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A trip through Okinawa's wild north

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-08-13

Looking for adventure? Point yourself north and head into Okinawa Island's last frontier. Sub-tropical rain forests, water falls, and plenty of isolated beaches wait for those who are willing to put a little effort into exploration.

Simply head north on Highway 58 towards Cape Hedo. Once you have passed Motobu Peninsula, the highway will hug the coastline, offering you a clear view of nothing but the azure colored ocean on your left and green hills interrupted only by an occasional village on your right. As the road winds around the coastline you will notice many small sandy beaches located just off of the highway - stop at any one for a break and a refreshing swim.

Many of the villages you will pass still retain a traditional way of life - fisherman take to the sea with their nets and farmers grow sugar cane and fruits. Definitely take the time to pull off of Highway 58 and drive through some of these rural communities. Old Okinawan homes surrounded by banana and papaya trees stand lazily, while villagers go about their business slowly, tending to daily chores. Unlike the congested and noisy areas of Naha and central Okinawa, these small towns are quiet and peaceful.

Once you have reached Okuma, you should visit Hiji waterfall. The 40 minute hike leads you through heavily forested mountains lined with lush, sub-tropical vegetation. The cold, clear water of the Hiji river is fed from the rains over Yonaha Mountain, and will lead you to a 30 meter high drop of roaring water.

Cape Hedo, laying at the northern tip of the island, is a destination point for many people. Its tall rocky cliffs plummet down to the turbulent sea below. During the winter months, when strong winds hit Okinawa from the north, the surf pounding the coastline is an awesome sight; a foamy, white froth coats the top of the ocean as each wave smacks the cliff side with its thundering force.

Once you have rounded the northern tip of the island, you will enter an area of total wilderness. From here the distances between villages grows further apart, and in some areas nothing but the canopy of the sub-tropical rain forest can be seen. Hiding within the confines of this natural wonder are many of Okinawa's other treasures - rare species of birds and animals. As you pass through the village of Oku, an electronic traffic sign hangs over the highway, but its flashing message does not tell you to fasten your seat belt, nor does it tell you that traffic waits up ahead; instead, it warns motorists of turtles and ducks that may be crossing the highway!

Pay a visit to the village of Ada, it is nestled down in a valley near the Pacific Ocean. From the road above, it looks like it is hiding from the rest of the world. Isolated and away from civilization, it is an outpost of a forgotten Okinawa. Nearby in the hills above are rows of sugar cane and pineapple.

Further down the eastern coastline, the road snakes around, going up and down the mountainous terrain. You will pass both Aha Dam and Fukuchi Dam, which are two major sources of water for Okinawa. Heading through Miyagi and Taira, you will come across large sandy beaches backed by curving green hills.

Eventually, you will approach civilization again and wonder in amazement how rugged and far away the north really is from the rest of the island. It is another world within an island.

Driving around the northern part of Okinawan can take several hours, depending on where you start from. It is best to camp along the way and take your time. Bring plenty of water, make sure your car has all the basic emergency equipment, and have fun!

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