Okinawa's awesomeness: Life aquatic

Okinawa's awesomeness: Life aquatic

by .
Metropolis Magazine

Like any self-respecting tropical island paradise, Okinawa is blessed with some stunning beaches. Stroll and swim along the 7km stretch of pristine white sand that is Yonaha Maehama Beach on Miyako island. Go snorkeling at Yoshino Beach, also on Miyako, where you’re surrounded by dazzling sealife as soon as you step into the water. Pitch a tent at the campsite that leads directly onto Ishigaki’s Yonehara Beach, where the reef starts just a few meters off-shore, or discover the star-shaped sand of Hoshizuna no Hama on Iriomote.

Want to venture beneath the waves? The water is warm enough for scuba diving year-round. If you’re a beginner, English-speaking dive schools like Diving Okinawa (www.divingokinawa.com) and Reef Encounters (www.reefencounters.org) can get you up to speed in no time. More experienced divers can explore the waters off Okinawa Honto, or head further afield to delve into the mysterious, ancient underwater ruins around Yonaguni and go manta ray watching off Ishigaki.

Many beaches are ideal for snorkeling, while those who don’t fancy getting wet can hitch a ride on one of the glass-bottomed boat tours available throughout the islands. You can also enjoy some of the best surfing in Japan, though the shallow coral breaks are best suited for experienced boarders rather than beginners.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to land a tuna, you’ll be able to find out for yourself during a deep sea fishing trip. Companies like Saltwater Fishing Okinawa (www.saltwater-fishing-okinawa.com) have boats available for charter year-round. Alternatively, leave the rod at home and go whale spotting off the Kerama islands, where humpback whales travel for their breeding season each year. The best time is during the winter, from January to March, when boat tours depart from various locations on the islands as well as from Naha.

Still, you’ll get the most comprehensive overview of the local sea life at Okinawa Churami Aquarium (www.kaiyouhaku.com/en/). Situated in the Ocean Expo Park, this state-of-the-art facility draws over 2.5 million visitors a year.

Whale sharks and manta rays swim side by side in the enormous, 7,500m3 “Kuroshio” (Black Current) tank; don’t miss the feeding sessions at 3pm and 5pm each day. Other zones teem with colorful tropical reef fish, sea turtles, manatees and mysterious deep sea creatures, while Oki-chan and her dolphin friends keep the crowds entertained with performances throughout the day at the Oki-chan Theater. Dodge the crowds by arriving after 4pm, when you can enjoy a 30 percent discount off the regular ticket price.

The aquarium isn’t the only attraction at Ocean Expo Park. The Native Okinawan Village offers a taste of Ryukyuan life in the 19th century, while the Oceanic Culture Museum throws light on the lives of seafaring people in Asia and the South Pacific.

You can also admire the 2,000 orchids at the Tropical Dream Center, take a dip at the pristine Emerald Beach, and then savor the evening at Sunset Square. Bliss.

Related content:
Okinawa's awesomeness: The great outdoors
Okinawa's awesomeness: Exotic feasts
Okinawa's awesomeness: Visions of the past

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