes, ‘nice’ clothes if planning to attend Sunday service (recommended) and plenty of books. When going hiking, take at least 2L of water per person with you.

Where To Stay In Ofu?

Without a doubt, the best place to stay in Ofu is at the Vaoto Lodge. A long running family establishment since 1979, it is now run to perfection by Deb and Ben. Deb is the daughter of the the lodge’s founders and Ben is the descendent of a Japanese family who’s Pago Pago shop was ironically the only one damaged in the sole Japanese shelling of Pago Pago in WWII. Considering just how remote this place is, the lodge exemplifies the true meaning of paradise –  without the need for luxury overwater bungalows.

Vaoto Lodge Ofu American Samoa - main house

Vaoto Lodge grounds in Ofu Island American Samoa

Butterflies in Vaoto Lodge Ofu Island American Samoa

The lodge is located on a green patch of grass dotted with heavenly scented trees right at the very edge of the airstrip. The most ‘happening’ spot on the island when the weekly flight lands and departs, the airpstrip is unused during the rest of week – a fantastic spot for stargazing.

Airport runway at Ofu Island American Samoa

Rooms are large, clean and comfortable, complete with mosquito nets, a hot shower, fan and some even with wall mounted AC units. Windows are screened and towels are provided.

Vaoto Lodge Ofu American Samoa - way to rooms

Vaoto Lodge Ofu American Samoa - room interior

Meals and beer can be purchased, with the communal dinners the absolute highlight. Deb and Ben whip up delicious meals like Ben’s famous chili, seafood BBQ night, Mexican nights and home baked pizza. The lodge often hosts marine biologists, journalists, researchers, visiting medical staff, missionaries and obviously – like minded travelers like you, so the conversation is always fascinating. Cold drinking water is free to use and the main house is where you’ll get online (surprisingly fast wifi), shoot some pool, grab a book or watch TV.

Vaoto Lodge Ofu American Samoa - dinner

The lodge does have some snorkeling equipment left over by other guests but I highly recommend bringing your own (fins useful but not a must). There were no bicycles to use when I visited but you might be able to rent a vehicle if one is available. Getting around on foot is not a problem though and any local passing by will always offer a lift.

Ofu Beach is a pleasant 15-20 minute walk from the lodge, but there is a beach right out front that’s good for swimming and snorkeling between the tides. In season, you’ll even be able to spot whales off the coast. The National Park’s ranger station is adjacent to the lodge, a convenient stop upon arrival for learning about the superb hiking opportunities on the islands.  

Vaoto Lodge Ofu American Samoa - view to Olosega

Vaoto Lodge Ofu American Samoa - shelter

Vaoto Lodge Ofu American Samoa - beach

In the event that Vaoto Lodge is fully booked, the Asaga Inn is also a comfortable option. The inn is operated by Army veteran Trevor and his family, descendants of the chief responsible for successfully lobbying the American government to built a bridge over the Asaga Strait, finally connecting Ofu with Olosega. You’ll find here comfortable air conditioned rooms, wooden outdoor fales (Samoan open air huts) and a grocery shop. The inn is located on the western side of the bridge, about a 20 minute walk from the prime swimming area of Ofu Beach. Should the Asaga Inn be full, there is a colorful grocery shop owner in Olosega Village that also offers rooms for rent. You’ll need to ask around about this option but that shouldn’t be a problem as everybody knows each other over here.

Things To Do In Ofu & Olosega

Since you’re here for a week and the islands are so small, there’s no really a good and bad way to arrange your time. So I’ll simply list all the top things to see and do in this section and you can plan your own itinerary.

The Coastal Road

A concrete road connects the villages of Ofu with Olosega. Well, to be exact, the road ends a few hundred meters before each village and the rest of the way is just sand. With power lines buried in the ground to protect from the elements, walking along the road feels like walking on some distant tropical planet. On one side, the strikingly blue and white colors of water and sand peak from time time from beyond the thick coastal vegetation. On the other side, thousands of coconut trees grow at the footsteps of Mount Tumutumu, teeming with flying fruit bats and songbirds galore. In front of you, the signature jagged edges of the Sunu’itao Peak. It really doesn’t get any better than this, and you’ll be whistling from pure happiness all the way. The only road hazard? The occasional falling coconut!

