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Kerama Islands - Okinawa's Hidden Treasure

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-10-30

Although most people consider the main island of Okinawa to hold an abundance of natural beauty, the outer islands may be the Prefecture's real hidden treasures. Stretching from north to south are 39 inhabited islands, 16 uninhabited islands, and over 100 tiny islets and sandbars. Among these idyllic sub-tropical paradises are a group of islands lying approximately 25 miles west of Naha known as the Keramas.

Sprouting up from the crystal-clear turquoise sea are a series of lush green hills that are home to mostly wild goats and the very shy Kerama deer. The surrounding water of these tiny islands offer some of the best diving sites in the world; visibility reaches up to 150 feet and the abundance of tropical fish and corals are overwhelming. There are numerous big game fish for serious anglers, and from February to April, majestic humpback whales gather just off the coastline, completing their long journey all the way from Alaska. Kayakers will also find the islands great for exploration, and the many deserted beaches provide the perfect setting for adventure campers. The Keramas are an amazing playground for all nature lovers.

Tokashiki is the largest of the Kerama Islands and can be reached by ferry from Tomarin in Naha. The island holds many unspoiled beaches and offers accommodations in the form of many "minshuku" (Japanese style inn) and several small hotels, some of which provide full diving and fishing services. You can also arrange for whale watching tours through the Tokashiki Village Office at 987-2537.

Looking from the western shores of Tokashiki are the islands of Zamami and Aka. Both are well known mostly to divers, who flock there by the thousands every year. Like Tokashiki, Zamami Island also has many tour operators for whale watching. Ama Beach and Kozamami Beach both contain sheltered bays with long stretches of white sand. If you are looking for a campground complete with showers and toilets, head on over to the Young tourists Village, which also supplies tent rentals.

Absolute solitude begins with Aka Island. Here, locals pay no attention to the hands of time. Fishermen and farmers base their lives upon the rising and the setting of the sun. Nishihama Beach can be accessed by the island's only paved road. For adventure travelers, head for the north part of the island; dirt roads will lead you to isolated beaches, where curious deer come down from the steep hills after nightfall. The tranquil waters off Aka's coastline are fantastic for both snorkeling and diving.

Between Aka and Zamami are the uninhabited islands of Gahi and Agenashiku. Both contain outstretches of white sand which gradually fall beneath the depths of crystalline powder-blue water. There are small foot trails that take you through the interior of Agenashiku Island, which consists mostly of "Adan" trees and low grassy hills. Wild goats roam around freely. During the summer, these islands can be reached daily by a short ferry ride from Zamami. If you arrive during the off-season, small fishing boats can be chartered to get you there. For more information, call the Zamami Village office at 987-2004.

Now that the summer is over and the nights are cool, the Kerama Islands are an excellent choice for a weekend camp trip. To make ferry reservations for Tokashiki, call 868-7541. Prices and times change depending on your departure date, but you can expect to pay about 2,720 for an adult round trip ticket and 1,360 for children. For reservations to Aka and Zamami, call 868-4567. The fast ferry (55 minutes) will cost about 5,230 for round trip, while the slow ferry (2 hours) charges about 3,540 for a round trip ticket. (Prices and times also change for the Aka-Zamami ferry depending on your day of departure.) You can also take aboard vehicles, bikes, and kayaks for an extra charge.

*If there are any communication problems at the above contact numbers, inquire about outer island ferry service at a travel agent.

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