Utara Coal Mine Ruins (ウタラ炭坑)
The ruins of the largest coal mine on Iriomote Island, the 20-minute stroll is a great chance to get a taste of jungle hiking without the effort or discomfort of getting there.
The hike: From the bus stop, cross the street and walk though the parking lot. Instead of dropping down to the boat landing on your right, continue straight on and the concrete road will turn into a dirt forest track. You’ll soon see signs pointing to Utara Coal Mine (ウタラ炭坑), which is 1km from the parking lot. There are signs every 200 meters, so it’s impossible to get lost. Depending on when you go, you may very well have the entire trail to yourself, since most people opt for the boat ride. You can also rent a kayak at the boat landing and paddle up to the ruins, but I’m not sure if they’ll rent it to you without joining an expensive tour. Anyway, after a few minutes of hiking, you’ll come to a lookout point with fantastic views of the river below. A little further on the trail will drop down to meet Utara river, which it will follow for the remainder of the walk. There are places where you can drop down and observe the wildlife of the mangroves. At the end of the path, you’ll see some wooden stairs on your left which lead to an elevated wooden walkway. Follow this walkway to the end, and you’ll arrive at the ruins. There are explanatory panels here (in Japanese only), as well as a black-and-white photo of what the place used to look like. Apparently, the Imperial Army used slaves from Korea and China for the perilous work in the coal mines, during which time Iriomote Island was infested with malaria. The walkway is a good place to contemplate what life must have been like years ago. The rest of the area is heavily overgrown, but if you’re keen to do some additional exploring, then hop over the wooden railing and knock yourself out. Be careful of snakes, leeches, and other creatures that may be lurking in the deep.
When to go: This relatively flat hike can easily be done year round, and is great to do with kids. It’s also great to do after doing the Kanbiree hike, since you’re already in the area.
Access: From Uehara ferry terminal, take a bus bound for Shirahama and get off at Urauchibashi (浦内橋). The first bus is at 10:43am. Click here for the schedule. Otherwise, if you stay at Mariudo Guesthouse, they should be able to give you a ride to the start if you ask them. Hitching is also an option.
Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (a pretty flat walk)
Distance: 2km (40 minutes to 1-1/2 hours)