Yaeyama, Japan's answer to Hawaii
THE Yaeyama Islands are Japan's best-kept secret, tucked away at the southern-most point near sub-tropical Okinawa.
Located in the same latitude zone as other famous beach destinations like Hawaii, Florida and the Bahamas, the Yaeyama archipelago comprises 31 islets.
With its dense jungles and rich tradition and culture, this cluster is Japan's answer to Hawaii, with none of the crowds - yet.
MyPaper susses out what to do on some of the islands while on a five-day island-hopping trip.
This is the third-biggest island in Okinawa. The convenience it offers in accessing the rest of the Yaeyama Islands means that most tourists would choose to spend their nights here.
Surrounded by an abundance of coral reefs and marine life, the island has been touted by many in the diving community to be among the world's best diving spots.
Choose to snorkel at nearly any beach on the island, or head to one of the dive shops for tours for all experience levels. Dive company Tom Sawyer (www.ishigaki-tomsawyer.jp), for instance, offers an English guide.
At Kabira Bay, the emerald-blue waters and pristine white sands boast one of the most picturesque views on Ishigaki Island.
Swimming, snorkelling and diving in the bay are not allowed, but one can take a 30-minute ride on a glass-bottomed boat.
While at Yu-gurena Mall, look out for yam and brown-sugar produce, which the Yaeyama Islands are best known for. Stores also offer a plethora of Okinawan sea-salt goods, from snow-textured sea salt to traditional chinsuko cookies.
Approximately a 60-minute domestic flight from Okinawa Naha Airport.
Grand Vrio Hotel Ishigaki Resort (2481-1 Funakura Arakawa, Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture 907-0024) is surrounded by magnificent views of mountains and the sea.
Iriomote Island is the second-largest island and 90 per cent of it is made up of dense, evergreen jungles.
The Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park offers several hiking trails, including the most daunting 20km route through the interior of the island, which only the experienced and well-equipped should attempt.
Look out for scenic views of waterfalls along the way, as well as the headwaters of the Urauchi River.
Across Iriomote Island lies a smaller Yubu Island, which is only about 2km in circumference. Here, a ford-crossing water buffalo will be the most suitable guide to get there, but those who prefer the do-it-yourself way can wade across in boots.
35 to 40 minutes by ferry from Ishigaki Port.
Hoshino Resort Nirakanai Iriomotejima (2-2 Uehara, Taketomi, Yaeyama District, Okinawa Prefecture 907-1541) thrives on an eco-friendly philosophy. The hotel also organises night kayaking trips at a nearby open lagoon.
Taketomi is a small island popular among tourists for day trips.
Meander down the narrow sand paths of the beautifully preserved Ryukyu Village on a buffalo-drawn cart for a closer look into traditional Taketomi life.
Head also to the Kondoi Beach, where the crescent-shaped bay looks like it stretches on forever.
10 minutes by ferry from Ishigaki Port.
Hoshinoya Okinawa (Taketomi, Yaeyama-gun, Okinawa Prefecture 907-1101) is an ingenious recreation of the traditional Taketomi settlement that incorporates modern luxury features. The resort has a 24-hour swimming pool that is nestled among sloping green lawns.
The writer's trip was sponsored by CTC Travel (www.ctc.com.sg)