Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yonbaru Forest School

With the Cherry blossoms in bloom across the northern end of the island, many people will be getting in their cars and going out to see the sights. The cooler winter temperatures make hiking a popular pasttime as well. One place that you might want to consider is the Yonbaru Forest School in far northern Kunigami Village.

The facility is located on the back side of Aha Dam in southern Kunigami village. That being said, if you're not aware of its existence, most people would never go out of their way to find it.

The Yonbaru Forest School is home to a variety of protected wildlife to include the Okinawa Yonbaru Salamander, a unique looking red headed woodpecker whose name I forgot but it probably had Yonbaru somewhere in it, Yonbaru mountain turtles and the occasional Yonbaru Kuina or Okinawa Rail. The Kuina is the rarest of them all but be advised that all of these afore mentioned beasts are protected species. With that being said, be extremely careful when your driving along the mountain roads of Yonbaru. Penalty's are stiff and in most cases include confiscating your vehicle.

For being located in such a far out of the way place, the facility is nothing short of first rate. It includes a fantastic playground with equipment that is sturdy enough to accomodate kids of all ages and sizes. That means its for the kid in all of us and from what we could see, many take advantage of it!

The facility also includes several kilometers worth of mountain trails. They have been improved to make hiking easier but they may not be the best thing for the weak or infirmed. Some of the trails have stairs and the like but they can be pretty steep in places. Pets are not allowed and neither is letting your little ones capture and or play with some of the critters.

There is a modest fee if you want to go hiking the trails which is payable in advance at the Cafe and visitor's center. Be sure to check out the tree house and when you enter the hiking trail, be sure to wipe your feet in the anti-bacterial bath provided. As we said before the species here are extremely rare and extra precautions like this are in place to protect them from diseases that you might unknowingly bring in to the park.

The best way to get there is to go up the west coast of the island along highway 58. Travel past the recreation center at Okuma Beach and the turn off for Hiji Falls. At highway 2, head east over the mountains. As your making your way down the other side toward the sleepy coastal village of Ada, look for the sign with the frog on it. Turn right here and follow the road five kilometers to the park. It will be on the left side of the road and you can't miss it.

The other option is to drive the long way up the East coast through Higashi village. It will be some distance past the Northern Training Area at Camp Gonsalves. Look for the sign for Aha Dam and follow the road back to the dam, drive across it and up the hill to the park.

Again the faster way is along highway 58. But with this being "Ohanami" or Cherry Blossom season, the Yofuke crossroads just south of Nago will be snarled with traffic. You can avoid this by driving down the east coast or if you choose to take highway 58 back, I would suggest you turn off at Haneji dam just north of Nago. Take that road up the hill, past the dam and over the reservoir. When you get to Highway 18, turn left through the tunnel, down to Oruwa bay. Make a right onto higway 331 and drive back up the hill toward Camp Schwab and highway 329. From there its a clear drive down the east coast to the expressway exit at Ginoza.

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