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Idyllic beauty awaits at outer islands

Date Posted: 2006-05-13

Peaceful. Tranquil. Blissful. A diver’s paradise. Those are the words most often popping out of the mouths of visitors to Okinawa’s two nearby island groups. The Kerama Islands and Kume Islands are so close, they’re often forgotten as everyone looks for the vacation or weekend getaways.

The two island sets are both similar and uniquely different. They’re steeped in beauty, traditional customs and culture, yet remain on the perimeter of today’s modern society. There is no hustling, bustling nightlife. The international icons like Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds and Pizza Hut haven’t found their way to these islands. No Cinnebon, Starbuckユs or Seattle’s Best coffees either.

The Keramas are close. Really close. Only a blink of the eye by air, or less than an hour on a ferry, the Keramas are only 20+ miles from Naha. The Keramas are made up of 20 islands, but several form the foundation of tourist adventures.

A diving paradise best describes the Kerama Islands, at least for those who are adept with fins, tank, mask and camera. Both Zamami and Tokashiki islands are renowned for their acres and acres of coral, coupled with kilometer after kilometer of satin silky smooth beaches.

In the Spring, Zamami Island is the focal point for thousands as whale watching season attracts both migrating whales and camera-toting tourists. The season runs from the beginning of February through April. Tours are available daily from Naha’s Aja Port.

Many of the Keramas are visible from Okinawaユs main island, shadowy silhouettes on the western horizon. Water sports are popular, and excursions are offered for just about every conceivable interest. There are even marine tours for casual tourists who simply want to bask in the region’s beauty.

Several Tokashiki resorts offer the prefecture’s best snorkeling, while scuba divers can choose from literally dozens of shoreline points to venture in. Professional dive companies both on Tokashiki and in Naha offer dive tours on a daily basis. Plunging beneath the clear emerald blue waters, being surrounded by dozens of varieties of tropical fish, and taking in the vivid colors of the coral are experiences of a lifetime. Around Tokashiki, those crystal clear waters extend to depths of 50-60 meters.

For those pre-disposed to outdoor activities spanning the full adventure circuit, Tokashiki has campgrounds run by the village at both Aharen and Tokashiku Beaches. For those desiring more creature comforts, hotels and resorts are readily available, with bookings possible through MWR/MCCS organizations.

Zamami is equally popular with divers, who migrate to Furuzamami, a moon-shaped beach from which they simply step into the water.

Not visible from Okinawa is Kume Island, about two hours by water from Naha. Itユs an architectural wonder, preserved fully by having been spared the horrendous scars of the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Kume predates the Shuri empire of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom, and still maintains two of the castles constructed centuries ago. Uegusuku and Gushikawa are joined by Uezu House, built in 1726 of coral stone. Even the garden’s trees are more than three centuries old.

Kume, only 100 kilometers from Naha, is both a natural wonder to be visited, and also maintains a number of historical sites in addition to the two ancient castles. Ifu Beach, which translates to white sands beach, is just that. No trip to Kume is complete without crossing the bridge to Ou Island, where historical Tatami stone formations resembling giant sea turtles are geometrically aligned.

For the shoppers, even Kume has it’s own specialty. The island is known for its traditional textiles and handmade pongee that date back more than 1,300 years.

There are only three hotels on Kume Island, ranging from the more expensive Hotel Nikko to the Eef Beach Hotel and the Hotel Marine Terrace. All welcome foreigners.

And while you’re venturing to the west, there‘s one more island of note. Aguni Island, 2 _ hours by ferry, is a small, quaint island worthy of a day trip. It’s specialty is salt. Salt is both a souvenir and retail commodity fueling the local economy.

Getting There

Airplanes or boats. Take your pick. There are pluses and minuses to each, and costs vary as well. Ryukyu Air Commuter flies to each of the island destinations. The flights are more expensive than ferries, but offer the convenience. Ferries depart from Tomari Port in Naha several times daily. There are standard ferries, which allow cars and bicycles, and express ferries, which shuttle only people. Prices are reasonable, and for a family making a weekend of itムor those simply wanting to explore an island more fully taking your own car makes it easy. There’s also a jet foil boat to whisk you to Kume Island. There are rental cars available at Kume and Tokashiki.

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