Paved road in Ofu Island American Samoa

Ofu Beach

It’s hard to describe the sense of accomplishment upon touching down on Ofu Beach, what has to be one of the prettiest tropical beaches in the world without a doubt. The soft white sand simply melts between your toes, the leaning palm trees perfectly bend to isolate you from the rest of the world, the mountains in front of you rise like giant shark fins out of the water, and the water – oh the water! And you know what the kicker is: you’ll have this long stretch of pristine beach all to yourself. Here’s what it looks and sounds like on Ofu Beach.

Ofu Tropical Beach in American Samoa

Ofu Beach in American Samoa from water

Aside from the occasional local’s BBQ over the weekend, I hardly saw anyone on the beach during my week in Ofu. After walking up and down the beach several times and testing out various spots, I came to the conclusion that the best spot is right across the hurricane shelter. You’ll see this shack on the side of the road so simply cross over to the beach, where makeshift chairs and tables mark the spot.

Land and underwater photo of Ofu Beach American Samoa

Here’s an interesting anecdote for you. Did you know that as a parrotfish consumes fish and algae from the coral reef, it ‘poops’ out the undigested coral in the form of pure white sand? A single parrotfish can produce 1 ton of sand every year! With so many of these guys around, it’s no wonder why the sand on Ofu Beach is of the purest kind.

Since I am terribly bad at selecting just one photo and Ofu beach is the the prettiest I’ve ever been too, here’s a slideshow with additional images from paradise!

Ofu Tropical Beach American Samoa 4 Ofu Tropical Beach American Samoa 1 Ofu Tropical Beach American Samoa 2 Ofu Tropical Beach American Samoa 3 Ofu Tropical Beach American Samoa 5

Swimming & Snorkeling

The coral reef and lagoon in Ofu Beach is among the healthiest marine ecosystems in the South Pacific. Scientists from around the world come all the way out here to study the unexplained ability of Ofu’s coral to quickly recover from bleaching. The reef and beach are protected as part of the National Park of American Samoa.  

The first time I ventured underwater with a mask, I remember feeling a profound sense of ‘wow’. The water is incredibly clear and just meters from the beach are corals in all shapes and sizes, both hard and soft. Especially impressive are the giant boulder and mushroom coral, where turtles like to nap at their base and where small fish like to gather at their soup bowl-like top.

Coral at Ofu Beach in American Samoa Boulder Coral in Ofu Beach American Samoa Colorful coral in Ofu Beach American Samoa Brain coral in Ofu Beach American Samoa Large boulder coral in Ofu Beach American Samoa Ofu Beach reef in American Samoa Ofu Reef American Samoa Snorkeling in Ofu Beach American Samoa Tropical coral in Ofu Beach American Samoa

In the fish department, you’ll often find yourself completely surrounded by schools of dartfish, always returning to formation when interrupted. Colorful groupers, puffer fish, trumpet fish and even reef sharks (if you’re lucky) are just some of the friends you’ll have in the absence of human companions back on dry land. But be warned, these friends are quite shy, perhaps because they don’t get too many visitors around here.

Sea Turtle closeup in Ofu Beach American Samoa Yellow and white tropical fish in Ofu Beach American Samoa Trumpet Fish in Ofu Beach American Samoa School of tropical fish in Ofu Beach American Samoa School of tropical fish in Ofu Beach American Samoa Starfish in Ofu Beach American Samoa Tropical fish Ofu Beach American Samoa Yellow tropical fish in Ofu Beach American Samoa

The best time for swimming and snorkeling in Ofu Beach is between the tides. In high tide, there is too much sand that gets tossed around by the waves but even at low tide, you’ll find a few shallow pools deep enough for swimming but not deep enough from moving from one pool to the other.

Here’s a video that summarizes the underwater highlights from Ofu Beach!

 

Ofu Village

The sandy and sleepy Ofu Village is absolutely charming. It’s got a couple of churches, three small shops and a pretty little beach. The small Nu’utele Island lies just off its coast, though I was told by locals that getting there might seem easy but in fact it’s dangerous and parts of it are scared private land. Feel free to walk around but stick to the main road. Every home has at least two dogs so it’s advised to carry a small branch or a rock to scare them away should they come and check you out.

