Rob Goss heads to the furthest outpost of Tokyo – a group of subtropical islands roughly 1,000km south of the city
While the Izu Islands don’t take much effort to get to, there is a second island group under Tokyo’s jurisdiction that falls firmly in the epic journey category: the Ogasawara Islands, one of Japan’s World Natural Heritage sites. Roughly 1,000km south of central Tokyo, the only way to access the islands is a 24-hour ferry trip from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier to the Ogasawara’s main island, Chichijima – population just 2,000.
It’s bucket-list stuff when you get there. First, the islands are naturally stunning, with subtropical rainforest, rugged cliff faces and idyllic beaches. The islands are also home to wildlife that is found nowhere else, including birds such as the endemic Bonin honeyeater, insects such as the endemic tiger beetle and dragonfly, and animals such as the Bonin flying fox. In the waters around the islands, you can add to that coral reefs, whales, dolphins and loggerhead turtles.
Chichijima is where most people will base themselves, and you could easily spend days just exploring the beaches there, whether that’s paddling in the shallow waters of Kominato Beach, snorkelling off Miyanohama Beach or even diving the wreck of a torpedoed cargo ship that sank just off Sakaiura Beach. Another option is to hike through jungle-like forest to the secluded Hatsuneura Beach.
But there’s also plenty of time to go beyond Chichijima – good thing, too, as the ferry to and from Tokyo only runs every three days in warmer months and every six in colder months. About a kilometre south, one great trip is to tiny Minamijima, home to such rare fauna and flora that to protect it only 100 people a day can visit in the presence of a local guide. From Chichijima, a ferry also makes the two-hour journey to another of the Ogasawara’s gems: Hahajima. Only 20 square kilometres in size and with a population of only 500, it’s absolutely unspoilt. The best ways to see it for yourself are to make the four-hour trek to the summit of Mount Chibusayama – at 463m the highest point in the Ogasawara archipelago – or head for the clear blue waters off Minamizaki Beach to snorkel the coral reef.