Posted tagged ‘Okinawa’

Utara Coal Mine Ruins (ウタラ炭坑)

March 5, 2013

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.

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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)

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Geeda Waterfall (ゲーダの滝)

January 21, 2013

Geeda waterfall is a three-tiered beauty with magnificant views over the jungle to the East China Sea. The river slog and accompanying climb are recommended for experienced hikers only unless you go with a guide.

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The hike: Once you cross Geeda bridge (ゲーダ橋), look behind the railing on the right side of the road and you can see the trail descending into the jungle. Be careful when coming by bicycle, because just before Geeda bridge is Nishi Geeda bridge (西ゲーダ橋). Don’t get the two bridges confused. If the bus driver lets you off at Omijya, then you’ll need to backtrack a few minutes to find the bridge. Enter the jungle and you’ll soon cross over the river and follow the right bank. After a couple of minutes, the trail ends at the edge of the river. From here you’ll basically need to spend most of the time in the river, alternating from the left to right banks. Basically choose whichever areas look stable and relatively safe to climb. You might find it useful in tricky areas to actually exit the river and follow through the overgrown jungle. I spent most of the climb trying to stay dry, but ended up spending the entire time in the river on the way back, since I was already wet from swimming. The water isn’t too deep, but there are a few waist-deep pools to watch out for. After 20 to 30 minutes of scrambling, you’ll reach the base of the 3-tiered waterfall. Instead of climbing up to the base, look on the left bank of the river for a trail through the jungle that will take you to the top of the waterfall. It’s marked with a pink ribbon that can be difficult to find, but just head up the steep incline. The path climbs steeply at first before descending to the top of the first tier. From here you can get a good view of the jungle with the sea beyond. The part of the climb to the second tier is tricky and vertigo-inducing, so do not attempt it if you’re not confident with climbing. The route continues climbing to the base of a cliff. When you reach this area, turn right and traverse the edge of the cliff before reaching an overgrown tree. You’ll see some ropes here, so hoist yourself up to the second tier of the waterfall. The views here and outstanding and the flat rocks make it an ideal place to take a break. If you’re still gungho, there’s an incredibly steep and dangerous trail to the left of the waterfall that will take you to top, but do not proceed if the rocks are wet, as you’ll have no traction. I turned back just before the top because I was alone, and didn’t have a rope and harness. After admiring the views, make your way carefully back down to the base of the first tier, where you’ll find a great swimming hole. After getting thoroughly soaked, head back down through the river back to the paved road and your waiting transport.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but be sure to have good footwear. I did this hike in sandals and my toes got pretty beat up, so consider wearing some sawanobori shoes or Vibram 5-Fingers. You can rent wetsuit boots at Mariudo if you don’t have any. Hiking boots are pretty useless, since the trail pretty much runs straight up the river. Mariudo also runs half-day tours if you’re inexperienced. Climbing rope and a harness will come in handy if you choose to climb the final tier.

Access: Although there is no bus stop at the trailhead, the bus driver will usually let you off there if you tell him/her. Just ask to get off at Omijya (お見謝) Paakingu or Geeda hashi. Another option (which I chose) was to rent a bicycle and ride out to the trailhead from Uehara. If you’re staying at Mariudo Guesthouse then you can rent a bicycle there and ride the 6km to the trailhead. Just head downhill towards Funaura port and keep going. This might be a better option because of the limited bus schedule. If you’ve got a license then you can rent a scooter as well.

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change ~100m)

Distance: 3km (1 to 4 hours, depending on how long you swim)

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Kanbiree waterfall (カンビレーの滝)

November 11, 2012

Kanbiree waterfall is one of Iriomote’s most visited waterfalls, and an excellent introduction to the unspoiled scenery of the Yaeyama archipelago.

