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Climb Mt. Omoto
Rising to a modest height of 528 meters Ishigaki island's Mount Omoto may be relatively small when compared to other mountains in Japan, but its peak is still the highest in Okinawa. A sign-posted trail leads trekkers to the top of the mountain and the journey should take between 60 and 90 minutes for somebody of average fitness. On a clear day climbers will be rewarded with expansive views of the entire island and the reefs which surround it.
The trail which leads to the summit consists of bare ground and stretches which have been laid with stones or steps to form a path. During the final third of the hike the trail narrows considerably in places which is perhaps an indication that many people turn back before making it to the the top.
Soon after setting off you'll realise that you've discovered Ishigaki's wild side as the surrounding forest becomes more dense and takes on a jungle-like quality. Direct sunlight is completely blocked out in many places, unfortunately however, so is the breeze, which can lead to a very humid environment on warmer days.
The signs placed along the trail which provide progress information are based on the assumption that hikers will reach the summit within one hour. Although this is entirely possible I'd recommend that you plan for up to 90 minutes, particularly during the summer.
If you're a fan of lizards, spiders and insects then you're unlikely to be disappointed as the trail teams with life, especially during the summer months. The variety of lizards is particularly impressive, which are rather more exotic that the ones which are usually found near the city (look out for young 'Tokage' lizards with their electric-blue tails).
There's also a good chance that you'll see some huge webs en-route which are home to some of Japan's largest spiders. These beautifully colourful creatures may be the stuff of an arachnophobe's worst nightmares but they remain almost entirely motionless when in their webs and offer some great photo opportunities.
You should be aware however that one of the mountain's residents is Okinawa's legendary habu snake which is capable of delivering an extremely venomous bite. This is one of the reasons why it's wise to climb in a group. In addition, you may not be able to rely on phone coverage while on the mountain.
The route to Mt.Omoto's peak doesn't offer much in terms of views as much of the path is surrounded by dense foliage. However, on reaching the top you'll be treated to some outstanding views of Ishigaki island. Once the track levels out you'll enter a clearing which has a communications tower on the left, however, this is not the peak.
Continue along the path on the opposite side of the clearing and you'll shortly arrive at a fork. The route to the left leads to the official summit, whereas the other heads to an observation point which offers better views of the east coast of Ishigaki island. These points aren't far apart and it's worth taking time to enjoy the views from both. Unfortunately it can be quite hazy, making photography rather infuriating, but on a clear day you'll be able to see Hirakubo's rugged peninsula extending to the north, Ishigaki's pacific coast to the east and Kabira bay to the west.
Unsurprisingly the views from these observation points are the most expansive to be had on Ishigaki and those who do make the effort to hike to Mt.Omoto's peak are unlikely to be disappointed.
Watch the clock
Ishigaki's proximity to the equator means that summer sunsets don't linger like they do throughout much of Europe and North America. When out in the country it can get extremely dark very quickly and unless you fancy spending the night on a mountain track with a a bunch of lizards, snakes and spiders it would pay to keep an eye on the time. To be safe you should be heading back down the mountain by about 4.00pm in the winter or 5.00pm in the summer.
Mount Omoto is visible from most locations on Ishigaki island, however, locating the trail which leads to the summit requires a bit of planning. Take highway 87 north from the city until you arrive at the signposted entrance in the first picture below. This entrace is found about 4km north of the point where highway 87 intersects with highway 211.
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