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An Australian’s Perspective of the National Parks

April 22, 2014

A recent visit in March to the National Park of American Samoa by Australian landscape photographer Andrew Thomas and his partner Debbie, enabled them to add this park to their list of United States National Park visits. They have been on a quest since December 2007, to visit and photograph each of the 59 parks in the National Parks System, and visiting American Samoa gave them their 51st national park site! And its also the closest to home for them in Australia!

A view of Pola Island view Lower Ridge trail.

A view of Pola Island view Lower Ridge trail.

With help from local tour guide who was especially generous in looking after the couple and inviting them into his home at Afono village, they spent 8 days in the island, focusing on the national park. A couple of highlights on the main island of Tuitila was hiking the Mt. Alava trail from Fagasa Pass on the west side of the park, up to the top of Mt Alava for the magnificent views across Pago Pago harbor, and then down to Vatia Village on the north shore, which involved the 768 steps down the jungle trail. Another hike they enjoyed was the Tuafanua trail that leaves from the village of Vatia and heads up an over the pass to the magnificent beach on the north side of the park.

North shore beach at Tuafanua trail.

North shore beach at Tuafanua trail.

Their main plans for their visit was to visit the remote Ofu island, part of the Manu’a Islands approximately 60 miles east of Tuitila. These plans were thrown into disarray on arrival when they learned that there were no direct flights in operation. However, they were pleased to discover from an NPS maintenance crew they met on top of the Mt. Alava trail hike, that the MV Sili was in fact heading for Ofu the next morning. Realizing this was there only chance to get over to Ofu, they accepted the challenge of a 6-7 hour boat trip, even though they would only get one afternoon and evening there before the boat was scheduled to return the next morning. Due to some mechanical problems with the boat, the return trip took 12 hours, but the afternoon they got to spend on the beach at Ofu, often regarded as the jewel in the crown of the National Park, was well worth the effort. In fact they spoke very highly of their adventure on the boat, sharing the experience with the many local Samoans as one of the highlights of their trip.

Ofu island beach.

Ofu island beach.

Andrew and Debbie thoroughly enjoyed their American Samoa adventure, and after they visit the last 8 parks in their quest in Alaska, they hope to return for a return visit. One thing in particular they especially liked was the friendliness of the Samoan people.

Andrew has put together some galleries of his images from his visit to share with others. Andrew is also well on the way to completing his United States National Park book project that can viewed here.

Hula Plant Photo of the Day: ‘Uki

April 22, 2014

‘Uki growing at Kīlauea Iki Crater. NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

Tuesday’s featured hula plant is the indigenous sedge ‘uki (Machaerina augustifolia), which grows throughout Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in rainforests, mid-elevation woodlands, wet lava flows, and in cinder fields.  ‘Uki is one of the most noticeable, beautiful, and prolific native grasses in the park.

An important nā mea kanu o ka hula (hula plant), the flower clusters and shiny dark stalks of ‘uki are used by lei makers who craft them into lei wili (a lei made with the winding method) and lei haku (a woven lei of several materials) for lei po‘o – a lei worn around the head. You might notice ‘uki in the lei po‘o of the dancers competing in this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival.

This sedge has rigid, green, wedge-shaped leaves and grows in large clumps that can exceed four feet in length, and an inch wide. Feral pigs feed on the leaf bases and thus ‘uki can be hard to find in pig-infested areas.

If you want to learn more about the amazing uses and stories behind Hawaiian hula plants, check with the Friends of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park for the next Nā Mea Kanu O Ka Hula seminar with kumu hula Ab Kawainohoikala‘i Valencia of Hālau Hula Kalehuaki‘eki‘eika‘iu.

This week is also National Park Week, and starting Wednesday, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park offers many cultural demonstrations at the Kīlauea Visitor Center lānai. Click here for the schedule. All events are free, but park entrance fees apply.