The hike: When exiting the boat, tell the driver what time you’d like to return, or there will likely not be a boat waiting for you when you return. (In high season it should be fine, but in winter the boats are few and far between). From the boat landing, head up the concrete path with the concrete and metal retaining wall on your left. You’ll soon pass by a concrete rest area on your left, which may have tents pitched over the picnic tables to keep out the rain. The trail becomes a mix of concrete and rock for the next stretch, until you reach a junction. If you need to use the restroom, then take the path on your left. Otherwise, continue straight on the easy-to-follow route. There are a few waterfalls on the left side, usually after passing over a wooden bridge. Your next landmark, after 15 to 20 minutes of easy hiking, will be a trail on the right heading towards a lookout point (展望台). Climb up the stairs for a great view of Mariyudu waterfall (マリユドゥ滝). Retrace your steps to the main trail and continue heading up the river towards the falls. In about 10 minutes or so, you’ll see a trail heading off on the right to Mariyudu waterfall. At the time of writing (March 2012), this trail was off limits to hikers. It’s just as well, because if you climb under the rope you’ll find the trail incredibly slippery and overgrown. It meets up with the river above the waterfall, but you can’t actually view the falls from here, so it’s better to ignore this trail and head towards Kanbiree waterfall. You’ll reach those falls in another 10 minutes or so. The trail ends at an open area with a great view of the fall, but unfortunately a lot of the rocks here have been defaced with graffiti. If you’re an experienced hiker, then I highly recommend heading to the top of the falls. To get there you’ll basically need to follow the rocks on the left side of the river. There is a trail marked with ribbon, but be careful in wet conditions because the entire area is slippery. After a few minutes of tricky footwork, you’ll see a rope draped across a stream coming in from the left. Grab onto the rope and make your way through the water to the other side. After this point it gets much easier, and you can rock hop a fair ways up the river. Take a break at any place you choose. There are some great swimming holes the further up the river you scramble. This is where the Iriomote traverse outlined in the Lonely Planet guidebook begins, but you’ll need to register your intentions with the Iriomote police and you’re prohibited from traversing alone. Most Japanese guidebooks recommend camping halfway through the traverse to help break up the distance. Once you find the trail it’s actually pretty well marked, with signposts every 200 meters. Anyway, retrace your steps back to the ferry terminal and consider doing the short hike to the Utara coal mine ruins if you’ve still got the energy.

When to go: This hike can easily be done year round, but bring plenty of water in the summer and be careful of slippery rocks in wet conditions.

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, but if staying at Mariudo Guesthouse they can drop you off there in time for the first boat at 9:30am. From the bus stop, cross the street and walk through the small parking lot, turning right to go down to the boat landing by the river. The boat costs ¥1800 and takes about 30 minutes to get to the start of the trail at Gunkan-Iwa (軍艦岩). The boat would be a lot faster if the driver didn’t keep stopping to point out all the geographical features in Japanese.

Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change ~50m)

Distance: 5km (2-1/2 to 4 hours)

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Maetake (前嵩)

May 29, 2012

Maetake is a pointy peak overlooking Kabira bay in the northwestern part of Ishigaki Island. It’s a good chance to see some jungle scenery without much effort and can be combined with a visit to nearby Kabira park.

The hike: If coming from Kabira, go past Yon bus stop on the main road and turn right when you see the blue billboard that says 島料理あたん亭 on the left side of the road. You’ll see a paved road with a chain across it just opposite this sign. Park your car or bicycle here, climb over the chain, and walk straight on the road. After about 10 meters you’ll see the ruins of an old building on your right, so keep walking straight and soon the road will start to narrow considerably and turn into a trail. Ignore the paved road on your right just before you enter the forest. After about 5 minutes, you’ll cross a log bridge (basically a tree that’s been cut in half and laid across a small stream). About 10 meters after crossing this log, the path will split, and you’ll see an old wooden sign propped up against an electrical pole. Turn right here and follow the path that goes next to the stream. The trail is easy to follow and crosses the stream a couple of times before climbing up to the ridge. It should take about 25 minutes of relatively easy climbing before reaching the ridge, where the path takes a sharp turn to the left and flattens out. Just where the path turns you’ll see a faint trail on your right which leads to the summit of Maetake. It’s pretty easy to miss, so if you soon arrive at an NHK antenna then you know you’ve gone too far. This narrow, slightly overgrown path climbs straight up the spine towards the summit and is incredibly slippery and muddy in wet weather. After 20 meters the path will appear to split, but if you look up and towards your right you’ll see a medium-sized boulder. Head up to the rock and just beyond you’ll see a rope dangling from a tree. Use this rope to help you climb up to the summit plateau, which is covered with 2-1/2 meter-high bamboo grass. You’ll literally need to swim through this mountain of grass to reach the top, but it’ll only take a few minutes. Once you reach the high point there are a couple of rocks you can stand on to get a view over the undergrowth. You’ll see Kabira peninsula stretched out before you, with Sukuji beach directly below. To your right you can see the rest of Kabira bay, with Mt. Omoto and Mt. Nosoko stretching out beyond. After you have admired the views, retrace your steps back to the junction and continue on the ridge to the NHK antenna. There are some good views between the trees, and the concrete makes a good place to take a break and eat some snacks. If you continue on this trail another 50 meters or so, you’ll reach another building housing a TV antenna. If you walk behind the building you can get great views of Kabira bay, which are unfortunately framed by power lines! All in all it should take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to reach the summit, which makes it a great afternoon or late morning hike.

