Day 21: Hike in the mangrove on Iriomote
Trip Start Apr 08, 2010
42Trip End May 06, 2010
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While the second-largest of all Okinawa islands in size, Iriomote's population is barely over 2,000 and visitors, at over 150,000 a year, outnumber residents by almost 100:1. 90% of the island is covered in dense jungles and swampy mangroves, most of which are either part of the Iriomote National Park or protected state land, and the island is unquestionably one of the few remaining great wildernesses of Japan. Iriomote is sometimes nicknamed "the Galapagos or Amazon of Asia" !
When we arrived at Urauchi river, it was 8:30 and the tide was high. We walked to the headquarters of a small company which were close to the river and offered different kinds of trips. We bought tickets to do the trip on the river and then hike in the jungle to big waterfalls.
We met one staff guy who could speak good english. Basically we wanted to take the boat one way and rent a canoe to come back. But the guy told us that canoe rental was possible only for a return trip, and that it cost 8000 yens (contrary to 800 yens indicated on the internet or in guides). We thus bought tickets for the boat trip ( ¥1500 per person).
The exact schedule changes daily but departures are frequent (every 30 minutes or so) in the mornings. We got on the boat at 9:00 and during our cruise on the Urauchi river, we could enjoy the mangrove and jungle scenery: the river was large and blurry (we felt like cruising on the Amazon river!), many huge trees on the mountains around us and close to the river.
A group of young kids was with us on the boat (it was day off in Japan since the first day of the Golden Week). Cruise commentary was Japanese only, but an English-language summary leaflet was provided.
It was a 8 km cruise, and we disembarked at Gunkan-iwa Rock 30 minutes later. That's where the trail through the "jungle" started : it was muddy and a bit slippery, but wearing ACG shoes is ok ; no need of water boots.
Walking in the middle of the jungle was amazing. We could enjoy the forest of luxuriant foliage, and the air was hot and humid despite grey skies. There were many small waterfalls on the way.
After a 30 min walk, we reached a viewing pavilion with views on the first big waterfall (Mariyudu waterfall). You can only see it from this viewpoint but you can not come close. Indeed, as of December 2006, this section of the path is roped off due to a fallen tree.
We then continued to walk through the jungle, and 10 min later, we arrived at the second waterfall (Kambire waterfall). This time we could get very close, and walk on large flat rocks next to it. We spent some time there, and took several pictures. The landscape there was very impressive, as the waterfal was nested in the jungle and surrounded by big mountains covered with a dense forest. For the record, the cross-island trail starts from here.
We then walked back to the pier and took the boat leaving at 12:00. This time, it was low tide and thus a true change of scenery on the river: we could see the mangrove much better now.
When we arrived at the company front desk, we discovered that shuttle buses to Uehara were cancelled : no more ferry were leaving from Uehara to Ishigaki because of the bad weather : waves were too big !
Hence we decided to change our plans and not to go to the star sand beach. Anyway, we could not have enjoyed it with such a strong wind...
We then had to take another shuttle bus to the other port of Iriomote : Ohara. Indeed, from there, ferrys never stop. The ride to Ohara took almost an hour, and was still free with our ferry ticket.
We finally got back to Ishigaki at 14:00, which was much earlier than expected ! The good news was that it was more sunny on Ishigaki. We thus decided to take the airport loop bus and we had lunch on Maezato beach, near the ANA intercontinental hotel.
We wrote a few postcards there and finally came back to our hotel.