Introducing places of interest: Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park (Iriomote)
A remote island located approximately 31 kilometers (40 minutes by regular ferry) from Ishigakijima, Iriomotejima is the second-largest island in Okinawa Prefecture after the main island of Okinawa. About 90% of the island is covered with subtropical, highly primeval forests that exude an atmosphere of unspoiled wilderness. Endemic species of animals, including the Iriomote wildcat and crested serpent eagle, inhabit this island.
Visitors are invited to participate in one of many eco-tours that are organized here in order to savor the natural environment of Iriomotejima. Traffic accidents are one of the main factors behind the threat posed to the survival of the Iriomote wildcat and other examples of valuable wildlife on the island. Please observe posted speed limits and drive carefully in consideration of the welfare of wild animals on Iriomotejima.
The region in which the headwaters of the Urauchi River, the largest river in Okinawa Prefecture, is located remains one of the finest unspoiled, subtropical, broad-leaved evergreen forests in Japan and the views to be obtained here are some of the best that Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park has to offer. The forest zone largely consists of Castanopsis sieboldii trees. Quercus miyagii Koidz trees grow along low-lying river valley areas while Ficus bengutensis and Machilus japonica trees inhabit river valley areas further upstream. As this region is one in which wild animals and plants endemic to the Yaeyama Islands live and breed, it is also very valuable in an academic sense. Persons wishing to pass through the headwaters region to traverse Iriomotejima will need to submit a notification of forest entry in advance to the forestry office and to the police. In recent years, there have been a number of cases involving mishaps attributed to rashly formulated and executed mountaineering plans. Ensure that your plan allows for a sufficient margin of safety and make sure that you are properly equipped.
There is a mangrove forest by the mouth of the river that can be explored from a pleasure boat or canoe. Navigate your way up to Gunkan-iwa Rock by pleasure boat or canoe and trek for about 1 hour to reach Mariyudu Falls, the only waterfall in Okinawa Prefecture to be selected one of the 100 finest waterfalls in Japan. Walk for a further 5 minutes to come to Kanpire Falls, a sacred site on the island. This course will allow you to survey the fauna and flora inhabiting the various environments extending from the mangrove forest to the mountain streams upriver with ease.
[Mangroves on the Nakama River]
In the upstream sections of the Nakama River, the source of which can be traced back to Mt. Goza-dake, visitors can see a subtropical broad-leaved evergreen forest as well as groves of Ubundoru Yaeyama palm trees, which have been collectively designated a protected natural monument by the national government. Japan's largest mangrove forest, consisting primarily of black mangroves and Yaeyama mangroves, extends along the riverbank from the mouth to the middle reaches of the river and can be explored from a pleasure boat or canoe. Travel up to a disembarkation point upstream to see Japan's largest Heritiera littoralis Dryand tree, said to be four centuries old. Of particular interest is the fact that plate-like buttress roots have been produced to support the trunk of this tree. The Nakamagawa Observatory has been built along a walking trail to afford a fantastic panoramic view of the meandering flow of the Nakama River and the mangrove forest that grows here.
Situated along the upper reaches of the Hinai River, the Pinaisara Falls is the largest waterfall in Okinawa Prefecture. The growing popularity of canoeing and trekking in recent years has led to concerns over the impact that such use will have on the natural environment. Visitors are encouraged to conduct themselves appropriately in this area, such as by being accompanied by a tour guide.
Haemida Beach is a sandy beach situated on the south coast of Iriomotejima. The seacoast here commands a view of Haterumajima, the southernmost island of Japan, and Nakanokamishima, an island that is famous as a seabird rookery.