Ofu Village American Samoa

Main church in Ofu Village American Samoa

The beach at Ofu Village in American Samoa

Nu’utele Island Ofu Village American Samoa

The best time to visit Ofu Village on Sunday. Though it’s the Catholic church that gets top marks for exterior looks, it’s what’s inside that counts, right? I heard a rumor that the folks at the tiny Pentecostal church sing the loudest. Ben from Vaoto Lodge graciously gave me a lift for a Sunday morning that I will never forget. From the outside, the church looks like an ordinary house, that is until you get a bit closer…

Church service in American Samoa

Inside, members of the church whom you can count with 10 fingers were paying close attention to the Sunday sermon delivered in Samoan by the charismatic pastor, who occasionally paused to squeeze in yet another quick ‘praise the Lord’. Before inviting me for dinner, his daughter sat next to me to translate her father’s words to English and then walked to ‘center stage’ to join her brother playing the keyboard, her other brother on the drums and her mom on the mic for a memorable version of ‘Shake Your Body to the Lord’. Give it a listen for yourself!

 

Tumu Mountain Hike

The challenging hike up to the highest point on Ofu Island (494 meters) is one of the most rewarding hikes you’ll ever embark on. It all starts from the marked trailhead just after the Ofu harbor (a 45 minute walk from Vaoto Lodge). The trail is clearly visible as it also serves as a 4X4 road up to the radio tower at the summit, though often covered with waist high vegetation.

Port harbor in Ofu Island American Samoa

As you ascend, you’ll be treated to awesome views of the coastline and the tropical vegetation, to the orchestra of songbirds busy at work. From up here, you can see Sili Village, the third village in Ofu and Olosega though not really a proper village since there’s just one family living down there.

Tumu Mountain Hike Ofu American Samoa

Coconut grove on way to Tumu Mountain in Ofu Island American Samoa

New coconut growing in Ofu Island American Samoa

View of Sili from Mount Tumu - Ofu Island American Samoa

The trail then enters the rainforest, where it’s nothing but trees, tall grass and geckos. If you’re lucky, you might spot flying fox bats or giant coconut crabs. These crabs used to be all over the South Pacific Islands, but apparently, they just taste so damn good that there are hardly any left on populated islands. The crab lives inland, hoisting fallen coconuts up high to the trees only to drop them with the hopes that gravity will crack them open.

Tropical rainforest in Ofu Island American Samoa

Giant coconut crab in Ofu Island American Samoa

You’ll then reach the radio cover, where a small solar power station is in the works. Follow the small sign to the Tumu Overlook and follow the path through the thick vegetation until you’ve reached a set of massive boulders and a rope. There’s only one way from here and it’s up to the top.

Hanging on to rop climbing Mount Tumu in Ofu Island American Samoa

Exhausted shot climbing Tumu Mountain in Ofu American Samoa

The Tumu Overlook is more like a balcony with a view to heaven! On a clear day, you can even see Ta’u Island in the distance. Here’s what it looked like at the top of Tumu Mountain!

View of Olosega from top of Mount Tumu American Samoa

View of Ofu reef from Mount Tumu American Samoa

View-from-summit-of-Mount-Tumu-Ofu-American-Samoa

Logistics: the entire hike will take about 4-5 hours but be prepared to spend at least an hour at the overlook. Wear hiking shoes, hat, long pants and be prepared to be completely soaked in sweat. Pack at least 2L of water and snacks. Deb from Vaoto Lodge had a great idea of freezing small water bottles that would be better than a beer at the summit! I recommend attempting the hike on the first clear day you get and early in the morning.

Tuiofu Well & Tomb

This archeological site offers a chance to see early signs of life on this remote island. It’s nothing too impressive but it’s not too far from Ofu Beach. The site is located on private land so just check with the park ranger before visiting.

Tuiofu Well in Ofu Island American Samoa

Asaga Strait

The body of water separating Ofu and Olosega had to be crossed by a 1 minute boat trip before a cyclone proof bridge was built in 1979. These days, jumping off the bridge is as close to Disneyland as it gets on the islands, though it’s best to first check with the folks at the Asaga Inn if your timing is right.

