Haven’t seen a trip report for Yonaguni and Ishigaki, so I thought I would do one.
I just spent 10 days on those islands, and dived 6 days out of the 10.Getting to Yonaguni
There are no direct flights to Yonaguni and will require 2 plane transfers in order to get there. You first must get to Okinawa airport and there is only 1 domestic flight to Yonaguni from there a day, which departs at 7.25am. Unfortunately, due to the flight times, there is no way you will get in before 7.25am if you’re flying from Singapore to save 1 night in Okinawa. I took a flight which landed at noon so I could spend the day exploring before heading out to Yonaguni the next day.
Yonaguni is famous for 2 things: 1. The schooling hammerhead sharks during winter; 2. The controversial monument (man-made or natural)The Diving
Jan and Feb are super peak periods for Yonaguni diving as this is the best time to spot hammerheads. Hammerheads congregate here in the hundreds for the mating season. There are only 3 big operators on the island (there might be others, but I only saw dive boats from these 3). They are: Souwes, Yonaguni Diving Service (YDS), and Marlin Divers. I emailed all 3 operators for availability about 4 months before I was due to dive and only YDS allowed me to dive on all the days I was there. The other 2 were already fully booked out.
Due to the number of divers during the peak season, YDS has 2 boats and 2 dive shifts per boat. This ensures each shift has only around 10 divers each time, which provides comfortable space for everyone to prep. For each dive group, there is 1 dive guide, and 1 assistant. On average the ratio of guides to divers would be 1:5. The guide’s role is to spot the hammerheads and not to teach you how to dive. During this peak season, they don’t take anyone with less than 50 dives. YDS only had 1 guide who could speak English fluently, so he was assigned all foreigners. In general, Yonaguni doesn’t get many foreign divers, though, it seems to be growing.
Diving in Yonaguni is rather unique. There are no back rolls or giant stride entries. You would sit on the edge of the ladder of the boat and swim in. All entry is negative entry. The dive guide will wait around the 10m mark for all divers to congregate. The reason for this is due to the waves and surge.
Also when exiting, divers are expected to climb up the ladder steps without removing their fins. The initial steps were easy to get on but the last step is hard as you need to make a side step to ensure your fin lands on the step. You are expected to set up all your own gear and dismantle at the end of every dive. Dive guides do not help in anyway.
All diving for hammerheads is in the deep blue. This means there is no reef or wall as a guide. You are literally surrounded by blue water everywhere. If there isn’t a hammerhead shark, there is pretty much nothing else to see. All hammerhead dives were 30 mins max while at the other sites it was 40 mins. This included the safety stop.
Unfortunately, my team only saw hammerheads 50% of the time and in small numbers, while the all-japanese groups saw hammerheads on every dive and in big schools. The most I saw was 8 hammerheads at once.
I also had a chance to visit the famed underwater monument, but I thought it was way overrated. I did one dive on the first day and was done with it after that. To me it seemed natural rather than man-made.
Water temperatures were a consistent 23 celsius. All divers typically dive in 5mm wetsuits and the dive operators will rent them. Currents weren't an issue as all dives were drift dives. The assistant guide would drag a buoy throughout the entire dive so the boat would know where the divers were at all times.
1. Hammerhead shark
2. Nothing but blue and divers (no sharks on this dive)
3. Dive boat
Getting to Ishigaki is relatively easy. In my case, I took a ferry from Yonaguni to Ishigaki which was around 4 hours. There are 3 flights between Ishigaki and Yonaguni on a daily basis. Between Okinawa and Ishigaki, there are more than 6 flights daily.
Ishigaki is famous for their manta rays. Unfortunately, winter isn't the right time to spot them as due to the direction of the winds, boats are unable to travel to the manta sites. I still decided to dive there to check out the other dive sites.
I went with Umicoza and did 2 dives for a day. At the 2 sites I was at, the diving seemed rather similar to diving in Tioman perhaps 10-15 years ago.
I will be back to Ishigaki and Aguni Island during the summer either later this year or next to check out the mantas and massive schools of fish.