My search for the perfect Japanese island continued already five months after the last trip :-). Over New Year I was in Zamami, this time, over Golden Week, I decided to go to Kume island. Kume island is actually the fifth biggest Okinawa island, after Okinawa Hontou (main island), Iriomote, Ishigaki, and Miyako. (I’ve been on all of them). You can take a short flight from Naha or go four hours by ship. Since I love boats, I of course took the ship version (which is also much cheaper than flying). Because of the sailing times, and having learned from the Zamami trip, I booked two nights in Naha before and after the journey to Kume island. After a short afternoon in Naha wandering around the International Street, I had to get up at 6:30 to catch the boat to Kume island at 8:30. I was on board at around 8:00 and due to Golden Week the ship was full, which did not concern me too much though, since I stayed on deck the entire time anyway. The sea was a bit rough and the weather not so nice, but I thoroughly enjoyed the four hours on the boat, getting soaked from spray a few times, lol.
Arrived on Kume island I took a taxi (yes, they even have taxis) and a Stone Age old guy in a Stone Age old taxi brought me across the island to my hotel close to the so called Eef beach, which is apparently one of the one hundred best beaches of Japan. The hotel was very simple, but had everything and was twenty meters from the beach and right next to it was a Family Mart convenience store. Nothing else needed to survive!
I wandered around the beach, before they let me check in and then found a bicycle rental too, another twenty meters from the hotel. Perfect! For the afternoon I rented a normal bicycle and squeaked with it to the “tatami” rocks, a volcanic rock formation not unlike the hexagons of the Giants Causeway in Ireland. I kinda want to see this once in bright sunshine with blue skies, but… I walked up the entire beach beyond the tatami rocks and had the beach to myself.
The houses of Kume island are mostly all a bit old and there are no high rise hotels, which of course also has its charm. But my hotel was at the main road on the east side of the island and due to the Eef beach also a major “tourist” spot, there were restaurants and bars around. Some youngsters sang karaoke somewhere until three in the morning, unlucky me that I like to sleep with open window and no air conditioning on. There are also apartment houses nearby and hm… not a good spot to have an apartment with loud tourist night life every day.
On day three I did the lookout route and burned through two bicycle batteries on the up and down course through the island (I got a second one as a spare from the hotel staff as a service ;-)). One of the open sea side lookouts comes with a mini tower for the whale watching season. A local sits in the tower and looks out for whales and radios their position to the whale watching boats. Some humpback whales usually come to breed around Zamami. They are around from January to April. Since it was only the first of January, it didn’t look like they had arrived yet.
On the bay side lookout I met a lady from the U.K. who is a teacher in Yamagata prefecture in the north and who escaped the snow there for some days of sunshine, only that there was no sunshine. But at least it was warmer than in Yamagata, which is drowning in snow this time of year. The lady was a muslim and wore a black veil. I wonder how the people in Yamagata react to her. I’m sure it’s not exactly easy for her to live in Japan.
After the lookout tour I had been to everywhere on the island and it is very beautiful indeed.
Is it a candidate for retirement? I haven’t ruled it out yet, despite only 600 people in the island. I “interviewed” some of the hotel personnel. Two are from Yokohama originally, one lady is from Iwate. One of the Yokohama guys is on the island for six years now and his family is still in Yokohama. Interesting. The lady from Iwate left her husband there. I don’t know for how many years. They were working over New Year, which is kind of holy for the Japanese as a family get together event, but… interesting. The guy from Yokohama who is there for six years said there is a doctor on the island on weekdays and if there is something serious, they fly you over to Naha with the “doctor heli” helicopter service. If the ferries don’t go but you must get off the island, you can charter a helicopter as well, it costs usually 90,000 yen, but depending on the circumstances they let you charter it for 30,000 yen. If five people board that’s only 6000 yen per person. The ferries don’t run on average once a month due to bad weather. Of course no helicopter flies during a typhoon either, but no planes from Naha also, so what. Hm! The island is still a candidate for retirement 😉
On my last full day I went to the pirate beach once more and to town for lunch, but then escaped back to the hotel due to rain becoming more constant. Despite the far from ideal weather and the difficulties in getting to the island, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Naha and Zamami. The latter is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life.