When to go: This hike can easily be done year round, but bring plenty of water if hiking in the hot summer.

Access: The hike is a 2km walk from Kabira bay. If you’re staying at Iriwa Guesthouse in Kabira, then you can borrow their bicycle to get to the hike. Otherwise, the closest bus stop is called Yon (ヨーン) Buses bound for Kabira stop here, so just tell the driver you want to get off at Yon. Click here for the bus schedule.

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~200m)

Distance: 4km (1-1/2 to 3 hours)

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Nosoko Maapee (野底マーペー)

March 26, 2012

Mt. Nosoko is a volcanic, helmet-shaped mountain situated in the northeastern part of Ishigaki Island. The views from the rocky summit are some of the best on the entire island.

The hike: From Shimoji (下地) bus stop, head past the elementary school and turn right when you get to a paved road with a small white sign reading “野底マーペ登山道”. The road passes by some sugarcane fields with a head-on view of Mt. Nosoko before reaching a junction. Turn right, following the “マーペー” around the bend and over the river. The trailhead is on your left, just after you cross the bridge. It should take about 10 minutes to reach this point. Look for the sign that reads “野底マーペー登山道入口”. Turn left at the sign to enter the jungle. You’ll soon cross an area with a leaning chain link fence on your right and will cross a stream using a series of cinder blocks. Just past here, the trail makes a sharp right turn (don’t cross over the white chain) and starts climbing towards the peak. The trail is pretty easy to follow, and you can always look for the red tape on the trees if you’re unsure. After a few minutes of climbing you’ll find a downed tree draping across the path. Slide under the tree and continue advancing on the root-infested trail. Soon you’ll run into areas with red clay that becomes quite slippery when damp. Use the ropes to help you if you’re unsure of your footing. After 15 minutes or so, the trail will cut towards the right, where you can follow the white “登山” signs painted with red arrows. After a bit more climbing the trail will start to traverse to the other side of the peak, past some incredibly large boulders. Don’t try to climb the rocks to get a view because you’ll get plenty of views at the top. After a few more minutes, you’ll reach a junction. This is the turnoff towards the paved road where lazy hikers park for a shortcut to the top. The path is marked as “林道”, but ignore it and head straight on the “山頂” path. From here the climbing gets much steeper but it will also start to open up a bit. You should reach the rocks at the summit plateau in about 10 minutes or so. Scramble up to the rocks and you’ll have an unobstructed panoramic view of the entire island. After taking in the views, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

When to go: This hike can easily be done year round, but watch out for mud during or just after the rain. Also, make sure you wear long pants to keep the ticks (and leeches) away. Hiking shoes are a must as well, since your toes will likely turn into a bloody mess if using sandals because of all  the exposed tree roots.

Access: From Ishigaki Bus Terminal, take the 10:45am 西方面 bus (11:25am bus from Kabira) bound for Ibaruma (伊原間) and ask the driver to let you off at “Nosoko Maapee tozanguchi no chikaku” (near Mt. Nosoko trailhead). If the driver doesn’t know, the turnoff is between Shimoji and Kanegusuku bus stops. You can get off at Shimoji (下地) and walk from there if you’re not sure. The bus arrives at Shimoji at 12:00 noon, and the only bus back into town leaves at 1pm, which means you won’t have enough time to make it up and back before that bus. Never fear, because it’s incredibly easy to hitch on the island. Catch a ride to Yonehara and you can catch a bus from there back into town, or call an expensive cab if you don’t feel comfortable riding with someone you don’t know.