Asaga Bridge connecting Ofu and Olosega in American Samoa

Jumping of Asaga Bridge in Ofu

Olosega Village

Olosega is slightly more ‘happening’ than Ofu Village, maybe it’s because the school is located here. There’s a small shop in the center of the village and its beach is good for swimming.

Olosega Village American Samoa - welcome sign

Olosega Village American Samoa

Olosega Village American Samoa

Beach in Olosega Village American Samoa

Oge Beach Hike

The second trail maintained by the National Park of American Samoa, you’ll find the marked trailhead just after the landfill at the very edge of Olosega. The trailhead offers a different vantage point back towards the Sunu’itao Peak, Tumu Mountain and Ofu Beach. You’re now right at the footsteps of Mount Piumafua, the highest point on Olosega (639m).

Start of Oge Beach Hike Olosega American Samoa

The first section of the trail is cliff walk to the Maga Point, where you can clearly see how the carved contours of the exterior reef rapidly drops to the depths of the ocean.

Ricky's Cliffs in Olosega American Samoa

Reef Sloping - Oge Beach Hike Olosega American Samoa

Before the trail steeply descends to the beach, stop for a quick rest and spot the boobies and frigate birds riding the thermals. Sometimes, they come down from the heavens and hover right above you. I was also lucky enough to spot a bunch of fruit bats, even though it was pretty close to noon.

Friagte Bird over Oge Beach in American Samoa
Flying Fox bats in American Samoa

Frigate Bird in Olosega Island American Samoa

You’ll then descend to Oge Beach, a battered rocky beach that’s not safe for swimming. The beach faces Ta’u Island and somewhere in between lies one of the largest pieces of single coral in the world! There’s no shade on the beach but it’s nonetheless an inviting spot to park it for a couple of hours and just listen to the detoxing sounds of the ocean waves crashing ashore.

Oge Beach Olosega Island American Samoa

Oge Beach cliffs in American Samoa

Here’s what it looks and sounds like on Oge Beach.

You’ll be completely alone on Oge Beach… well not completely alone. I came across a bizarre scene that I was later told by a marine biologist back at the lodge has only been filmed once, so here we go.

Lurking in the shallow water are perfectly camouflaged and terrifying looking eels. Don’t get too close as these guys actually came out onto the sand to attack me. The eels ingeniously work in small groups to attempt and catch crabs who soak in the sun on the rocks during low tide. Even when I tried to scare the shy crabs, they would not move an inch, perfectly understanding who their real predator was. This was a chilling, bizarre and memorable ‘tropical safari’ that I’ll never forget!

Moray Eel closeup in American Samoa

Crabs in Oge Beach American Samoa

Moray Eel attacking carb in Oge Beach American Samoa

Moray eel attacking crab in American Samoa

Logistics: the walk to Oge Beach takes about 1 hour from the Asaga Bridge. Bring plenty of water, snacks and don’t forget a hat and sunscreen. Wearing shorts is OK and shoes will do just fine as between the eels and the waves – you won’t really want to swim out here.

Sunsets & Stargazing

There’s no need for ESPN or HBO out here, just step out to the runway or the beach, admire the sunset and gaze at the stars. Have you ever seen the Milky Way?

Sunset silouette in Ofu Island American Samoa

sunset off ofu beach american samoa

Beautiful nigh sky from Ofu Island American Samoa

View-of-The-Milky-Way-Ofu-Island-American-Samoa

Part 3: Pago Pago (1 Day)

Your 10 days in American Samoa are coming to an end. It’ll be mighty hard to leave Ofu but you’ll feel an incredible sense of pride and gratitude for successfully making it out here.

Aerial view of Ofu Island in American Samoa

You’ll return to Pago Pago before noon and you can either rest ahead of your flight back home or rent a car and go for a spin. A recommended route to follow is west from the airport on Route 1 to the village of Leone and if you have time, all the way to Fagamalo where the road ends. Alternatively, you can drive to Pago Pago and pick up Route 6 which steeply snakes through the Rainmaker Pass down to Afono and Vatia.

