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Yonaguni: Diver's paradise

Date Posted: 2001-06-16

While setting on the edge of our dive boat, enjoying a relaxing surface interval between dives, the most often asked question of me is "John, what's your favorite dive site on Okinawa?" Most, who know me well, understand after diving a few dives with me that my usual response is that my last dive was my favorite dive spot in the whole world. However, I do have several that hold a particularly special place in my dive log and the southern island of Yonaguni is one of them.

I just returned from my fourth, and certainly not final, dive trip to Yonaguni. It has become, over the past three years, a very affordable get-away for divers looking for something beyond Onna, Maeda, and Bolo Point.

Yonaguni is a great adventure; you really get your money's worth. And the fun of traveling, diving, and exploring with a group of like-minded adventure seekers is well worth the small effort to get there.

The island is the Okinawa that you thought you would find when you first stepped off the airplane and into this world of heat, humidity and cultural exchange.

There are no malls, it lacks the traffic congestion of Highway 58 (since it does not have a highway) and we have found only one Internet drop at the island's only Post Office.

Yonaguni does have long lazy sunsets; even longer morning wake ups because nothing happens before 9 a.m. It has crystal clear blue water and a white sand beach inside a protected bay that is ready for swimmers, snorkelers and kids to play in.

To get there visitors fly first from Naha to Ishigaki and then on to Yonaguni for the diving. The diving experience is best described in one word "Electric." But before you switch the power on you may want to be comfortable with three things beyond your Open Water training. These are boat diving, back roll entries, and drift diving because every dive on Yonaguni includes all three. For some this will be a departure from experiences at Onna, Maeda, or Bolo but do not let that hold you back.. You will definitely enjoy the diving more with just a little preparation.

What to Expect: The mystery of the underwater monuments found at Iseki Point and similar mysteries just around the corner when you are first introduced to the "stage." These monuments rise from 90 feet to less than 15 feet below the surface. Currents here add power to your "electricity." Usually the first word spoken after your first dives on the monuments is "Awesome." Iseki Point however is often barraged with waves from southerly winds that tend to pile water into the entry point.

But don’t worry! You will also find wall diving, huge moray eels, and even larger sea fans that are delicately decorated with an array of colorful feather star clusters just around the corner from the harbor entrance and all along the north facing coastline that is protected from these winds. On our last dive at "Rokujo Point, ending three days of awesome diving, our host and guide, Kihehiro Aratake, the gentleman who in 1986 discovered the underwater monuments, took us to his favorite cove for a long relaxing -- no current here -- dive where I counted more than 17 individual sea anemone containing colonies of beautiful orange and white Real Clownfish. This is a photographer’s paradise!

Where to stay: Japanese accommodations, for those seeking a cultural exchange of sleeping on tatami and showering together, are available at a nice and a very clean Minshuku (tourist hotel) that overlooks Yonaguni's bay. My favorite is "Hotel Irifune," in “downtown” Yonaguni where you can enjoy a minimalist western style bed and private bath. Both are great and all your meals and diving is included in the dive packages I have experienced. Expect to spend about $875 for a four-day package that would leave on Thursday and return on Sunday. The price includes hotel, air fare, diving and all meals.

What to bring: A camera and lots of film. If you are an Underwater Shutterbug like me, now is the time to invest in a wide-angle kit. In the summer months expect very tropical conditions with temperatures in the 90's and humidity the same. Bring light clothes, lots of sun block, all your dive gear (weights and tanks included in your dive package), and a lightweight exposure suit

Where to book your trip: Yonaguni has no English-speaking dive shops, but if you have even the smallest command of Japanese you can get by. I always recommend that you book your first trip through an Okinawa based English-speaking dive shop.

If you are interested in getting off the "Rock" this summer and want to explore the Southern Islands drop me a line at john@jwchandler.com and also click over to my web site about Yonaguni at www.jwchandler.com to see what your missing. See you at the airport.

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