Despite being only an hour and a half ferry ride from Okinawa-honto, Iheya Island (Iheyajima) feels like a world away. Beautiful aquamarine seas, white beaches, green hills and rice paddies, no traffic and only a few Naha-esque concrete jungles make Iheyajima the perfect place to relax and chill-out.
Unfortunately, I was on the Island for work so wasn’t able to get completely into the island-vibe. Nevertheless, I did have ample opportunity to explore on my bike…
Well maintained roads, stunning scenery and very very very few cars make Iheyajima is a fantastic place to ride. It’s about 35kms around the Island and there are added hill climb opportunities so it’s perfect for all levels of experience. There are small stores and a few vending machines scattered around the island, but make sure you stock up if planning to spend a day out and about cycling, swimming, and exploring the sights.
There are many natural and cultural sights to see on Iheyajima. The highlights for me were of course the beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters; an impressive 300 year-old Ryukyu Matsu tree; and the peaceful coral-walled towns scattered with thatched-roofed resting shelters. There are also caves, natural groundwater springs, hiking trails and a few hilltop lookouts to keep you busy. So, you’ll need at least two days to see everything and save just enough time to sit back and enjoy island-time.
Getting to Iheyajima:
Ferries run from Unten port in Nakijin twice a day and cost around 4500yen. To take your bike you’ll need to pay an extra 2000yen.
There are about 4 or 5 minshuku (bed and breakfasts) on Iheyajima and all charge around 5000yen a night including dinner and breakfast. There is also a beautifully located campground at the southern end of the island that has fantastic facilities. Unfortunately, due to the sandy soil and regular typhoons there aren’t many trees so so the lack of shade makes mid-summer camping a very hot experience.
As an environmentalist and geographer, normally when I travel in developing counties I’m overwhelmed by scenes of pollution and poverty and can’t help but worry about our natural environment and the indigenous minorities that rely on it for their subsistence. In a rare travelling experience, I recently felt the complete opposite and returned home feeling positive and excited about the world. I went to Vanuatu, the country that’s often called the world’s happiest place. And, maybe it’s true. Not only is Vanuatu’s natural environment pristine, its people are extraordinarily bubbly, approachable, kind and welcoming.
Fringing reefs around the world are at threat. Climate change driven environmental threats including ocean temperature rise, acidification and pest infestations combined with human inducted threats including over fishing and inappropriate development are leading to the destruction of these reefs worldwide. Despite these threats, on the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu the fringing reefs are in very good condition, as I found out first hand. It was fantastically refreshing to visit somewhere where the environment was being treated with respect and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (until I returned to Brisbane and read about the treatment of the Great Barrier Reef!).
This is the underwater paradise that greeted me just 10 m from the beach…
On a recent trip to Vanuatu I visited a small primary school on the island on Tanna. The kids I met were bursting with life and passion to learn. School bags hung in the playground’s banyan tree, students played on a real ‘jungle gym’, the sound of the ocean washed through open-air classrooms and fresh water spouted from AusAID provided tanks and wells. Passionate teachers taught from tatty NZ Aid provided materials, to students that could already speak three languages and could have answered any times-table related questions I’d have asked – if I thought important. Compared to the air-conditioned, SUV driven, allergy inflicted, attention challenged, NAPLAN tested primary school kids of Australia I reckon Vanuatu deserves its world’s happiest title!