On my last day in New Caledonia I rode a local bus again to the last stop before a presumed look-out point. Nothing much was marked and I just followed instinct walking up a mountain road for a bit. Then finally I came across a sign telling me I was on the right way. I took the off-road trail and much like at the Isle of Pines the trail soon lost itself more or less entirely, but since it couldn’t be far, I walked on and indeed managed to get onto the top of what is called Ouen Toro. There is a small military base there, which is off limits and two Australian cannons from WW2 times are right before the fenced off military area. The spot gives a great view over the atoll and also Noumea. It was well worth the hike.
After climbing down from the mountain, I went back to the taxi boat, because there was a second island it sometimes goes to, further out beyond the Duck island, called Ilot Matire. The taxi boat only goes there once per hour, if at all. The high speed ride there was less than funny, because the surf was quite strong and the boat was swaying badly but I arrived after all. The island is much bigger than the Duck island and sports a luxury hotel with real houses on the island and also right above the water. The island is only a hundred meters wide but quite long and on its sea-side it has a fantastic beach, which, for the most part, I had entirely to myself. I encountered a sea snake wriggling up the beach towards the hotel, unaware that they are apparently very poisonous, and happily shot pictures of it instead of running away 😉
As soon as the sun hides behind clouds the pretty beach turns a bit ghastly and it made me aware that this “paradise” is actually a damn harsh paradise. There is nothing but the sea, sand and a few trees and in times of old the local people lived off nothing but fishing and coconuts.
I greatly enjoyed the visit to the island though and to see that beach is well worth the scary boat ride. The ride back wasn’t less scary and bumpy and I have to admit, I was glad to be back on Grand Terre.
All in all New Caledonia is of great natural beauty and well worth a visit. It’s remote location lets only a limited amount of tourists find their way to the islands and leaves the atoll intact. With a car, a boat, or more money, I would have seen even more beautiful harsh nature, but even the few corners I could go to were more than impressive. I’m not in the habit of going anywhere twice, but in New Caledonia’s case let me say: never say never again 😉
On my fourth day in New Caledonia, I walked around the beaches of Anse Vata and Lemon Bay again, then took a taxi boat to the tiny Duck Island right across from the Anse Vata Bay. The taxi boat there goes every fifteen minutes and the short ride is loud (thanks to the monstrous outboard engine of the boat) and fun. The tiny island has a lovely beach, and a bar and a restaurant in the middle. That day saw the more typical weather for the region and the time of year, rain showers every few hours. It was like that every day except for the day of my arrival and the day on the Isle of pines. Lucky me!
The showers are usually not long, just fifteen minutes or so, but they can be quite intense. During one of the showers I stayed under the roof of the bar and chatted with Australian cruise people. Three elderly guys, one wearing a captains hat, who looked like they have a constantly high level of alcohol in them 😉 The dude with the captains hat said his boat was the Lollipop 😉 they were on a ten day cruise and had visited one of the the Loyalty islands first, then Isle of Pines, now Noumea, before going back to Sydney.
While there are no ducks on the island, there were plenty of seagulls who were also nesting and a part of the island is fenced off. You can walk around the island in a ten minute stroll. It’s a lovely little spot and fun to get there via taxi boat.
Day five of my stay was a culture day.
I wanted to visit the Jean-Marie Tjibaou culture center and that day seemed good for it because of not so nice weather with many clouds and those occasional showers. But, how to get there… there is a public bus system in Noumea and I decided to try that out. To get to the culture center I had to take a bus to the city, then change to another. Funnily the buses reminded me of the buses in Los Angeles, where the only people who ride buses are either too old to drive a car, too young to drive a car or to poor to own a car… in contrast to Los Angeles though, the buses felt safer and more civilized. But the divide between rich French and not so rich locals was saddening. The culture center was the last stop of the route and I was the last passenger to get off. The museum did not have many visitors… which is too bad, because it is very beautiful. I wonder why they needed an Italian architect for the building and not a local one, but nevertheless, he did a great job, the building is amazing.
The culture center has art displays from local artists, a library, some tribal houses and a photography display with photos from Noumea in the 1880ties. The museum is named after the local Jean-Marie Tjibaou, who fought for New Caledonia’s independence from France and was assassinated by another (even more radical?) local. I heard next year or so there will be another referendum deciding about the question of independence from France.
A Happy New Year 2018 everyone! May the Force be with us… somehow.
My search for the perfect Japanese island continues 🙂 Let me recap, my search started in 2011 and so far I have visited seven island (groups) and Amami is the eighth.
