Ishigaki snorkeling tours

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Ishigaki represents one of the most southern islands of Okinawa and pretty much the most southern point of Japan.  The island is roughly equal in latitude to the Taiwanese city of Taichung, and thus features tropical to temperate weather year-round.  Having been to Naha, the capitol of Okinawa, before the in the past, I decided to go deep and hit the less explored island of Ishigaki.

Getting to Ishigaki

Ishigaki has nonstop flights to most of the major cities on Honshu.  But since I was coming from Sapporo, I booked the token nonstop flight between Sapporo and Naha, and connected onto a short <1-hour flight between Naha and Ishigaki.  Nearly 5 hours of total flying on ANA came out to only 8,000 United miles, which is definitely a hidden sweet spot on their award chart, which will be unfortunately eliminated in a couple of weeks.


I originally had booked 2 nights in Ishigaki, which equates to one full day.  I had reserved a full-day kayaking, hiking, and snorkeling tour to Barasu Island, but the tour got unfortunately canceled the day before due to high waves.  And since my return flight to Tokyo also got canceled due to the typhoon and rebooked for the next day, I now had 2 full days in Ishigaki, so I went to the Ishigaki Port Terminal in the morning and booked the half day Phantom Island and snorkeling tour for the first day and the the full day manta ray snorkeling tour for the second day.


Half Day Phantom Island and Snorkeling Tour

Phantom Island is about a 25-minute boat ride out from the Ishigaki Port Terminal.  The guides suited us up in wetsuits, which I actually declined since the weather and water were both warm.  Phantom Island itself is consisted of completely dead coral, and more of a walking island to admire the surroundings and transparent water.






With only dead corals, there wasn't much a fish community here, so we just walked around for about half an hour and posed for photos.  After wandering around on the small island, we boated to the snorkeling spot.  And that's when I noticed that I forgot my underwater camera back at the hotel....

Notable encounters
-Trigger fish
-Moral eel


Full Day Manta Ray Snorkeling Tour

For the second day, I had my hopes running high and definitely didn't forget my underwater camera.  Tom Sawyer, the tour operator, actually gives you two options for the full day: snorkeling or SCUBA, which is twice the cost.  Since I like the freedom of snorkeling, I went for the cheaper option, and I ended up being the only person on the double decker boat to go with the snorkeling tour.  As a result, I pretty much had my own guide for the entire duration of the tour, whereas the SCUBA divers were split into teams of 3-4 to a guide.



We boated out for about 40 minutes before hitting our first coral reef spot.  After hopping in, I then realized that my underwater camera had kicked the bucket and was no longer waterproof....  Fortunately(?), we didn't run into manta ray for me to film.

After swimming around for about 35 minutes, we headed to our second of three spots.  I had brought a waterproof casing for my smartphone, so I strapped that on and hit the water.



The second spot was supposed to be loaded with tuna, but we just ran into a school of jacks.  I also realized really quickly that a waterproof pouch does not guarantee that your smartphone will end up with sharp underwater shots.

After hitting the second spot, we boated over to a docked island for lunch, which consisted of your average bento boxes.  For our third and final spot, we actually got close and personal with a series of coral reefs.






Lesson: I need a GoPro.  After exiting the water for the final time, I noticed that my (get this) Apple Watch had also kicked the bucket...  As we returned to the Ishigaki Port Terminal, we got splashed by the higher waves, and I noticed that the coating on my Oakley sunglasses begin to peel.

Notable encounters:
-Banded sea kraits
-Clown fish
-Trigger fish
-Jacks

Casualties:
-Sony Cybershot DSC-TX10 "waterproof" camera ($180)
-Apple Watch series 2 "water resistant" ($299)
-Oakley polarized Asian-fit sunglasses ($119)

Ouch, but they're all many years old, so maybe it was time for replacements.


Thoughts on Ishigaki snorkeling tours

While the Phantom Island snorkeling tour was beautiful and the guides helpful, the snorkeling portion was definitely designed for beginners.  You're required to strap on a life vest, which makes diving nearly impossible.  I also "wandered" off too far from the boat, so one of the guides called me back.  I see the Phantom Island tour more for families and beginners, though it's still fun to get out of the city and hit remote islands that you get all to yourself.

It's unfortunate that we didn't see any manta rays, but I would do the Tom Sawyer tour again if I could, perhaps as a SCUBA diver.  And yes, a solid underwater camera or GoPro are an absolute requirement.





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