Let me start with this: I had no idea that I would stumble upon a beautiful oasis when I went looking for a strenuous hike through the lush tropical forests of northern Okinawa.
As small as Okinawa is, hiking here is somewhat limited for an enthusiast like me. But I set out with plenty of water, my camera, some snacks and rudimentary — and misleading – directions from the Marine Corps Community Service website for a tough hike to the Aha Falls.
Finding the trailhead proved quite the endeavor, and I drove past the turn-off four times.
I began my hike on a “barely-there” trail on the side of the road figuring it was the correct spot.
After 45 minutes of bushwhacking along the trail, covered in spider webs, I came to a junction of four trails leading with no signs pointing the way to the water falls. Dejected, I turned back, arrived at the car sodden with sweat and with what must have looked like failure clearly etched across my face.
I drove back to the town of Aha giving up on ever finding the trail and the falls. But then I noticed a sign pointing to the Tanaga-gumui Plant Community, which was referenced in the directions. That road quickly turned into a dirt road, and I was less than optimistic when I parked and got out.
But when I came around a bend, I saw what could only be a group of Marines with their high-and-tight haircuts, lugging slowly deflating flotation devices. Using my keen sense of deductive reasoning, I figured I had finally found the trail to the falls.
A few minutes later, I could hear the sound of the crashing water and then I was gazing out across a beautiful swimming hole, with the magnificent water fall at the end.
It was hardly the hard-core hike that I was expecting, but the view I gazed upon was worth it.
The scene was framed with lush tropical forest and a narrow trail led around the perimeter, allowing the adventurous to get to the top of the falls without having to get wet.
However, the beauty was marred by the telltale signs of Americans who left empty Red Bull and Budweiser cans, cigarette butts and other trash — despite a handwritten sign by local school students urging visitors to clean up after themselves.
I hiked the perimeter of the swimming hole, took some photos and wished I had brought my board shorts so I could jump in and take a swim.
With good directions (see box at left), it should take about 2 ½ hours to get to the falls from Kadena Air Base instead of the four hours that it took me.
But it is definitely worth the long drive up there. Just remember to take your trash home with you.
Know & go
Leave Kadena Air Base and head toward the Northern Training Area on Highway 70. Drive through the town of Aha. About a kilometer north of the town, you will see a sign for the Tanaga-gumui Plant Community. Take this road and drive about two minutes along the dirt road to a small parking area. The trailhead is opposite the parking area.