Amami Oshima (Oshima simply means big island) is actually the seventh largest island of Japan. Here is the ranking: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku, Okinawa (main island), Sado (in the Sea of Japan and too cold and thus not so interesting for me ;-))and number seven is Amami Oshima (big island).
Amami has a circumference of after all 460 km, which is quite large. Yet only 61,000 people live there spread over six main settlements with the biggest “Naze”, having most of the population. The island lies between Kyushu and Okinawa and is a part of Kagoshima prefecture. It enjoys far less popularity as Okinawa, which, in my opinion is good for the island, because that makes it a fairly quiet place.
Since I had never been there before (and I’m not in the habit of making plans beforehand, I book a flight and a hotel and see what happens when I get there) I took a hotel I didn’t know where and flew to Amami airport. My hotel turned out to be a bit in the middle of nowhere but as usual that has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage was that it was not easy to get around without a car, the advantage was it was two minutes from a very lovely beach.
My first day on the island I spent bicycling with a very rusty and very basic bicycle that I rented from the hotel for free. Since it had zero gears, I had to push it up every little hill and there are many hills on Amami. 😉 I rode happily for some twenty kilometers in total nevertheless (which is a lot for me) and it was one fine day with sunshine and some clouds but no rain and lovely 17 or something Celsius. Perfect bicycle weather actually. I rode through very lonely hills with views to the sea every few meters, the East China Sea as well as the Pacific.
The best beach was at the Pacific side with magnificent views down the cost. The East China Sea side has many fjords and bays while the Pacific side is more of a straight line. Both views were utterly beautiful. A great escape from the hectic and too many people of the Kanto plain.
Iriomote – Uehara side
Together with the lady from Canada, I went to Iriomote by speed boat. These speed boats are quite some monsters. They have turbo whatsoever engines and ride at 50 to 60 km/h. At such speeds the water becomes like rock and there is quite some bumping involved. The engine roars like a beast from hell and conversation in the back of the boat is impossible. Inside the cabin it’s still loud but you can talk to each other.
Iriomote is famous for its mangroves and untouched nature and we went by bus to the mouth of a river and booked a mangrove tour. The fantastic river looks like from an Indiana Jones movie.
The boat throws you off at the edge of its shippable terrain and from there you can hike for an hour to two waterfalls. The hike through the woods was wonderful. The vegetation reminded me of Able Tasman national park in New Zealand, curly farns everywhere.
The way close to the first waterfall is off limits, and you can only see it from afar. You can get much closer to the second one.
Then back to the boat landing place and it returns you to the river peer where you then have to wait for an hour for the bus back to the harbor. The day was perfect for this hike, sunny with a few clouds, but still astonishingly cool with some 25 Celsius only. A great day and Iriomote is breathtakingly beautiful.
There is no guarantee for the weather out at such islands. The forecast said it would go downhill from May 1st onwards and so I set out for the farthest-away island of Hateruma. That involved going to the ferry terminal with the scooter! I could only right straight and had to push it around corners but made it to the terminal all right and parking a scooter is indeed much easier than a car and cheaper too. I successfully dumped the thing in a bike and bicycle parking space next to the terminal for free.
The ride to Hateruma was bumpy, the weather heavily cloudy and cool. 500 people seem to be living on Hateruma and in the hazy distance you can see Iriomote looming.
Hateruma has, let’s be honest, only one real attraction, the Nishihama beach. It’s a stretch of two or three kilometers of the finest sand beach with glass-clear water and plenty of dead coral pieces on the shore.
You get around the island by bicycle and I rented one.
As soon as you start riding around the island you’re more or less alone. There are some fields with whatever growth and that’s it. The weather turned worse and it started to rain and it was quite cool and windy. The bad weather might have added to the feeling of “desolate” place.
There is another beach at the south of the island but I found it roped off, with a sign in Japanese that it’s too dangerous to swim there due to strong currents. I gave up on going to the most southern rock where there is apparently a signpost saying you are at the most southern spot of Japan. but rode through the settlement instead. The houses looked all rather old and shabby. One shack had a shop in it with minimum necessary groceries, one gas station, end of story. I rode back to the Nishihama beach and got rained at again. I love this end of the world kinda feeling, but Hateruma was a bit depressing! Mostly due to the weather I suppose. The boat ride back was again quite bumpy and I was happy to arrive safely at the hotel after another scooter ride.