Short summer holidays only for me this year due to work issues and so I went off to yet another island. Japan has 7000 of them, so there’s still a lot to explore. Just joking, the figure 7000 includes all sorts of tiny uninhabited rocks like some of those in the photos you will find on flickr.
This time my target was the island of Niijima, some 200 km south of Tokyo and one of the Izu island chain. Formerly I have been to the biggest of them, Oshima, home of Godzilla, and Hachijojima. A thousand kilometers further south, are the wonderful Ogasawara islands.
Niijima lies between Oshima and Hachijojima and can be reached via the jet ferry, if it runs, that is… We had typhoon 11 of 2014 crossing Japan on the weekend before I was scheduled to leave and even though Tokyo and its islands were not in the direct path of the typhoon, we had very high winds and lots of wind means high waves.
I had, luckily, planned a normal weekend at home, before heading out to the island on Monday. Of course I frequently checked the homepage of the ferry operator, Tokai Kisen, and on the Saturday and Sunday there were zero jet ferries going and even the normal ship did not sail. I was actually not expecting to be able to get to the island on Monday. My ferry was the noon one leaving Tokyo at 13:10, and after getting up, I checked Tokai Kisen’s homepage and there were signs saying, depending on the weather we might not go. I called them and the dude on the phone said, the morning ferries had left Tokyo port. Well, um, eh… that means I better go to the harbor, right?
The ferry was almost full and off we went. Even in Tokyo bay the waters were choppy and outside Tokyo bay of course even more so. The jet ferry travels at around 70 to 80 km per hour and rises above the waves on its wings. That had the nice advantage of avoiding up and down movements, but you still see the up and down from your window and the impact of the waves makes the boat jolt as if someone boxed it from the side. It’s rather unnerving and the sounds are scary too. Water is hard at 70 km per hour… An elderly lady behind me was sighing and pressing a handkerchief to her face the entire time not looking very happy. I was a bit apprehensive, but did not feel sick or anything. The ride took about three hours. We passed Oshima and Toshima to our right and both islands were huddled in clouds. Especially the cloud over Toshima looked like a giant Cthulhu-like beast intending to swallow the island. This cloud hugging phenomenon would continue the entire week.
At first the ferry goes past the goal, making a brief stop at a smaller island south of Niijima called Shikinejima. Then it goes back past Niijima and we landed in its northern port.
There my landlord waited for me with a car. We also picked up a family. This family turned out to be not guests but the landlord’s son, his wife, her mother, and two young children of 5 and half a year. I was the only guest of the place that night, since several people had cancelled, unable to come with the ferries over the weekend.
There are two main settlements on the island. The northern one called Wakago and the bigger one called Honso.
Niijima consists of two mountain areas much like Hachijojima with a rather flat plain between them. Again in a copy of Hachijojima there is an airport on that flat part, if a tiny one. Regular (smaller) passenger jets can fly to Hachijojima. To Niijima the biggest planes are small propellor craft with up to twenty passengers only, which leave from Chofu airport in the greater Tokyo area.
I had dinner with the family then and it turned out that my plans to explore the island via bicycle were no good. There is a tunnel through the biggest mountain connecting Wakago and Honso and it prohibited to walk through it or go by bicycle, only by car or bike.
The hotel has the incredible custom to let its guests borrow their cars and they offered me to drive around with their little Daihatsu Move.
I explained my driving status and experience and the landlord offered, well, I can drive you around a little bit on Tuesday morning and then you can decide whether you dare to drive the Daihatsu or not.
After a sweaty night, the air conditioning in my room was out of order and I slept with the door and window open, an electrician came at 8 in the morning (!) and started to work on my air conditioning while I had breakfast. Then, the landlord ushered me into his big Toyota Granvia and brought me up a small and very serpentiny bad, small road to the highest spot from where you have a nice view of Honso settlement and the islands Jinan and Shikine and the southern mountain.
Next we drove around that southern mountain, when it started to rain. He drove then through the “jungle” at the foot of the southern mountain and said, oh there is a well in here, you wanna see it? Sure. So he entered a tiny dirt path, not realizing that there were some drainage gates at the side of the path. The left tire broke in there and we almost got stuck and the landlord forced the car out of it and blew his front left tire in the process. Kya! I took some pics of the well while he phoned the garage, then we turned around and hobbled back onto the road.
Torrential rain started and we waited for a while, but then he drove on somehow and we crept to the garage, which was luckily only a a kilometer or so away. Now I know what it’s like to drive with a blown tire. I shall refrain from doing so if I can avoid it! At the garage, they changed the tire within ten minutes and off we went again towards home, passing by the most famous beach, Habushiura, on the eastern side of the island.
We were back home already at 11:00 in the morning and I sort of had no choice, go by car myself or be bored to death in the Wakago settlement, which sports two tiny supermarkets and a shrine, a temple and a school. Well, there is a beach and a harbor, but that’s it. Island life!
So, some minutes later I sat behind the wheel of the little Daihatsu and off I went.
At first through the long tunnel where you are not allowed to walk or bicycle. Well, the tunnel is some three kilometers long, I can understand that you are not allowed through the tunnel without a motor under your butt.
I went to the most famous beach again, which is rather close to the tunnel to relax from scary driving! Lol. The tunnel is rather new by the way, about ten years. Some thirteen or so years ago when the volcano of nearby Miyakejima decided to become active, several local earthquakes accompanied the activity. Acording to the landlord, they crumbled the old seaside serpentine road around the mountain. After that, the city of Tokyo decided to invest into that tunnel.
I walked a bit up and down the surfer beach, which is a total of seven kilometers long, until the next massive shower came down, which I sat out under a picnic shelter.
On went the car journey to Honso and the main ferry terminal past the only two traffic lights of the island 😉
There are several attractions close to the main ferry terminal. Another beach, more for young children, then a rocky beach, good for snorkeling and shore climbing. Further an onsen with a foot bath, and a real bath under fake Greek ruins, in which you are supposed to wear swim suits. That’s rather rare for onsens, but since it’s visible from the road, it makes sense to have people wear something, not that the drivers are plunging down the cliff distracted by naked people ;-).
Next to the Greek onsen is a big rock that has some World War Two ruins to offer, after a bit of a hazardous climb. Up is much easier than down as I noticed yet again. But since I am writing this, I survived the climb 😉
During a rest at the foot bath, I was the only one who noticed another guest of the premises. A rather big rat rushed around 😉 It was too quick for a photo. After this break I went on by car, still following the bigger, two lane roads and rounded the island once. Beyond the tunnel, in the smaller north of the island and “close to base” I decided to get a bit adventurous, thinking I could still walk back to the hotel in case something happens, like putting the car in a ditch! So I drove a small curvy road down to a “secret” beach, that the landlord had recommended. Thanks to no oncoming traffic, I got down the road quite fine and was rewarded with an amazing lonely and utterly beautiful beach, whose pics you can find here. At first I was completely alone there, then a small group of elderly people showed up for five minutes and two surfers, who tried their luck, but rather unsuccessfully, with the waves breaking too close to the shore.
Luckily, I had no oncoming traffic on the way back up either and got more adventurous and drove up a mountain road in serpentines in the hope for a good view, which I got 😉
The road is a cul de sac (I found out later it was actually the start of the old road around the mountain leading to Honso). Just before the end where you have to turn around, a big, at least one meter long, if not longer, brown snake crossed my path. I noticed her in time and could break and she vanished unharmed into the woods, unfortunately too quickly for a pic.
The car mountain climbing accomplished, I rode back down to the hotel, pretty damn proud of having done my first island exploring by car. More to follow 😉