Let's hike to Hiji Otaki, Okinawa's largest waterfall

Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Let's hike to Hiji Otaki, Okinawa's largest waterfall

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

Though the winter weather on Okinawa is mild, it is definitely too chilly to swim without a wetsuit. But just because you can’t swim, doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy some of the beautiful natural spots the island has to offer.

Take Hiji Otaki, or Hiji Waterfall in English, inside of the Yambaru National Park, for instance. This 84-foot-high waterfall in Kunigami Village is the largest waterfall on Okinawa’s main island, but the area also offers visitors great camping and hiking, especially in the winter season when the summer heat isn’t beating down.

Access to this area is about a two-hour drive from Camp Foster. You may recognize Kunigami, as it is also home to another popular point of interest — Okuma Beach.

My journey on a sunny day in January wasn’t to go lay on a beach, but to see the majestic waterfall in all its glory and enjoy a nice hike through the shade of the forested park.

Via the Okinawa Expressway, getting to the campsite was not difficult. Entrance at the gate was 500 yen (approx. $4.61) and soon I started my trek. Along a paved riverside road, I walked past benches, tables, and board platforms for tents. Not far from the gate was a small dam, which looked like a rock wall from a movie set. Water kept splashing down the walls, a preview of the big waterfall waiting ahead.

Before long, the road turned into an unpaved path. Even with many ups and downs, it was a relatively easy walk as ropes were stretched along the route to help trekkers navigate the area. At one point, the road split into two ways. The one I took led me to a river and though the downstream looked calm and peaceful, the rainfall from the day before had made the river rise slightly.

According to a signboard posted at the gate, it was a little shy of a mile from the gate to the waterfall. After 20 minutes, I came across a suspension bridge over the river. Views from the bridge were superb. Feeling some shakiness, I spent some time taking high angle shots of the river and forest.

A sign at the end of the bridge indicated I had approximately 650 meters to go, which cheered me up.

As I advanced deeper into the forest, the path came upon steeper ups and downs. The surrounding landscape became more dynamic. The river was now flowing more rapidly. Huge rocks, which I had not seen downstream, were scattered here and there. I started to feel a little tired, but it was still fun to take in the surrounding views of moss-covered rocks and water flowing through them. At several spots, the river’s flow slowed down, forming a small pond and drawing beautiful layers of blue and green.

The distance of 2,133 feet would have felt short if it were on a track. However, the road to Hiji Waterfall made it feel much longer. A pavilion and benches installed along the path came in handy and I took several breaks to catch my breath and enjoy the sound of the waterfall growing louder.

The final portion of the path to the waterfall was a boardwalk. It went up to a landing at a good elevation, commanding a fine view of the waterfall. Although much smaller than the waterfalls of Yellowstone or Niagara, Hiji Waterfall still maintained its own beauty. Its incessant current was the shape of a broom drawn with a big stroke of a brush. Rugged rocks cut by the strong water could be seen behind the flow and the surrounding greenery, created a harmonious view that was relaxing.

Visitors are not allowed in the basin at the bottom, but there is a rocky stretch nearby where you can get a closer look at the impressive waterfall. (Note: There is a rope around the water area. Do not go in the water as it is not safe and people have drowned in the area in years past.)

After a 40-minute walk on the mountainous road, I felt tired. However, in the face of the splashing water, my weary feeling seemed to be washed away.

About 20 minutes later, I headed back the same route. With the sun going down, the river and forest rendered different colors than before. The closing time of the camping site was approaching. And another two-hour drive was waiting for me. However, my steps procrastinated to pick up the pace, and the sound of the waterfall continued to linger in my mind.

kudaka.shoji@stripes.com

What to know

GPS Coordinates: N 26.718928, E 128.180042
Hours for admission: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Nov. 1 – Mar. 31, gate closes at 5:30 p.m.); 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Apr. 1 – Oct. 31, gate closes at 6 p.m.)
Admission for trekking: 500 yen for adult, 300 yen for minors (under middle school age)
Admission for camping: 2,000 yen per tent plus above fees. (By reservation only. Campers need to prepare their own tents)
*For reservation call 0980-41-3636
Website: https://hiji.yuiyui-k.jp/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hijifall/

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