Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Ogasawara or Bonin...It's All Gorgeous
Okay, so we've taken quite a tour of the eastern United States. It was fun, but let's talk about something more exotic. I do so love to find out of the way destinations that make me salivate over the idea of going to it, or doing it, or seeing it, or in the case of the Ogasawara Islands, all of that. What are they and where are they? Interesting question. The islands are a set of about thirty islands off the coast of Japan...1,000 k off the coast of Japan. The main islands are Chichijima (Father Island) and Hahajima (Mother Island), which are also the only two inhabited islands in the chain. Fellow travelers, these are the Galapagos of the east. You have to check these out.
History tells us that the islands were discovered in the 1500's. They have been traded and conquered for centuries. They were even taken over by the United States in WWII, and weren't returned to the country of Japan until 1968. There are many remains from WWII on the islands from rotted out tanks to bunkers where the locals hid during air raids. It is an open air museum atmosphere designed to remind people of the horrors of war. I've been to more than one of these styles of museum, and I must say that it does make you into a peace activist.
The towns here are small and few. The accommodations are comfortable and luxurious. But, bring Japanese currency. Only a few places accept credit cards, so you will need cash. You cannot exchange currency on the islands, so do it before you leave the mainland. There are a couple of ATM's around, but come prepared. Also, this is your big chance to unplug. There isn't much in the way of cell coverage on the islands. If you need to be connected that bad, bring a sat phone. But remember, this is one of those places that you go to in order to get away from it all. Unplug and enjoy the isolation in a perfect subtropical island feel of it all.
The beaches are the beats all ends all for those of you who want to hang out on the beach, take a swim in comfortable waters and get a tan. The adventure here is to relax. This is one of those places where time seems to stand still and you don't need to do anything for days on end. It's a good feeling. Take a dinner cruise or lay on the beach. Look for some sea shells by the seashore and have a good time.
Or, you could head out to sea. The Bonin Islands as the British called them are world famous dive and swim locations. The whale watching of all kinds is amazing and there are different seasons for different whales. The Sperm Whale is the one to view in the fall, so if you go there now, that's the one you are most likely to see. During various seasons you can go and see Blue Whales, Humpback Whales and several other kinds of whales. Also, many people go to the islands and swim with dolphins. It's one of the more exciting events on the islands, and there are several tour operators who can take you out for the experience. You can also go snorkeling in the shallower areas, sport fishing on a charter, and wreck diving. Water is a great way to enjoy the islands.
Now, land is a little different. The Ogasawara Islands were never part of any continent, and that means that there are plant and animal species that cannot be found anywhere else. Therefore, what you can bring into the area with you is tightly monitored. They do not want anything to come in and screw up there ecosystem there. It is protected as a World Heritage Site since 2011 and a National Park, so if you chose to go into the wilderness, follow the rules. Many of the animals are bordering on extinction, and the people of the islands are trying to save them. There are many guides who will be happy to take you to the best spots, and even some that will take you on night walks so that you can see all the stuff that comes out and night and may even glow in the dark like some of the mushrooms.
So, what's the adventure for anyone? Is it the fact that the people come out to watch the gorgeous sunsets? No. Is it the pristine beaches? No. Is it the ecosystem? Somewhat. So, what's the adventure?
The trip is the adventure. You can fly, but who wants to do that? I love the activity of flying, but when I travel, I love the more interesting methods of getting around. The Ogasawara or Bonin Islands are about 1,000 kilometers from the mainland, and they have a ferry that makes the trip in about 25 hours one way. It's like a little mini cruise. You take it out to the islands overnight, and then you stay for about six days. That's the recommended time. Then, you take the ferry back to the mainland overnight. While in the populated areas they recommend that you get around by scooter. When traveling to other islands there are ferries, and when getting around the inhabited islands they have a great bus system. It's the travel in the travel that makes it an adventure. So, if you like to get away and unplug, this one's for you. If you've never heard of them, you aren't alone. But, it's a can't miss, because you have whales, dolphins, beaches, shopping, resort hotels, boats and hiking in a protected ecosystem. Leave the phones behind and enjoy nature at it's very finest off the coast of Japan in the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands.