Chasing Waterfalls on Iriomote Island
One look at KEEN Ambassador Chelsea Yamase’s Instagram feed, and you can tell that she has a passion for waterfalls. Discovering them. Scrambling her way up to them. Being immersed in them.
Together with Chelsea—and KEEN Ambassador Aki Yamashita from Japan as our guide—our production crew was on a mission for waterfalls, and we certainly found them on Iriomote Island in the Okinawa Prefecture. When an island is 90 percent lush, tropical forests—with 40+ rivers flowing throughout—a waterfall adventure isn’t just a possibility. It’s practically a requirement.
Getting to this specific island wasn’t exactly easy—it involves planes and ferries—but it’s all part of the adventure. And that first moment, when you see the island rising up on the horizon? Pure euphoria.
There are more than a few falls on the island. Mariudo. Kanpiree. Nara no. Mizuochi. But when we heard about Pinaisara—and how we’d get there—we knew which one to hit first. At over 180 feet, Pinaisara is the tallest falls in Okinawa. You get to it by kayaking through calm, emerald green waters (the mangrove wetlands) and then hiking for an unforgettable hour, deep in the jungle, including a couple steep-ish rope climbs. Lizards and dragonflies abound. And as it goes with heat and humidity, the promise of a refreshing swim in the waterfall’s huge plunge basin became our goal.
But one of the things about chasing waterfalls—and hiking in the heat—is that so much time is spent imagining that swim that you forget to think about the view. And the panoramic view of Iriomote is spectacular. At 330 feet above sea level, you can see as far as Hatoma, Barasu, and Hatobanare islands—and the bay where you start from.
One of the things about chasing waterfalls is that so much time is spent imagining that swim that you forget to think about the view.
But after soaking in the view—and in our case, eating a well-earned lunch—that’s when you should definitely scramble down to the pool and earn your reward for chasing waterfalls: a momentary return to nature. Needless to say, the cool, pristine water feels fantastic.
IF YOU GO:
Be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles when visiting this remote island. Home to rare species, including the Iriomote cat, Iriomote Island is part of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, and is being considered for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.