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Yonehara beach a very popular destination amongst people wishing to view its beautiful coral reef, however, it should be noted that this is not an officially-sanctioned beach. There are no lifeguards or jellyfish nets to protect swimmers, but there are strong currents in places which are capable of carrying people out into open sea. The danger is very real, with the beach having claimed many lives over the years. Consequently, if you chose to swim here you do so entirely at your own risk.
Of all the beaches in Ishigaki, Yonehara is one of the most visited - partly because of its beautiful reef, but also because it has a campsite which is positioned right behind the beach, which is extremely popular throughout the warmer months. Despite the fact that it's not the best beach on the island, I still love visiting Yonehara. It's not a family-oriented beach yet it's very popular, which in turn gives it a certain vibe which many of the more secluded beaches don't have. If you visit Yonehara beach during the high season, and perhaps stay in its campsite, you're pretty much guaranteed to meet some interesting individuals.
The beach itself is wide and spacious, however, it does leave a little to be desired in terms of sand quality, and many areas are pebbled. Still, most people will find a visit here to be very enjoyable, and even if you don't plan on venturing into the ocean, it is a great place to spend an afternoon in the sun.
The campsite is positioned directly behind a beach in a wooded area which provides partial shade for campers. Prices are very reasonable and the site is equipped with basic toilet, shower and washing facilities, but don't expect anything too fancy or clean. The site is popular throughout the year but particularly so in the warmer months. Although people of all ages stay at the site it has a youthful feel to it, and apparently there are days when parties can go on until the early hours during the summer.
You don't require a booking to use the campsite - simply turn up and hope that there is space to pitch your tent. The cost is reasonably priced at ¥400 per occupant. If you can't find anybody to pay on arrival at the site simply pitch your tent in an available space. At some point somebody will spot the new pitch and wander over to charge you.
What attracts many to Yonehara's coastline is its reef, which teams with life; the moment you put your head under the water you'll feel like you've stepped into another world. There is a wide enough variety of sea life here to interest the most experienced of snorkelers and divers, including those who are used to more adventurous offshore diving.
At the back of the reef you'll see waves breaking on most days. At this point the ocean abruptly drops off into far deeper water. Some people choose to snorkel here as there are free-diving opportunities along with the chance to see larger sea creatures. However, extreme caution should be exercised when approaching the drop off.
Snorkelers should also consult tidal information before planning a trip. During low tide the sea can drain from the reef to such a degree that it is difficult to swim at all. At such times much of the life will have retreated to deeper waters too, making the experience less enjoyable.
Beware strong currents
There are signs positioned in the parking areas which display the pattern and locations of currents which head out to open sea. The information is in Japanese but pictures denote the origin and direction of flow. If you do decide to enter the ocean you should avoid swimming near these areas, however, its very hard to know exactly where you are relative to these areas. Also, note that currents and other dangers can present themselves anywhere along the coastline. Look out for 'no swimming' signs - however these may not be in English so it may be an idea to check with a Japanese speaker.
From the beach you'll usually be able to see waves breaking in the distance. This marks the point where the reef abruptly drops-off into deeper water. During a failed free-diving mission I witnessed a friend, an experienced swimmer and diving instructor, take a severe beating from waves while trying to cross this natural boundary. The best advice is to avoid the edge of the reef; the risks are higher and the Japan Coast Guard is already busy enough saving swimmers who have overestimatd their capabilities during the high season.
My final word of advice is that you should seek a tour guide if you want to safely enjoy the beauty of Ishigaki's reefs. There are plenty on the island, and some combine kayaking with snorkeling to enhance the experience.
Gettinging to Yonehara Beach
Yonehara beach and campsite is positioned on the northern coast of Ishigaki, not far from the Yaeyama palm tree grove. Even if you don't have a car it is easily accessible via bus (timetables can be found here).
There is a car park adjacent to campsite's west entrance which is sometimes free but in the high-season there may be a charge of about ¥500. Some people push their luck and park in the campsite but be prepared for a stand-off with the guy who runs the place if he thinks that your car is in the way.