Best Okinawa Hiking Spots from Miyakojima to Iriomotejima
4 July 2017
Best Okinawa Hiking Spots
While the southern islands of Okinawa prefecture are most famous for their dazzling blue oceans, abundant coral reefs and pristine beaches, what fewer people know is that the islands also offer a wealth of adventures for serious hikers. Here are six fantastic Okinawa hiking excursions from Miyakojima to Iriomotejima for travelers with an irrepressible urge to roam the countryside.
 

Breathtaking Okinawa Hiking Excursions from Relaxing to Wild

 

Miyakojima

Higashi Henna Zaki
Higashi Henna Zaki
If a leisurely hike along the seashore is what you desire, the first place to visit is the cape of Higashi Henna Zaki, designated of one of Japan’s top 13 Places of Scenic Beauty. The cape is a narrow, jagged limestone outcropping from the southeast corner of Miyakojima Island. Famed for its breathtaking ocean views and the solitary while lighthouse at its tip, the cape offers visitors a dazzling, almost 360 degree panorama of the spectacular cobalt sea. Easily accessed by means of a well-kept road running its full length, the cape is a breeze to hike. While its wonders are on display throughout the full day, perhaps the best time to hike the cape is in the early morning, just as the amber glow of the rising sun warms the eastern sky.  On the return trip, revel in the sight of the trumpet lilies and evening primrose, which are just two of the better known flowers mixed in with the cape’s abundant vegetation. Remember to take adequate water and to use the restroom before embarking, since there are no facilities along the two-kilometer stretch of road. Also, as always in Okinawa, be certain to use plenty of sunscreen and wear proper hats, since there is nowhere to hide from the blazing sun. Higashi Henna Zaki is only a short 20 minute drive along the coastal road from the famed Shigira resort.


Irabujima
Irabujima
Just 6 kilometers northwest of Miyakojima, Irabujima is a true gem of the Miyakojima island group. Accessible only by ferry until 2015, Irabujima is now connected to Miyakojima by a 3540-meter long main bridge with a series of offshoots, an island passion project which is reportedly the longest toll-free bridge of its kind in Japan. Besides connecting five islands, the structure also boasts awe-inspiring ocean views. While a trip across to Irabujima takes a little over 20 minutes and can also be travelled by bike, perhaps the best way to experience the calming azure blend of ocean and sky is on foot—there is even a place to capture that perfect shot, as long as you are wary of traffic. Once you reach the other side, head to nearby Makima Observatory, a can’t-miss buzzard-shaped lookout. It’s Irabujima’s highest point, offering  a splendid all-encompassing glimpse of verdant nature on all sides, not to mention the beautiful silhouettes of other islands like Kurimajima and Ikemajima. The series of paths below the observatory are ideal for a stroll and can actually connect you to two other observatories on the island as well, including breathtaking Cape Shiratori.  When not hiking leisurely through the greenery, also take time to revel in the sparkling wonder of Irabujima’s excellent beaches, one of which—Sawada Beach—has actually been recognized as one of Japan’s most gorgeous ones.


Sunayama

Another great spot to visit is Sunayama Beach, which is closer to the island’s northern end.  Sunayama beach is home to the large limestone arch which is the subject of so many travel articles photos featuring Miyakojima. The praise this spot has earned from travel writers and amateur reviewers alike is well deserved. The beach is only about 15 minutes walk from the parking lot and, while it is not a long hike, getting to the beach requires a bit of athleticism due to the steep sand dune visitors must scale before arriving at the beach itself. This large dune is likely the feature from which Sunayama, which means ‘sand mountain,’ takes its name. The consensus is that the hike is worth it, since the beach, which features spectacular sunsets and some of the clearest waters in the Okinawan archipelago, is considered one of the most stunning in Japan.

 

Ishigakijima


If your destination is Ishigakijima, it’s possible to find some treks that offer an experience more along the lines of what traditional hikers tend to seek. Two of these, namely Mt. Omoto and Mt. Nosoko, are nothing less than Okinawa hiking gems.

Mt. Omoto
Mt. Omoto
Standing at 525m or 1,724ft, this mountain, which is roughly in the center of the island, is the highest peak in Okinawa prefecture. While it is rather short in comparison to other peaks around Japan such as the “Japanese Alps” of Nagano, it nonetheless offers visitors to Ishigakijima a rugged alternative to the beaches and watersports for which the island is best known.  The trail, which should take about an hour to 90 minutes to traverse on-way, is posted with signs directing hikers to the summit. The trail can be steep at times and less experienced hikers would be advised to take rests along the way, particularly in the heat of summer. The jungle canopy is so thick toward the top of the trail that it blocks out much of the direct sunlight. This can be a welcome feature for those prone to sunburn, but the trees also block the wind, so the ocean breezes for which the island is famous will not be able to keep hikers cool. Remember to take lots of water and perhaps even a few light snacks.

