Feel Iriomote Island: the privilege to explore a Natural World Heritage Site
writerEric van Rijn
My name is Eric van Rijn, originally from the Netherlands. Now based in Ishigaki, Okinawa, I provide consulting services and run a private accommodation. I love visiting nearby Iriomote Island and recently joined an awe-inspiring tour to one of its most splendid waterfalls.
For several months now, Iriomote has been part of Japan’s latest UNESCO Natural World Heritage listings. Yet, for hundreds of years, it is a place where humans have been living in co-existence with nature. The subtropical island largely covered in jungle hosts a unique biodiversity with a wide variety of flora and fauna, and is home to almost 2,500 islanders.
Although day trips from Ishigaki are an option, spending the night on Iriomote allows you to fully enjoy the island and to participate in early morning tours such as experiencing the magnificent Barringtonia sagaribana flowers that bloom at night in late June/early July.
For our eight-hour trekking tour, Pumehana Adventures’ private guide Takashi Umezawa meets us at 7:00 a.m. Our goal is Mayagusuku waterfall, located at the heart of Iriomote’s expansive jungle. In the local dialect, Mayagusuku means “cat’s castle,” a reference to the endangered Iriomote Cat that dwells in the lush green mountains of the island. “The waterfall was basically unknown until the 1970s,” explains Takashi. It reflects the remoteness of this natural highlight.
The start of the tour is easy: first a boat on the Urauchi-gawa River, then a well-maintained path. Yet from there, the route really gets exciting! Even for the experienced, local guides are a must. They best know the local environment and potential risks. Moreover, explanations about island life and the nature along our path surprise and inspire even those who visit Iriomote frequently. The reward: an unmatched privilege of experiencing one of Iriomote’s best sites.
One good way to find local guides is to check with your accommodation. Licensed guides can be recognized via the Iriomote Nature Guide mark. Harumi Tokuoka, representing the Iriomote Island Ecotourism Association, comments: “The mark is one indication to enjoy Iriomote in a sustainable manner. It is the task of the tourism industry and visitors alike to protect the nature of this beautiful island that we are so proud of.”
The Mayagusuku Tour is a rewarding and great way to explore and to feel Iriomote’s jungle that deserves its listing as a Natural Heritage site.
-Tokyo (Haneda Airport) → Approx. 3 hr. by air → Ishigaki Island (New Ishigaki Airport) → Approx. 40-50 min. by ferry → Iriomote Island
-Osaka (Kansai International Airport) → Approx. 2.5 hr. by air → Ishigaki Island (New Ishigaki Airport) → Approx. 40-50 min. by ferry → Iriomote Island
Yaeyama Visitors Bureau：http://yaeyamaislands.jp/
*The information herein is as of August 2021.