My paradise: Okuma Matata - the no worries vacation!
I feel like I’m in one of two minds when I travel. Part of me is the kind of vacationer where I’m trying to cram as much into my days as is humanly possible, for fear of missing out on things.
I have that desire to schedule activities and do a ton of research on my destination beforehand, so that not a moment is wasted. On those trips I’m constantly on the go, to the point that I’m practically asleep by the time my head hits the pillow each night.
And then on my return to “real life”, I’m left wanting another vacation after those kinds of vacations, because I’ve overdone it. I start dreaming of tropical sandy beaches, with a cocktail in my hand and nothing but time to read, relax, and not move a muscle if I don’t want to. Sound familiar, anyone?
Okuma, on the Northern portion of Okinawa, can give you the opportunity to do just that if you so desire. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Okuma twice whilst living at Yokota Air Base (near Tokyo), so that should tell you how much I enjoyed it. My first trip was with one of my girlfriends living here - we visited when we were both pregnant as a mid week getaway without our husbands (they couldn’t escape work!) - and my second trip back was just last month with my husband and our daughter. Both times were great, and I think that the area is wonderful for a guys or girls getaway, a romantic couple’s retreat, or a fun family beach trip, depending on what you’re needing in your life at the time.
On the two times I’ve visited Okuma, I stayed at the Okuma Recreation Facility - which is only a 50 mile drive from Kadena Air Base. It’s an easy and pleasant drive, too. Okuma might seem like a sleepy little town when you arrive - but if you do want to do activities and get out to explore, you won’t find a shortage of stuff to do nearby either.
Hiji Falls is literally a couple of kilometers away from the Okuma Recreation Facility. I love nature, and I quite enjoy hiking, so on my first trip to Okuma my friend and I thought checking out the falls would be a nice way to spend a portion of the day. Mind you, we were both about 6 and a half months pregnant at this point in time. When we were lining up to pay our admission, the man at the office apprehensively asked us if we were both pregnant, seemingly in an attempt to try and warn us about the intensity of the walk.
We brushed it off, thinking that we were still quite fit - and honestly, as we had been lining up we saw some older Japanese couples returning from the walk, looking as fit as fiddles. Surely we were able to handle it if they were, right?
....well, barely. There were stairs. A lot of stairs. Steep stairs. Did I say stairs enough, yet? We made it there and back, and it was absolutely beautiful, but we felt like we’d just run an entire marathon by the end.
Lesson learned - definitely visit the falls, but maybe don’t do it if you’re pregnant or have any other physical conditions! If the attendant there tries to warn you, it’s probably a good sign to not go ahead with it!
But I digress. Okinawa really is a place of so much natural beauty. Another place that isn’t too far from the Okuma Recreation Facility is Cape Hedo, which is the very northernmost tip of Okinawa. The views there are just stunning - the amazing cliff faces and rock formations standing in the ocean amidst tropical fern foliage is definitely something to see. Also, there’s a monument there that recognizes the end of the US occupation of Okinawa and the return of the island to Japan. I think for military families, the significance of this certainly isn’t lost on us - and it’s a testament to the relationship and friendship the US and Japan have as nations and allies today.
If you’re looking for indoorsy activities, particularly if you have children, I highly recommend the Yanbaru Forest Toy Museum. A short drive from the Okuma Recreation Facility, I feel like it’s brilliant for kids and kids at heart. My husband and I took our daughter there on our recent family trip on a somewhat rainy day, and it was fun for all of us! There are all manners of wooden toys, from wooden magnetic fishing sets to a ball pit filled with wooden “eggs” that you can climb into. We probably spent a couple of hours there, and only ended up leaving because it was time for our little one’s nap - otherwise we really could have stuck around longer!
Also, I feel like one of the biggest drawcards for Okinawa itself is the beautiful Churaumi Aquarium. It’s only 40 kilometers or so from Okuma - about an hour’s drive, give or take a little to account for traffic. I’ve been to a number of aquariums around the globe, but this one to me really took top spot for size, for the numerous displays and for interactive opportunities. It’s something else that I think is fun no matter whether you have children or not - to me, marine life is fascinating, and when you can explore it in such a world class setting you’d be crazy to pass up the chance to do so!
Then of course there’s the option to simply spend time at the Okuma Recreation Facility and not even move from there if you don’t want to.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied! You can rent pedal bikes, play mini golf or tennis, ride around on go karts, explore the grounds (there’s some great views if you explore a little!) - and that’s just on land. There’s also opportunities to take a glass bottom boat tour and check out all the beautiful coral and sea life, or even renting a snorkel and going swimming to check it all out for yourself! Plus, the on-facility dining is delicious and the staff are super friendly - my husband and I are still dreaming of the wood-fired oven pizza about a month later after our trip!
So, long story short - go and visit this gorgeous part of the world. Get together with some girlfriends for a relaxing weekend away, or get your guy friends and go golfing and jet skiing if that takes your fancy. Plan a date with your husband, wife, or significant other - pack a picnic basket and enjoy it on the beach. Bring your entire family, build sandcastles, swim, and grill out.
Make memories. Relax. Don’t worry about other commitments and rushing around like you’re missing out on things. You’re not. Sometimes you need to slow down to recharge, and this is exactly what Okuma has done for me both times. I left rejuvenated and with no worries. Hopefully you will too!