Hiking in Okinawa often gives you the chance to glimpse some of the more reclusive wildlife up close. Famed for its variety of small lizards, Mt. Omoto is home to a type of ‘tokage’ lizard, the juveniles of which are known for their electric blue tails. Those with keen eyes may even be able to spot some of the spiders who make their home in the jungle. Since they tend to remain motionless in their webs, these spiders, which are among the largest in Okinawa, offer terrific photo opportunities.

Close to the official summit there is an observation point considered to offer the best views of Kabira bay and the Hirakubo peninsula. The weather is often hazy, but that doesn’t make the view any less impressive. If you hike Mt Omoto, just be sure to keep an eye on your watch. The sun sets quickly in this subtropical region and darkness soon follows. While some adventurous travelers may relish the idea of a descent through the jungle in the pitch-black night, remember that Okinawa’s habu snakes are most active during this time. While the presence of habu should not dissuade anyone from trekking up Mt. Omoto, it is important for hikers to travel in groups and keep their eyes peeled. Hikers are strongly advised to wear proper hiking boots to protect their feet and long pants to help prevent exposure to ticks and other insects.

Mt. Nosoko
Mt. Nosoko
Mt. Nosoko is another popular Okinawa hiking destination on Ishigakijima. The experience of hiking is similar to that of Mt. Omoto, but since the trail can be much steeper and the red clay is often slippery after a rain, the climb is generally considered more difficult. While there is a paved road leading much of the way to the summit, many hikers prefer to walk up the well-marked trail from the mountain’s base.  All the precautions that apply to Mt. Omoto should be taken here. Mt Nosoko is located in the north east part of the island on the peninsula, and is easily accessible by car. If you happen to be looking for budget-friendly accommodation on the island, consider staying at Blue Cabin Hotel. The base of the mountain is only about a one-hour drive from Blue Cabin right through the center of the island, and the climb is short enough that the trip can easily be combined with the many other excursions the island has to offer.

 

Iriomotejima


Iriomotejima is the destination of choice for nature lovers and adventurers and a premiere spot for hiking in Okinawa. By far the most popular place to go is the iconic Pinaisaara Waterfall, followed by the trails of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park.

Pinaisaara Waterfall
Pinaisaara Waterfall
Photo by Kzaral on flickr

Pinaisaara Waterfall, which at 55m is the tallest waterfall in Okinawa,  is one of the most impressive destinations on Iriomote Island and is generally accessed by means of a combination of kayaking and hiking. While it is possible to go without a guide, the trails are poorly marked and can be difficult to follow if you don’t know where you’re going. Tours only cost around ¥8,000 and include the use of a kayak, so it is highly advisable to go as part of a tour group.

Once the kayaking portion is done, the hiking trail follows and traverses the Pinai River, and can involve some fairly strenuous climbing up steep rocky inclines. Hikers can visit the base of the falls or climb to the top by means of a steep, winding trail over rocks and sometimes through jungle. The waterfall is about a 2km hike from where the kayaks are parked and the whole trip, including the 4 km kayak portion, takes between three and five hours, depending on your pace and how long you plan on staying at the waterfall. The kayak rental facilities on the Pinai River are only a 20 minute drive from the luxurious Nirakanai Resort on the north shore of the island.


Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park
Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park
Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park is a perfect Okinawa hiking spot, a nature-lover’s paradise of virgin subtropical forest, mangroves, rivers, waterfalls and other natural wonders. There are numerous trails throughout the park that hikers can follow, the most popular of which surround the Urauchi River, which is the largest river in Okinawa prefecture. Similar to Pinaisaara, the trails in this park are best enjoyed in combination with kayaking. One of the greatest attractions of the park is the chance to catch a glimpse of the rare and elusive Iriomote Cat, a totally feral feline indigenous only to Iriomotejima. While hikers are required to submit an itinerary to the local police and obtain a permit before entering the forest the effort is worthwhile, since the experience of hiking through the unspoiled jungle is truly unforgettable.


 

Hiking in Okinawa

Hiking in Okinawa
Hikers will find much to love about the islands that make up Japan’s southernmost archipelago. While there are more than enough opportunities for hiking in Okinawa, travelers are advised not to forget the numerous watersports and ocean-related activities for which region is best known, thus making the most of paradise.



 

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