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~250m)

Distance: 4km (1-1/2 to 3 hours)

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Pinaisaara Waterfall (ピナイサーラの滝)

March 15, 2012

Pinaisaara waterfall is an exciting kayak/hike combination on Iriomote Island, one of Japan’s best preserved wilderness areas. You may even get to see a Crested Serpent Eagle flying through the mangrove trees.

The hike: From the boat landing, kayak up the river, making sure you stay on the right fork of the river when it meets Funaura bay. From here, it should take about 15 to 20 minutes of easy kayaking to reach the start of the hike. If you’ve come by yourself, then look for a place to tie up your boat on the right side of the river, before the river turns into rocks and rapids. Be sure to store your paddle inside your kayak and put your life jacket in a tree so you can find your boat later. Better yet, take a picture of your kayak so you can remember what it looks like! Once you exit the boat, you have 2 options. If you turn left and follow the stream upriver, you can get to the base of Pinasaara waterfall. If you turn right and climb up to the ridge, you can climb to the top of the falls. I recommend climbing to the top first, and then visit the base of the falls for a swim before paddling back to the start. Enter the jungle from the boat landing and turn right, following the trail for a few meters before it starts the short but steep climb to the ridge. The trail is completely unmarked and can be difficult to follow (I think this is done on purpose in order for the guides to justify their existence).  You should reach the ridge after about 10 minutes of strenuous climbing. At one point you’ll reach a large rock formation, but there’s a rope here to assist you in the ascent. Just past this the trail will flatten out and turn towards the left. After a few minutes you’ll cross a stream and reach the top of a crest, where you can hear the waterfall. There’s a faint trail to the right, but ignore this and take the trail to your left marked with a white buoy tied to a tree. It’s a steep 2-minute descent to the river, which is at the top of the waterfall. In order to look down on the waterfall and out to sea, you’ll need to cross the river, which can be really tricky. Just to your left you’ll see a very small waterfall that stretches the length of the river. At the base of that fall the water is shallow and the river bed is flat, so this is where you’ll want to cross. Upstream seems safer, but there’s no way of getting up there. Once you cross, head downstream and around towards the right to the top of the cliff. It seems like it would be easier to just stay on dry land and walk along the flat rocks on your right, but be careful because they are extremely slippery. If you’re not sure where to go, then just wait for a guided tour to come along and watch how the guide crosses the river. After admiring the views, retrace your steps back down to the river and continue upstream. The path can be a bit tricky to find, so when in doubt stick to the river until you end up crossing a portion of it. From here the track will climb up on the right bank of the river, away from the shore. The best course of action is to follow the scuff marks on the rocks. They’re the best indication of where to go. After about 10 minutes you’ll reach the base of the falls, so take a break here and enjoy the swim (if the water’s not too cold). After this you can backtrack to your kayak and paddle back to civilization. All in all it should take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to do the entire trip, depending on how fast you can kayak and how long you rest/swim.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but summer is the best season if you want to go swimming at the base of the waterfall. Winter can be just as rewarding, with fewer people and a better chance to see the waterfall at full strength.

Access: Although during low tide this hike can be done without a boat, the best way to appreciate the splendor of the place is to get to the start of the hike by kayak. 99% of the people join a guided tour, but it’s not necessary if you have a little experience with kayaking. Mariudo Guesthouse can rent you a kayak only (without a guide) for ¥4000. They’ll drop you off and pick you up, and will also give you a basic map. This is a great place to stay on the island, because the food is good, the staff are knowledgable, and they have a fantastic selection of tours. If you’re not comfortable with kayaking, you can always join their full-day guided tour for ¥8000, which includes the guide, lunch, and kayaks.

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~100m)

Distance: 4km by kayak, 2km walking (3 to 5 hours)

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Mt. Omoto (於茂登岳)

March 1, 2012

Mt. Omoto is not only the highest peak in Okinawa Prefecture, but also one of the most challenging hikes on Ishigaki island.

Warning: As of March 2012, the trail is officially closed to hikers, but that doesn’t stop people from climbing the peak. The path is overgrown in places and extremely slippery, so it should not be attempted by those without much hiking experience. Also, please don’t hike in sandals, as the peak has a fair number of venomous pit vipers and leeches.

