Think of Okinawa and images of sandy, white beaches and of sub-tropical flowers spring to mind. This is exactly what you will find on Ishigaki Island. Come with me on an exploration trip by car around the island!
Your journey is most likely to begin in Ishigaki City, which is in the south and is the island's administrative center. This is the place where you will arrive by plane or by ferry. Although there is public transportation available, your best bet is to rent a car or a scooter in Ishigaki City and then drive around the island in a loop.
In Ishigaki City there are no must-see attractions as such, as the main sights are out-of-town and off-shore. It is the island’s sandy beaches and coral reefs that attract most tourists. Ishigaki is prime territory for snorkeling and scuba diving and many visitors spend more time in the water than on land.
However, if you are not a diver and not so keen on spending your holiday in or under water, then check out Ishigaki’s beautiful beaches and landscape. You can leisurely drive around the whole island in one day.
In the morning I got started in Ishigaki City and made my way up north on the western coast. I stopped at many of the nice beaches along this stretch, and believe me, there are many! The jewel of all beaches on Ishigaki, however, is Kabira Bay, an emerald-blue lagoon that makes you feel like you are on a far-away island in the Pacific.
Along the road around the island you will find some nice cafés here and there that are difficult to pass by. I stopped a few times for a cup of coffee, a glass of lemonade and some ice cream to be enjoyed with a complimentary ocean view.
My goal for around lunchtime was the most northern point of the island, Hirakubo-zaki Lighthouse, where the road ends – literally. The white lighthouse, the green meadows, the blue sky and the blue ocean make for a nice view and a good photo opportunity.
On my way back to Ishigaki City down the western coast of the island I stopped at the Tamatori-zaki Observation platform where I could also enjoy some superb views over the sea.
En route I really enjoyed the mountainous interior and the countryside-feel of the island. The highest peaks on Ishigaki are Omoto-dake (525m) with an observation platform on top and Nosoke-mape (282m). Both are said to offer excellent views of the surrounding land, but I felt that I had already seen my fair share of excellent views for the day. Besides, it was boiling hot, which did not lend itself to climbing up a mountain, even if it is just over 500 meters high.
By the time I was back in Ishigaki City from my day trip around the whole island, it was evening and I was starving. What better idea than to sample one of Ishigaki’s culinary specialties: Ishigaki beef. It is as famous, and as pricey, as Kobe beef on Japan's mainland and let me tell you, just like Kobe beef, it really melts in your mouth.
Being German, I wanted to wash down the food with a nice beer of course, and Ishigaki did not disappoint on that front either. The local brew is simply called Ishigaki Island Beer. If you prefer dining in traditional Okinawan style, then you might want to choose awamori, Okinawa’s rice liquor, to accompany your dinner.
All in all, Ishigaki might be a divers’ paradise, but the island has plenty on offer for those who are not so keen on spending time in the wet element.