Okinawa is the tropical getaway for the Japanese: It’s akin and analogous to Hawaii for the USA. The main draw is the natural beauty, and boy does this island paradise deliver! One special place to visit is the Kerama Islands National Park, particularly, Zamami Island.
The Kerama Islands are a series of islands off of the main island of Okinawa, renowned for their beauty and natural splendor. There are several islands you can stay on, and you can even ferry pretty easily among them, but we chose to stick to one island and just relax.
The island we ended up spending our time on was Zamami, about 50 minutes or 47 kilometers from Naha, the capital of the prefecture (and most likely where you’ll fly in). The ferry is pretty quick, not too choppy, and very simple to use. When we arrived, we got to see the newly completed Tourism Welcome Center, which had a small cafe where you could get coffee, snacks, and shikwasa soda, a delightful Okinawan citrus beverage. The second floor had lovely open windows and a lounge area, and they said we could bring our food from outside up there to enjoy lunch! The first floor is filled with tons of cool info about the nature around the island, and has much of the information in both Japanese and English.
The island is small. Not too big, you can probably walk around the entire island comfortably within a day. The main harbor has a few restaurants available and a convenience store/bodega that acts as a supermarket for the island. They get premade lunches from a local restaurant just down the street which they sell for lunch and dinner. They range from fried chicken and rice to Okinawan bitter gourd, goya, mixed with sauce, egg, and rice. I love me some goya, so this was a delightful treat.
From the main port area, it’s about a 15-minute walk to either Furuzamami Beach to the east, or Ama Beach to the west. We did some shell hunting on Furuzamami and a bit of snorkeling off the shores of Ama Beach. We even got to see some resident turtles while we were floating around! At one point, I spotted a stealthily hidden octopus, which was a highlight for me!
Everything is very relaxing and chilled out. Don’t expect to have the island entertain you while you’re here: You need to be willing to slow down, observe nature, and just be a bit lazy during your visit.
Whale Watching Off Zamami
While we were there, the host at our hotel told us that he was a member of the Zamami Whale Watching Association, and that he could take us out to watch whales on his boat. Since it was February, prime whale spotting time, we took him up on his offer and went out (for a nominal fee, of course; around 50 USD per person, but for a private charter? That’s pretty great!).
We boarded the ship and he radioed the scientists on duty that day to get updates on where the whales were. They had been tracking a mother and child, so he was hoping that they would be nearby for us to spot. There’s a lot of wait-and-see with whale watching. There’s also a lot of staring out onto the ocean to see where the whales are breaching. My wife, possibly a secret whale-whisperer, was incredible at spotting minor disturbances out on the sea that turned out to be whales!
We ended up seeing two large males, as well as the mother and child! We got super close, which was really incredible to experience. Our captain told us all about the safety required with cutting the engines and keeping a safe distance so as to not disturb or harm the whales. He even brought his camera and snapped a few pictures himself for his own scrapbook and for the researchers. Turns out they identify the whales by the patterns on their tail fins, and that’s a good way to track them.
It was gorgeous, it was sunny, and it was a lovely experience! I’m so happy we went with our hotel owner and I’m especially happy we were able to experience this in a slower season.