Off-road adventure on Okinawa full of thrills
Off-roading is fun, but may not be easy to come by if you are not the owner of a nice SUV or ATV. But here on Okinawa there is a place where a thrill seeker, or amateur like me, can experience speeding through nature on four, very fast wheels.
Doki Doki Yambarunture is an outdoor amusement park just a 20-minute drive from Camp Hansen that is frequented by many tourists and locals, according to Facility Director Shinji Torii.
“Feeling the wind and exposing yourself to the nature as you drive the vehicle will make you feel great,” said Torii as he explained one of the attractions that this place has to offer: buggy rides (ATVs).
This compact but tough vehicle is a pure fun. With its four thick tires shaped like those of a monster truck and its handiness like a moped, the buggies drive very smoothly on rugged road.
When I sat on the vehicle, with its throttle lever on the right and break lever on the left, it felt like being on a motorcycle. Once I started moving, it felt more like driving a go-kart with a lot of horse power. I had to get used to it, but a few laps on the practice track was all I needed. Eventually, without knowing it, my mind was looking for a bump to overcome, a hill to conquer or a bush to cut through.
Trek through the forest
At one point during the 70-minute tour, we got off the vehicle and forayed into forest with our tour guide. Although the speedy ups and downs or twist and turns with the small vehicle were very exciting, walking through the forest provided a different kind of fun.
I saw trees with unique patterns, tried some fruits and smelled leaves that reminded me of a sweetened beverage. It was enjoying nature with all of my five senses. And the tour guide kept us in a merry mood by cracking jokes as he briefed us on each part of the forest. The trek tickled my curiosity and offered a learning opportunity with no worries of safety. Although there were warning signs for boars, and a fake habu snake left on a branch to spice up the sense of adventure, the tour was peaceful and relaxing.
Are ATV rides not enough action for you? Yambarunture also offers off-roading in Hummer H1s.
“In our Hummer tour, we go on even bumpier roads than we do for the buggy tour,” Torii said. “With our Hummer H1, visitors climb up steep hills, cut through forests and drive down steep slopes. It’s a wild experience.”
Unlike the buggies, you don’t actually get to drive the Hummers. The SUVs are driven by the tour guides at Yambarunture.
“In a sense, the Hummer ride tour is an opportunity to experience how tough the SUV is. I would describe it as a rollercoaster without rails. So make sure you buckle up; you will be glad you did,” Torii said.
While interviewing the facility director, I saw a Hummer with visitors aboard go down a huge slope designed for motocross racers. Even if you have a Hummer or a Jeep Wrangler, you likely don’t get to drive on a road like that very often. Some of you may drive a Humvee, which Hummer is modeled after, as part of your job, but riding in the powerful civilian SUV for fun can be quite different from driving the large vehicle on duty.
All-weather attraction for everyone
Less-than-ideal weather is hardly a bad thing at Yambarunture. Rain or wind only boosts the fun of your adventure through the terrain. On the day I visited, it was raining on and off, but driving through a puddle or testing the toughness of the ATV was a pure fun. Looking at leaves and fruits glistening with water or taking a break in the forest with rain cooling down my face felt great. There was no need to worry about getting soaked, as I was fully covered with a helmet, a water-proof jacket and pants and rubber boots. At Doki Doki Yambarunture, the rain makes people smile.
“I don’t have a lot of experience riding even a moped, so I was concerned how well I’d do. But once I got on the saddle, it didn’t matter.” said Takako Matsubara, my coworker at the Stars and Stripes, after riding a buggy and trekking in the forest under the rain. “I had such a fun that I started looking for bumpier roads to go over. The machine was really easy to maneuver. Even a girl like me wanted to drive aggressively.”
“I was a little concerned about bringing my son today, but I am glad we enjoyed the thrill together,” said Kazumi Nakasone, who joined in the tour with her 9-year-old son Yotaro. “This is an amusement park where families or couples can have fun all day.”
Doki Doki Yambarunture
Location: 1084 Yofuke, Nago city, Okinawa 905-002
Time: 9 a.m. – 6:10 p.m. (Each ATV tour takes 70 minutes, while the Hummer tour takes 40 minutes. First ATV tour starts at 9 a.m. and the last one at 5 p.m. First Hummer ride tour starts at 9:10 a.m. and the last at 5:10 p.m. * Advance reservation required for each time slot.
Admission fee for buggy tour: 6,500 yen for adult (16 years and above), 4,500 yen for minors between the age of 11 and 15, 500 yen for those who are between 4 and 10. Children who are 3 years old or less are not allowed to ride the vehicle. Those who are 10 years old or younger need to ride with an adult.
Admission fee for Hummer tour: 10,000 yen for a vehicle. A Hummer can take up to 3 adults and 2 children. 7,000 yen fee for those who would like to enjoy the ride alone.
For reservation: Call 0980-55-8118.
Or log onto the following website and scroll down the page where you can find two of the words “予約,” in the left or right part of the page. Clicking the left one shows you a calendar which indicates the availability status for Hummer ride, and the right one connects you to that of buggy ride. On the calendar, a click on a circle will show you the availability of each time slot of that date. A click on “リクエスト” or “申し込む” that is attached to each timeslot will show you a page with two spaces for you to type in your email address. And clicking on an orange icon with a word “確認メールを送信” will send your reservation request.
*This amusement park opens everyday
*Tour guides speak English