‘Uki ‘uki

There is a robust field of ‘uki grass near the Nāpau Campground. NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

‘Uki growing at Kīlauea

‘Uki makes a lovely addition to the plant communities at Kīlauea Overlook. NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

National Junior Ranger Day Kicks Off

April 22, 2014

Officially, National Junior Ranger Day will occur on April 26. However, the National Park of American Samoa celebrates this special day today by awarding over 50 Afonotele Elementary School students as our newest junior rangers. Each year the national park awards junior ranger badges and certificates to as many as 900 youth world-wide.

Wanted to be a Junior Ranger, check out how to get these awesome badges!

Cory’s Story

April 22, 2014

Go Wild for the National Park of American Samoa!

April 21, 2014

This week, help us celebrate National Park Week by conserving, preserving and protecting our paleotropical rainforests, fruit bats, coral reefs and the Samoan culture.

Go wild and explore your national park!

Hula Plant Photo of the Day: Māmane

April 21, 2014
beautiful māmane bloom

This māmane is currently in bloom near the parking lot at Kīlauea Overlook. NPS Photo/J.Ferracane

Happy Aloha Monday! Our second hula plant celebrating the Merrie Monarch Festival and National Park Week is māmane. Māmane (Sophora chrysophylla) is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and is considered one of the most important trees in many native plant communities. It is in the pea family, and is cherished for its extremely hard wood, and its vivid inch-long yellow flowers, whose sweet nectar provides sustenance for the ‘i‘iwi and ‘apapane (endemic honeycreepers) and the endangered pālila, who feed not only on the flowers, but its dried seed pods as well. Māmane is also an important hula plant, and its flowers are used as nā wehiwehi hula – or as adornments, especially in lei wili (the twisting, winding method). It is usually combined with other lei material such as palapalai, liko lehua and pa‘iniu.

Like ‘a‘ali‘i shrubs and koa trees, māmane often survives fire and rebounds quickly by re-sprouting from its base. Its biggest threat is grazing by feral ungulates, but now that goats, sheep and pigs have been fenced out of most of the park, māmane is making a comeback. You can see māmane in the forests along Mauna Loa Road (“Strip Road”), and throughout the park in forested elevations ranging from 1,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. It can grow as high as 40 feet.

The māmane in this photo thrives near the parking lot at Kīlauea Overlook and is currently in bloom. If you can find it, take a photo and upload it to the park’s Facebook page,!


Go Wild for Haleakalā National Park!

April 20, 2014


Ranger Hike

As part of National Park Week, “Go Wild” for the unique plants and animals of Haleakalā, many of which are found nowhere else on earth. Explore a trail at the Summit or at Kīpahulu. Participate in numerous activities at park visitor centers. National Park Week extends from April 19 to April 27, 2014. To start the celebration, all national parks will waive entrance fees on April 19 and 20.

On Monday April 21, at 10am, Laura Berthold of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project will give a presentation about rare native birds at Hosmer Grove in the Summit District. She will then be available in Hosmer Grove until 2:30pm to provide bird watching tips and answer questions about bird ecology.

On Wednesday April 23, from 10am to noon, visitors can explore first mile of the Supply Trail with park staff to learn more about park history. Meet at the Supply Trailhead, along the Hosmer Grove Road.

 Saturday April 26 is Junior Ranger Day. Activities include Native Hawaiian cultural demonstrations, games, and crafts in both districts. There will also be a guided family hike through Hosmer Grove from noon to 1pm.


Cultural Demonstration

Throughout the week visitors can play national park trivia games in all park visitor centers and participate in daily special talks, cultural demonstrations, or hikes.

Program times will be posted at park visitor centers, on the park website (, or call 572-4459 (Summit) or 248-7375 (Kīpahulu) for a daily schedule.

Visit for more information about what is going on at Haleakalā National Park and other National Park Service sites throughout the country. You can share your park experiences and photos on the website.

 National Park Week is also a good time to explore local parks, trails, and architectural treasures maintained through National Park Service programs such as the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program and the National Register of Historic Places.


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