Urauchi River Cruise and Hiking, Iriomote island 浦内川クルーズ、西表島

Urauchi river

Jan. 2020

Up around 7 am and start the day with a quick convenience store breakfast in our hotel room. This is a concrete box, even on the inside.

Taking the ferry to Iriomote island

After checking out, we walk to the ferry terminal to take the ferry to Uehara on Iriomote Island. However, as we had been warned, due to inclement weather the ferry to Uehara is not running.

The route of the Uehara ferry is outside the shelter of the islands, so the sea is too rough when the wind is from the north, especially in winter. Passengers for this ferry are then, routinely, transferred to the Ohara ferry port.

The ferry to Ohara port is, therefore, very crowded, especially so, as it is a 3-day weekend. It is fast and enclosed and bucks a bit when out of the lee of other islands.

On arrival, as the ferry is not running, we are directed to a free bus to take us to Uehara. However, before the bus reaches Uehara, we get off at the boat tour spot Urauchi River. From the bus stop we walk down a short road to the waterside.

*Ferry Ishigaki-jima – Iriomote-jima ; 3040 yen / return

Urauchi River Boat trip through the Mangroves

It is getting quite chilly in the wind as we board the river boat and traveling upstream on the Urauchi river through mangrove swamps it begins to rain a little. We are obliged to put on the 100-yen ponchos we had bought for such an eventuality. The boat has a roof, but the wind blows the rain inside.

Urauchi River

Urauchi River

The river is surprisingly wide and tidal so sometimes the mangrove stand on sandy beaches though at other points the banks are rock. I search the low, overhanging branches for Ruddy Kingfishers but see no wildlife at all.

*Urauchigawa boat ; 2200 yen / return

Hiking through the jungle

Once we arrive at the limit of navigation, after about 20 minutes, we disembark and begin a trek through the jungle to the waterfall. This is a well-defined if rocky, muddy and, at times, waterlogged trail. The vegetation is spectacular, huge ferns predominate and it is like walking through the hot house of the botanical gardens. Except that It is not hot and, as the rain becomes heavier and more persistent, we are getting wet despite our ponchos. As we progress the trail is steadily upwards, and we walk off the chill and begin to sweat especially carrying the rucksacks.

Iriomote hiking

Iriomote hiking

Maryudu and Kanbire Falls

After an hour or so we arrive at Kanbire the main fall. Here the vegetation that has hemmed us in the whole way opens out in an expanse of flat rocks. The river rushes over these in a series of rapids and small falls. The view of the surrounding jungle covered hills with the wide river cutting through is welcome after the confines of the trail.

Iriomote, Kanbire Waterfall

Iriomote, Kanbire Waterfall

On the trek back, we view a couple of other falls, fine but less impressive than the first.

Missing the boat

Unfortunately, our timing is bad, and we miss the return boat by about 20 minutes so have to wait one and a half hours for the next one.

The rain is now heavy and the wind very strong. Our arms and legs are soaked due to the rain and my back is soaked in sweat. Waiting for the boat is a cold business but we eat our calorie mate lunch – we forgot to buy lunch before leaving Ishigaki-jima and, be warned, food is hard to find on Iriomote.

There is a roofed shelter where we wait for the boat and gradually other hikers with better planning drift in. When the boat arrives, the boatman advises everyone to sit forward as it is more sheltered and a little warmer.

Ferry on the Urauchi river

Ferry at the upper pier on the Urauchi river

Once back at the boat station, we have another 56 minutes to wait for the local bus. It runs just 4 times a day. We are the only passengers and the driver points out young pineapples growing in the fields.

From the bus station, which doubles as Uehara port, we walk to our hotel in the rain. Dinner is fish. Sashimi and shabu shabu which, though fish is not my thing, I have to admit, I enjoyed.

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