Q:

What should I do in Okinawa and the surrounding islands?

I a hospital corpsman stationed in Okinawa. I wanted to know what I could try out around here in the surrounding islands. Hiking, kayaking, camping? Brett Okinawa, Japan

Jan 13, 2010
Outside
Outside Magazine
A temple in Naha, Japan

A temple in Naha, Japan

A:

A healthy diet and low levels of stress seem to be the foundation—and the fountain of youth—on this small Japanese island. But it's not just the green tea that keeps the locals so spry. With white-sand beaches, limestone caves, and dense forests, there are plenty of ways for people to get moving. And with mild year-round weather, there's always something to do. So let me help narrow your options down to a select few.

The largest of the Ryukyu archipelago, Okinawa is just 463 square miles, so you're better off seeing most of the diverse terrain on foot. Located in the center of Okinawa in the Yanbaru Rainforest is Hiji Falls, an exotic waterfall at the end of a mile-long climb. @#95;gui_include name="aa_question"@#95;gui_includeWhat used to be a slog through the Hiji River is now a series of wooden steps that allow hikers to climb to the falls while keeping their feet dry. But this hike still isn't a walk in the park. Be prepared for a steep climb and lots of steps. Ascending higher into the forest, the trail winds above the river to a 120-foot-long suspension bridge, dangling 100 feet above the cascading water. On the other side, the trail descends and continues until reaching a covered area near the pool at the base of the falls. Cool off your calves in the tropical green waters pouring in from 98 feet above while soaking in views of the rainforest. To reach the trailhead, take Highway 58 north past Nago until you reach Okuma. Cross over the Hiji River, and then turn right following its bank. Follow the signs to the parking lot. The park opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 5.

Or dip your toes in the rich history of Okinawa. The Ryukyu Islands are home to over 300 castles, or gusukus, built between the 12th and 17th centuries. Most were severely damaged during World War II and have since been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Constructed behind heavy limestone walls, elaborate fortresses such as Nakagusuku were built to protect the wealthy and sit on acres of land, perfect for exploring. Located just 12 miles north of Naha, Nakagusuku sits on a rim overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The ruins of the original structure are more intact than any other gusuku on the island. Nakajin Castle is on Okinawa's Motobu Peninsula and is believed to have been built prior to the 13th century. The gusuku spreads across 14 acres, overlooks the South China Sea, and hosts one of the island's many cherry blossom festivals in January and February. Zakimi Castle is a 15th-century structure with history dating back as early as 1422. Used in World War II as a gun emplacement by the Japanese, most of the castle was destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa. Recent improvements have restored the centuries-old masonry work but no buildings have been replaced. Zakimi is located an hour and a half north of the Naha airport.

But if you've got a taste for real adventure, try Iriomote's cross-island hike. Located 100 miles from the shores of Okinawa, Iriomote Island is just 13 miles from Taiwan. At 176 square miles, over 90% of the island is covered in subtropical jungle—a third of it designated as Iriomote National Park. And the cross-island trail cuts right through the center. Hiking the 13-mile trail can be done in a day, but plan on taking two. There is plenty to see, including Kanpire Waterfall at the trailhead, mangrove forests, and Urauchi River, not to mention plenty of wrong turns to take, so plan accordingly. Download a permit from Kanpire-so (unless you speak Japanese you'll need someone who does) and drop it off at the police station (koban) in Funuara (which is behind the community center). Once you've set off, follow the red and pink tape and occasional signs as you scramble across fallen trees, navigate landslides, and cross rivers for the first eight miles. The last five miles follow a gravel road to the town of Otomi. Avoid visiting during rainy season (May to June) and you'll maximize hiking time and spend less time navigating raging rivers.
–Amy Clark

More at Outside

Not Now

Got Wanderlust?

Escape your daily grind with Outside’s best getaways.

Thank you!