Pinaisaara Waterfall (ピナイサーラの滝)
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)