North Okinawa Island: An untouched paradise

The Japanese island provides cruise guests with a chance to explore a pristine natural environment

North Okinawa Island: An untouched paradise
Guests can discover hidden locations such as Ta Waterfall while trekking the rivers of the island

By Alex Smith |

Okinawa Island, the smallest of the five main islands of Japan, lies around 400 miles to the south of the rest of the country. Just one of the almost 160 islands that make up the archipelago Okinawa Prefecture, Okinawa is surrounded by the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The island’s subtropical climate means that it remains comfortably warm throughout the year, making it an attractive holiday destination for travellers from both Japan and around the world. 

The capital city of Okinawa Prefecture, Naha, is in the southern part of the island, which has been significantly developed and urbanised. The north of the island, however, is dotted with small towns and villages, and is home to the Yambaru National Park. Known as Yambaru in the native Okinawan language, it is the location of one of the largest tracts of surviving subtropical rainforests in Asia, containing a vast array of unique flora and fauna that do not exist anywhere else in the world. Largely pristine and untouched by humans, the region was recognised as being of outstanding global value when it was added to the Unesco World Natural Heritage List in 2021, along with the nearby Iriomote Island, Tokunoshima island and Amami Oshima. 

For cruise lines, Northern Okinawa Island offers the perfect destination for guests looking to explore the untouched natural world. Motobu Port provides cruise ships with the best access to the northern half of Okinawa, while the Motobu Peninsula offers several attractions for visitors itself, including the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and the ruins of Nakijin Castle, a Unesco World Heritage Site. 

Yambaru National Park can be reached either by rental car or bus service from Motobu Port. Once in the area, guests can participate in a range of activities that will allow them to explore all that the region has to offer.  

River canoeing and kayaking lets visitors view the mangrove forests, which teem with fish, birds and other organisms that are endemic to the environment. Navigating the small river systems of the island while canyoning or river trekking provides a chance to discover some of the hidden locations deep in the forest. One option for beginners is the 15-metre-high Ta waterfall, to which there is no maintained trail. With a low difficulty of traversal, even children can enjoy the journey up the river to this hidden, but beautiful, waterfall. 

Bird watching, on the other hand, offers a more relaxing way to observe some of the native species. These include the Okinawa Rail, a flightless bird whose red bill and black and white striping mark it out as it forages in pairs or small flocks on the forest floor.  

A particular highlight of the region for visiting cruise guests is Hiji Waterfall. With a 25.7-metre drop, Hiji Waterfall is the tallest waterfall on the island, allowing visitors to see the lush forest spread out below them along the promenade to the top of the falls. The trail is well maintained and offers an easy hike to the top, with one of the highlights of the walk being the opportunity to cross a suspension bridge that spans a valley 17 metres below.

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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