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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Okinawa Getaway: Day 5 6月29日

I had spent the first couple of days on Ishigaki 石垣島 exploring other nearby islands (Taketomi 竹富 and Iriomote 西表島). Now it was time to see what Ishigaki itself had to offer. Courtesy of a rental shop called Nankokuya 南国屋, located halfway between the guesthouse and the port, I quickly secured the services of a 50cc scooter at a rate of only ¥2500 ($31/NT890) for the day (from 9am to 6:30pm), and set out to see what was beyond the city limits.

Ishigaki proved to be a very easy island to navigate. Route 87 soon took me from the city 石垣市 straight through the center of the island. Having had experience with both riding scooters and driving on the left side of the road, traveling was stress-free. The gorgeous interior scenery and lack of traffic certainly added to the enjoyment.

Pictured below is what I’m pretty sure is Omoto-dake 於茂登岳, Okinawa Prefecture’s 沖縄県 highest mountain at 526 meters (1726 feet). I was intending to climb to the top, and even found the turnoff leading to the trailhead, Unfortunately, when I got there, I discovered the entrance had been roped off.

The scenery throughout Ishigaki often brings to mind Hawaii, right down to the sugar cane fields.

Route 87 ended at the northern coast of Ishigaki, on the opposite side of the island from the city, so I turned right onto Route 79 and headed northeast. Not wanting to let any hiking opportunities go to waste (seeing as I’d gone to the trouble of bringing bulky hiking boots with me on this trip), I soon found the turnoff for Nosoko-Māpe 野底マーペ. The mountain itself was easy to identify.

Though it’s only 282 meters (925 feet) in elevation, the one hour it took to reach the top was one of the most difficult short hikes I’ve ever attempted. The trail was overgrown and hard to follow in spots, it was dark from the dense tree cover, the ground was muddy and slippery from recent rains, it was steep in many places (fortunately there were ropes in place) and there were just too many damn spider webs that I had to break through on my up. And it was humid. Was it worth the trouble to reach the top? Hell, yeah!

Coming down the mountain was about as much fun as going up it, and I’d worked up an appetite in the process. So continuing on along Route 79, I turned east at Ibaruma Bay 伊原間湾 and stopped off at a small diner, where I had beef soba 牛そば for lunch (no beer, alas – only tea). Refueled, I continued up the coast and turned off at the sign for Sunset Beach サンセットビーチ for some much-needed cooling off. Sunset Beach is basically an enclosed swimming area, but it does have some reef (with accompanying tropical fish) close to shore, making it a good spot to break out the diving mask. And it was free.

Even after 90 minutes of swimming around, it was still only 3 in the afternoon at this point, so I got back on the scooter and rode up the island. It wasn’t long before I came to the end of the line, Hirakubo-zaki 平久保崎. The view from the pastoral landscape looking out over the ocean, with the scene framed by the white lighthouse and the small island Daichi Hanare-jima 大地離島, was absolutely gorgeous.

The beauty of Ishigaki’s northernmost point would’ve been enough for this day, but the island wasn’t done yet showing off its charms. Heading back towards the Ibaruma Bay junction, I continued going south, this time on Route 390, which would eventually bring me back into the city. But not before stopping off at one more scenic overlook. The Tamatori-zaki Observation Platform 玉取崎展望台 provides another splendid viewpoint, with its pavilion set among blooming hibiscus ハイビスカス flowers (the latter proving especially popular with the small groups of attractive young women stopping by to take a look).

I made it back into Ishigaki with only a few minutes to spare before the rental shop closed, meaning I’d certainly gotten my yen’s worth out of my rented hog…OK, piglet. And to think that in roughly 9 hours of touring, I’d only explored a little more than half of the island. That was fine, because I still had one more day ahead of me. In the meantime, back in town and tired of soba, I first enjoyed an Indian dinner of two kinds of curry and naan bread, then did some souvenir shopping for Amber and Pamela, before purchasing a bottle of Ishigaki Beer 石垣島地ビール (my first of the day) and retiring to my room. I was definitely looking forward to the next day’s ride!

Amber’s dress is made from bingata 紅型, a traditional Okinawan textile (

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