Well here we are, back at work and back from three days in Okinawa. We had a wonderful time in the Yaeyama Islands and feel much better for it, despite receiving a scrape or two from some coral as well as a really stupid-looking triangle I managed to burn around my glowing white butt.
The triangle is brown now. The butt is still white.
With the end of third term, our Japan countdown has started. It’s only eleven months now until we’ll be back in Australia and we’re starting to feel a certain amount of pressure to make the most of our remaining time. With that in mind, we figured, it’s summer, the kids are on break and hotel air conditioning is included in the price. What better time for a trip away?
Ishigaki starts being lovely as soon as you land. Kin made a dash for the luggage carousel, while I made one for the Ladies, but even those activities were made more pleasant than on the mainland. The orchid decorating the washbasins was deep gold, cheerful and actually alive. Meeting Kin at the carousel, it was the same; the entire airport was full of colourful plants and aquariums with brilliant local sea life.
Ishigaki is basically a tourist trap; a pleasant, reasonably-priced tourist trap that actually has the history and the natural attractions to back up its reputation. They want to be certain that your time is enjoyable from start to finish, I suppose, so the airport was just the first step.
The Ishigaki landscape looks a lot like Northern NSW or Queensland if it had been settled by Thai or Chinese people. The architecture is completely different to our area of Japan; lots of very solid, blocky little ground-hugging structures with very different lines and shapes to the ones in Honshu. Also a lot of cement! I suppose there isn’t a lot of hardwood available in a climate like that and you can tell that they must see some really nasty weather sometimes.
We’d booked rooms at a basic (but nice) Minshuku, so we hopped off our bus at the ferry port, found it very quickly (thank you, Google Maps!) then dumped our bags and headed out to find bikes to rent.
Now I know I usually rave about bikes being the best way to see a place, but I will actually admit this isn’t the case on Ishigaki. The recommended way of getting around the island is by rental car and I can definitely see why; the cars are very cheap and the island is very hilly! Nevertheless, we boarded our gearless mama-charis and headed off to adventure.
We spent a LOT of time on those bikes over the next three days. DAMN does that island have a lot of hills! We managed to survive the experience, see a lot and have a lovely time, but if you can, just rent the car. You’ll be happier in the long run.
Most of our time was spent cycling the (many, many) hills of Ishigaki or exploring the awesome coral at Yonehara Beach; we spent two extremely happy days on that reef alone (I could probably spend the rest of my life there).
Still, we did manage to haul ourselves away on our last day to visit Taketomi Island, which along with a star-sand beach and its own selection of fabulous reefs also has a very, very old town, which has maintained a very traditional Okinawan style of living.
Sadly, we didn’t get to Iriomote Island. We only had three full days on the islands and we spent most of them on Ishigaki. To be honest, we probably should have based ourselves on Iriomote instead, but Ishigaki coral is amazing and the town has attractions of its own; the food is cheap and awesome. Soba is a bit of an island specialty, and they serve it in a variety of ways, but it was mostly the preparation and seasoning of the food, rather than differences in the specific dishes, that made it all so enjoyable.
The green bubbles above are umi budou (sea grape) , a really, really delicious, crunchy seaweed that was served as an entrée at a few of the restaurants. Apparently we are much too far north to be able to get it in Shiga (we have the nasty, petrol-flavoured, scraped-off-a-rock hajiki instead) but I’m already dispatching spies in Australia to hunt for it during their coastal and ocean photography missions.
Perhaps most importantly, we pursued our joint hobby of finding and irritating crabs of various species. The Yaeyama islands are the hermit-crabbinest place I’ve ever been, and we managed to aggravate individuals both large and small.
We strongly recommend Ishigaki and the rest of the Yaeyama islands to homesick Australians and people who enjoy nature tourism. They also have a lot to offer people who enjoy a bit of luxury on a tropical island, but we didn’t do those bits, so if that’s what you’re into, you’ll have to Google it.
P.S. I’ve tried to avoid giving you a bunch of boring travel details, but if anyone is actually planning a trip and wants to know more about getting to or staying at Ishigaki, I’d be thrilled to share!