When you think about white sandy beaches, dazzling sunsets, and a crystal blue sea, you think of the Maldives perhaps, or the Bahamas, not anywhere in Japan. However, on Ishigaki – an island to the west of Okinawa – that’s exactly what you’ll find.
The big picture
Ishigaki is a little piece of paradise, with everything you’d want from a getaway – water sports, food, and beaches on which to laze the day away. Artificial lights are kept at a minimum at night in certain areas, so when the sun goes down, the island is blanketed by millions of twinkling stars, and the Milky Way stretches across the sky above you. Erm, can we say #instaworthy?
How to get there
We flew direct from Hong Kong with HK Express, and within two hours were lounging on deckchairs, sipping mocktails. The island’s airport accepts national and international flights – but those international ones come only from Hong Kong and Taipei, which makes going through customs and picking up your luggage a breeze.
The islanders here are supposedly renowned for having longer-than-average lifespans, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with their delicious food.
Kobe beef is famous worldwide, but did you know that Ishigaki has its own beef speciality? The island is home to a rare breed of beef cattle, and Ishigaki beef tastes just as good as, is of as high a quality as, and is cheaper than Kobe beef.
If you’re a sushi lover, rejoice: there’s no end to the variety you can order here. And while sashimi can be (and often is) expensive everywhere else in the world, it’s super cheap here. Twenty slices of sashimi sets you back HK$100 or so, for top quality fish. For the same quality (and in a restaurant, not supermarket takeaway) in Hong Kong, you might be looking at least HK$50 for five slices.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Club Med Kabira Beach resort, and we loved it. Many resort experiences are all-inclusive, meaning all the meals, snacks, drinks and most of the activities are included in the price you pay before your holiday, and this was no different. This means you pretty much have nothing to worry about while you’re there. The rooms are spacious and many come with balconies on which to watch the sun rise and set, making them great for family getaways.
The staff at Club Med are called G.O.s, which stands for Gentil Organisateur – or “gentle organiser” in French. The G.O.s are super friendly, always on hand to help with anything you want during your stay, and speak very good English.
What to do - other than lie on the beach
Ishigaki is perfect for snorkelling fans. Just off the shore of Kabira Bay lies a rich forest of corals and colourful tropical fish. If this activity strikes your fancy, even you’ve never done it before, you can ask someone from the resort to assign you an instructer to help you get up to speed on how to use a snorkel and a mask properly.
If you’ve got itchy feet, then use Ishigaki as your starting point for a spot of island hopping (it’s known as the starting point of the Yaeyama island chain as you can visit many different islands from here). Use a three-day hopping ticket to get on a ferry and head out to places like Taketomi Island (which is covered in traditional Okinawa-style houses), and the secluded Iriomote island – 90 per cent of which is covered by subtropical jungles and mangroves.
Iriomote is particularly great for the more adventurous teens, a staff member from Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau said, as it’s full of scenic spots that can only be reached by caving, kayaking or hiking.
The highest waterfall – with a drop of 55 metres – in Okinawa is on Iriomote, and is called the Pinaisara waterfall. Pinaisara means “like a beard”, and the waterfall is considered a sacred place. It took us half an hour of steady kayaking (or, rather, of bumping into the other kayaks and getting stuck in mangrove swamps), and 20 minutes of hiking to get to the bottom of the waterfall, but our efforts paid off when we took a dip in the basin.
The waters around Ishigaki are crystal clear and many places, including Club Med, have transparent kayaks for rent so you can peer beneath your feet to the sea bed. Kayaking is great fun (and good exercise after all that beef and sashimi), so head out with your friends or family – and come back ready for more chowing down.
Be warned though: the transparent kayaks don’t have any drainage holes, so if the seas are rough then it’s best to avoid using them.
Say what now? Sure, this can’t be classed as a traditional island activity, but it’s still a fun one to try. If you’ve ever wondered how circus performers do the tricks they do, high in the air, take this opportunity to find out – with the help of three coaches, you get to swing, sit, and flip around on a swinging trapeze.
... and much more!
Try stand-up paddling (where you stand on a board, and paddle the Pacific Ocean with an oar), or attempt a spot of surfing or windsurfing. Or, if you’re after a truly blissed-out vacay, simply do nothing at all. Most of the above activities are included in the resort package, or can be arranged by Club Med. Check with the G.O.s upon your arrival to find out whether you’ll need to book anything in advance.
Young Post’s trip was sponsored by Club Med Kabira Beach, HK Express, and Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau.