Golden Week is the only long holiday in Japan and so this was our chance to go on a tropical holiday to the southern Okinawa island, Ishigaki. Flying to Ishigaki takes two hours from Osaka, and the subtropical island is located almost next to Taiwan. Ishigaki is surrounded by smaller islands, some formed by coral. We went there for five days to enjoy the sun, sea, beaches, palmtrees and fresh pineapple juice!
The island of Ishigaki is surrounded by coral so on the beaches you can find all kinds of dead coral which has the weirdest shapes (some look like brains!). Also beaaautiful huge seashells. There was a huge beach right next to our hotel so the first day we took a long stroll along the shore. I took a hand full of really pretty shells to the hotel room when they suddenly started walking!! Seemed all the shells are inhabited by hermit crabs :-0 I had to return them all to the sea… :-/ (they were so beautiful…)
The next day, we took the boat at Ishigaki port to one of the neighboring islands, Taketomi. This island is formed by coral and is really small, though people live there and there are even some schools. We walked around this beautiful island where all the houses are built in the traditional Yaeyama way (Yaeyama is the name of the island group). These houses are really sturdy with strong tiled roofs to protect from the many heavy typhoons that occur in this area. But even more interesting is the Shiisa Lion, the little roofguardian on top of all the houses. He is kind of a mix between a lion and a dog and according to the Yaeyama legend, he protects the people form typhoons and earthquakes.
But, one of the coolest things of Taketomi is the star sand beach!! Only two beaches in the whole world have this star shaped sand, which are actually tiny million year old fossils of creatures! The sand is so beautiful!!
Next to the star sand beach was another breathtaking tropical beach where we spent the day swimming and snorkeling. The reefs are so beautiful here, the fishes are so colorful! But it can also be a dangerous place as Ward discovered for himself when he was exploring the reefs of Taketomi… Deep down he suddenly encountered a highly venomous huge sea snake!! He was filming this so check out this video!
On King’s Day (hurray for king Willem Alexander, the new ruler of the Netherlands! :p), we took the bus to the northern part of Ishigaki to visit one of the most famous and 3 Michelin starred places of the island: Kabira Bay (can beaches get Michelin stars? apparently!). This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. White sand, turquoise water, little green islands, palm trees… WOW! If you see the pictures, they almost look like photoshopped postcards but this is actually what Kabira Bay looks like. Fantastic! We took a glass boat tour to explore the coral reefs. A great experience! We saw all kinds of colorful fish, including clown fish (Finding Nemo), and huge seashells. Some parts of the reefs were really really deep. Beautiful!
After lunch we headed for the most famous snorkeling beach, Yonehara. There, the coral reef is so close to the beach that you can walk 3 meters and you can already explore the beautiful reefs. It was so colorful and we saw so many different kind of exotic fish, it was amazing! We took some videos! However, we also found out that coral can be VERY sharp and so we left the beach with our legs covered in bloody scratches :p. We then headed for the Palm Tree Grove, an area on the side of the mountain that is covered in very tall and old palm trees. Like a palm-jungle! We drank fresh pineapple juice before taking the last bus back to our hotel.
In the water there were these weird turd-like creatures everywhere, apparently they were sea cucumbers :p
The fourth day of our holiday we took the bike to explore the island a bit and headed for the nature reservation park called Banna Park. This park is huge and looks more like a jungle than a park! We strolled around and photographed some cool insects with Marthe’s new macro lens :D. After visiting the park we had dinner in the famous tuna restaurant Hitoshi. This restaurant is so popular, we had to make reservations in advance. And I’m glad we did because we ate the best tuna sushi in our lives there!!
The fifth day we woke up really early to take the 8:00 boat to Iriomote. Iriomote is the second biggest island of whole of Okinawa, though only 2000 people live there. The island reminded me of Jurassic Park, with huge jungles, mangroves, waterfalls and mountains. It’s like a small paradise there. Together with a guide who lives on the island, we explored Iriomote.
The first part of the trip consisted of following a river by kayak through a mangrove forest. I’ve never kayaked before so was a bit scared, but it was such an amazing experience, the mangrove forest was so beautiful! All those roots sticking out of the water and thick branches hanging over the river… After about half an hour we saw the Pinaisara waterfall in front of us. And we were going to climb to the top of that waterfall!
After kayaking for about 50 minutes we entered the thick jungle of Iriomote. We took a narrow and rocky path and climbed for about an hour. I really felt like I was in another world. The plants and trees were huuuge. And they were all plants and trees I’ve never seen before, such weird shapes and structures. And some of the sounds coming from the jungle were so strange! Weird birds and other animals… There were big holes in the ground everywhere made by lobsters, and the streams were teaming with mudskippers, funny looking fish that hop around on their fins. Termites were building their home in a large crack in a tree. Also, on Iriomote lives the ultra rare Mountain Cat (Yamaneko). The Yamaneko only lives on this island, nowhere else in the world, and there are less than 80 of them. Ofcourse we didn’t see one as they are nocturnal creatures, but perhaps some of the weird sounds we heard was a little mountain cat…?
After an hour of climbing we arrived at the top of the waterfall!! Such an amazing view over the island! Also, we took a peek over the edge (that was really scary). The guide brought some home-made bentoboxes with delicious rice balls and fresh Iriomote pineapple. After having this delicious lunch, we climbed all the way back down and took another jungle path to the basin of the waterfall. There we had some tea, enjoyed the nice scenery and climbed some rocks before heading back to the kayaks. The tide was low and hundreds of little white crabs emerged from the sand and waved at us from the riverbanks. This was one of the highlights of our already amazing holiday! The guide was really nice and showed all the beautiful things of the island. I really recommend his tours! (http://english.iriomote-osanpo.com/).
After returning on the boat (again one hour on a very rough sea… take motion sickness pills when going to Iriomote!), we enjoyed a last diner and a cocktail on this beautiful island.
I think Ishigaki is a wonderful place, it has so many breathtaking beaches and coral reefs, the surrounding island are fantastic, the people are really relaxed and nice compared to Osaka and Tokyo, and the food… the food is simply amazing. The Ishigaki beef and pork is so fresh and tasty, wow! And all the fruit and vegetables are soooo delicious. We really wished we could stay here for at least another week to explore the beautiful island and try all the restaurants!