The hike: From the bus stop, walk on the road about 20 meters in front of you (behind you if coming from Kabira) and turn left on the paved road with the overhead sign that reads Mt. Omoto 1.7km. Stay on this paved road for about 20 minutes, passing some greenhouses on your left. Just past the greenhouses, the road splits, and you’ll see a sign pointing towards the right fork that says 於茂登山 登山道. Turn right here and the road turns to gravel. Follow this to the end and you’ll arrive at the trailhead. The path is currently blockaded, but step around the cones and turn left. The path will soon arrive at an area that has been washed out, but there are steps built into the hillside to easily navigate past on the left.  Continue on the path for 5 more minutes and you’ll reach a grave that says 大御岳ぬ清水. Veer left at the tombstone and cross the small stream using the log bridge. The path will meet up with a narrow river and follow the right side for a while. Follow the tape marks and you should be ok.  You’ll soon see a sign reading 頂上まで 約40分. The signpost is turned 90 degrees and is barely hanging onto the tree. The trail heads towards the right and up some stairs, paralleling the river. Shortly you’ll come across a downed tree in the middle of the trail. Instead of climbing over the tree, head down towards the river bank and around. Just past this the trail will appear to end, but look on the other side of the river and you’ll see the red tape. Cross the river using any rocks that seem stable. Just on the other side of the river you’ll see a blue and tan sign that reads 滝. Drop your pack here and head left for 2 minutes, where you’ll come to a beautiful waterfall. After taking a few photos, retrace your steps back to the junction and continue climbing, this time on the left bank of the river. The trail here starts to become a bit overgrown because most hikers go up to the waterfall and back. Just a few meters on, you’ll see a tree on the right side of the trail with red paint that says “No. 10”. The path is a bit unclear here, but take the trail just to the left of this tree. Soon you’ll reach an area that was previously washed out, with a large concrete retaining wall on the right side of the trail. Pass through this area and after a few minutes you’ll reach a sign that says 最後の給水ポイントです. Backtrack 3 steps and you’ll see a small stream with some blue cups hanging on a rock. This is your last chance to fill up on water, so take a well-deserved break here. After this sign, the trail starts climbing rather steeply towards the ridge, and the views will really start to open up. If it’s been raining then you’ll likely get soaked from head to toe from swimming through the brush. The path becomes more constricted the higher you climb, but it’s pretty easy to tell where you need to go. After 10 minutes or so you’ll see a yellow sign that says 頂上まで 約10分. Just past this sign you’ll reach a clearing on your left. At the top of this clearing is your first antenna, but there’s no need to go up there. Continue straight and the trail continues for a few minutes, where you’ll reach a signposted junction. Turn left to reach the summit (頂上), and go right to a lookout point (ダム展望). Take the left fork to the summit for now, since you can always go to the lookout on your way down. After a couple of more minutes you’ll suddenly pop out of the forest and come face-to-face with a giant TV antenna! Turn left here and you’ll reach the true summit after about 30 seconds. You’ll be completely surrounded by tall bamboo grass, but if you climb the boulder directly behind the summit marker then you can have an incredible panoramic view of the entire island. When you finish admiring the views, simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead, taking great care not to slip and fall on the way down. The path is absolutely treacherous in the rain as the rather large lacerations on my butt can attest to. All in all it should take anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours to reach the top, depending on how many breaks you take.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but be prepared for a lot of rain if hiking in the winter. Bring plenty of water and sun protection if hiking in the summer, since it’s a long, sweaty climb. October is a good time to go, with cooler temperatures and less chance of typhoons ravaging the island. Click here for a great comprehensive English guide to Ishigaki Island, including an alternate description of this hike.

Access: From Ishigaki Bus Terminal, take the Yonehara Campground bus line (米原キャンプ場線) bound for Kabira (川平) and tell the driver you want to get off at Omoto bus stop (於茂登). The bus takes about 45 minutes and there are only 2 buses in the morning (one at 8:30am and the other at 9:30am). If you’re staying in Kabira then there are 2 buses in the morning on the Yonehara line bound for the bus terminal (one leaving at 10:10am and the other at 11:10am) You can pick up a copy of the bus schedules at the Tourist Information Center at the airport.  Click here for the bus schedule.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~400m) Experienced hikers only.

Distance: Approx. 7km (3 to 5 hours)

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