CONTRIBUTED BY QUENTIN RICHARDSON
Editor’s note: Steve wrote THIS post a few years back about Zamami Island, Michelle wrote THIS about whale watching from Zamami, but Quentin is revisiting the topic for us. I suggest you check out ALL THREE!
For those of us living on Kadena, Futenma, Foster or Kinser, looking west we get an awesome view of the ocean. If you are higher up on a clear day, you see the beautiful cluster of islands known as the Keramas. Many people don’t even notice them and go their whole tours not even knowing or visiting them. I hope this post changes your mind.
The northern portion of the Kerama Islands has a beautiful group collectively known as Zamami Village. Due to unforeseen events, like typhoons and scheduling conflicts, it took a year to finally get out and enjoy the place and the timing was perfect.
It was a hot and calm over the 4th of July holiday and I made plans to go and invited all of my friends and co-workers who were willing and able to go. This two-day trip requires a lot of preparation and planning, but be flexible because not everything goes according to plan.
The Planning Stages:
Getting information about Zamami is significantly easier compared to Tokashiki since the creation of the Zamami English Guide website and the Zamami Island post from OkinawaHai! Collectively from both sites you can not only get directions to the port, the ferry schedule, and where to stay/eat/see/rent all before you leave. Keep in mind, this is a very popular area, so book EVERYTHING in advance during peak seasons. You can call ahead and reserve the ferry since the staff speaks basic English, and so do most of the business owners on Zamami. Also, check the weather frequently since the ferries won’t leave if the sea is too rough.
I left my home in Okinawa City at 0845 for Tomari Port, to catch the 1000 Ferry Zamami. The Queen Zamami was fully booked when I called ahead. Turning at the Tomari Port Entrance off Highway 58 is the easier way into the port’s parking garage. You have to pay for parking if you park in the parking garage, which ended up being about 2,400 yen for a day and a half.
The place where you purchase your tickets is at ground level inside the large complex. If you got a reservation number over the phone, it’s much easier to get your tickets. There is a form you have to fill out before they give you your ticket. Once you are done and pay for your ticket, the last large white ferry on the south end of the port awaits you. Arrive at the port early to take care of everything since the ferry leaves at 0959. (Map pin below is for the ticket office at Tomari Port.)
Once aboard the ferry, you will see a place to leave your luggage, after that, find a place to settle if you are tired. There are places to lay down and take a power nap or plenty of places to sit. On the other hand, once the ship gets underway, the crew opens up the upper levels, providing you with some great shots of the nearby islands along the 2-hour trip. You will see the ferry bound for Tokashiki halfway through the trip with flying fish soaring over the ocean surface. About 30 minutes to an hour into the route, you will see Nagannu, Maejima and Tokashiki Islands. Before reaching Zamami, the ship docks at Aka port, DO NOT GET OFF! You are only 15 minutes away from Zamami.
Once you finally arrive on Zamami, it will be noon. I went and checked into my hotel, Nakayamagwa, which was a 5 minute walk from the port. The others went and checked into the Ama Beach Campground. The owners of Nakayamagwa, Yoshi Ohara-san and his wife were very friendly and were kind enough to give me a map in English of the village. They also wrote on the map their recommendations on popular things in the village and on the island. Oh, and there rooms were awesome and cheap!
The most popular attraction on Zamami in the summer is Furuzamami Beach. It’s easily accessible by a short taxi ride, bike or by walking. Be warned! It’s located on the other side of a hill next to the village, so biking or walking this road is tiring. Once you reach the beach, you will see it is WELL worth the trip. It’s a long stretch of beach and at the south end, there is a shop where you can eat and even rent things you will need for the water. Lifeguards are also there as well.
Asa and Ama Beaches are just as clear and nice, and offer opportunities to see sea turtles. At night, large hermit crabs are seen crawling almost everywhere. Since it was low tide and I had rented a bike for the day, I decided to go exploring the entire island on it.
WARNING!!!! Don’t be like me and go exploring this island on anything that is not powered by a motor. The terrain is very steep outside of the village on EVERY road and some do not offer ANY protection from the sun. The only protection/rest I would get would be when I would stop at the observatories to take pictures. As a personal challenge though, I saw the entire island on the bike, under the blazing July sun in under 2-1/2 hours before finally meeting up with everyone at Furuzamami Beach. As the day went on I explored the village, which takes under 20 minutes, and finally convinced everyone to try a Yakiniku-style dinner.
Getting around is easy with a bike through the village, so I highly recommend renting/bringing one. However, the next time I visit I will bring my car. The roads are narrow, so be careful if you bring a larger vehicle (you can rent a car if you have an international driver’s license). The second day I went to Furuzamami and relaxed on the beach until it was time to go. There is a small store in the village that also became very useful too.
- Read through the websites and plan ahead. Make reservations more than a week out.
- Although there is ONE ATM on island, bring more than enough yen to cover the entire trip.
- Bring a small car if you are staying longer than a day.
- Most owners speak some English, speak slowly or use Google Translate.
- At the port there is a tourist information building that offers the same map I used, most of the business owners also have this map. (it’s hand drawn in black and white)
- SoftBank has service there, but AU has a dedicated tower.
- KEEP YOUR FERRY TICKETS DRY! (Duh!)
- Bring everything you need in a carry on suitcase, if you have to, use a normal suitcase but remember you will be walking with it
- No camping out unless you are in paid campsites
- The Ferry Zamami has more room and allows bikes/cars/scooters
- The Queen Zamami is ALWAYS full
- Again, don’t ride you bike out of the village to see the island… use something motorized