American Samoa from the air

So what do you think. Is American Samoa worth visiting? Share your thoughts, questions, tips and own experiences in the comments below.

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Ofu Beach American Samoa

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4 comments

  1. Hi there! Ofu beach is my bucket list trip .. I want to learn more on ho to reach this destination – I realize flights can only be booked within the month, but where can you book from? Australia? Would love more detailed information on the trip if possible .. incredible pictures, thanks so much for this piece.

    1. Hi Jennifer!
      Ofu is definitely one of the world’s hidden gems, and if tropical islands are your things – you’ll love it. There’s practical info about Ofu on this page: http://xdaysiny.com/10-days-in-american-samoa-itinerary-guide/3/ along with plenty of photos. This post will also be of use – a personal account of my visit to American Samoa and Ofu: http://xdaysiny.com/ofu-beach-american-samoa/

      In a nutshell, you’ll first have to reach Pago Pago and then catch a direct flight to Ofu or a flight to Ta’u and then a boat to Ofu. You can get to Pago Pago from either Hawaii or Samoa.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Hi!
    First of all thanks a lot for your different posts, those are very helpful when planning a trip!

    I plan visiting the Western Samoas with my girlfriend in July (about 17 days) and we are considering also visiting Manu’a as it seems to be the most beautiful place on Earth. I have got a few questions :

    – How long do you think is worth staying on Manu’a? The island seems beautiful, but and the same time, it seems two days are enough to discover it. I actually ask this question because Manu’a would be “only” a part of the trip and so we’d like to keep enough time to also visit properly the Western Samoas. On the other hand we don’t want to rush our visit of Manu’a (as it seems to be the most beautiful place on Earth it would be stupid to come there for two rainy days…).

    – As it would be part of a longer trip, I need to organize the different flight connections and so I’d like to know how reliable the departure times of the planes are. I read your post regarding the couple needing to wait one day or two to reach Manu’a… Also are the planes flying by all weathers or does it often happen that the flights are being canceled?

    – I read the dengue thing can be a problem in the Samoas in general. Did you ever encounter any problems with the mosquitoes?

    – And last question (regarding more the Western Samoas actually) : How is the safety in general (sleeping in a non-locked Fale on the beach)?

    Thanks a lot for your advices and best regards from Switzerland!
    Lionel

    1. Hi Lionel

      Greetings from Huahine Island in French Polynesia!

      – The minimum stay on Ofu would have to be at least three to four nights. This will give you one day to do nothing on the beach, hike Tumu Mountain and visit Oge Beach (where the scary eels were). This would be mean you would have to fly one segment in or out of Ta’u and take a boat (which your hosts can arrange). The only thing is that as of now, you cannot prebook Manua flights over a months in advance. Polynesian Airlines gets their FAA waiver on a monthly basis (for ex: today – April 20, they received the May waiver). Since flights between the Samoas are easy to book, you can just play it by ear and book your visit to Ofu while you’re in Samoa (this is what I did). Just make a reservation with Vaoto Lodge to keep the space for you and this will be pending Polynesian Airlines getting their waiver (Deb from Vaoto Lodge should be ok with this arrangement).

      – if you’re visiting Samoa during the dry season, you should not have a problem. Polynesia Airlines will not compensate nor will they find accommodations for you if flights are canceled due to weather. If you’re visiting during the wet season, this could be an issue. I went in November, which is the start of the wet season. I took a chance and it all worked out fine. However, Dec-Mar are very wet and cyclone-prone months in the Samoas. If you arrive at the counter 2 hours before the flight, you should not experience being debooked.

      – dengue is a real issue in Samoa but only during the wet season. If visiting during this time, be sure to have good mosquito repellent and you should be fine.

      – in general, Samoa is very safe. Parts of Savaii are a bit sketchy but other than that, no real issues. If staying at an open fale, just have a metal wire and a lock to make sure nobody can open your backpack or take it out of the hut. This is what I did and I had no issues. I did hear of a few travelers getting stuff taken away but this was very rare. The fales are owned and operated by families and there’s always someone there to watch. Have a look at this page for good gear to take with you: http://xdaysiny.com/packing-list/

      have fun, safe travels and enjoy the magical ride

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