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Thread: Zamami / Okinawa Dive Report

 

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    Zamami / Okinawa Dive Report

    We visited Okinawa for about a week in June 2009 for some diving. Previous to this trip there didn’t seem to be much information in English on diving in Okinawa so I’m going to try to post a fairly detailed review. I also recorded most of the diving, but unfortunately did not record on my last and favorite site in Zamami. Here’s the video I took.

    We stayed 4 days on Zamami which is part of the Keramas Islands which south of the main island of Okinawa. Then we stayed 3 days in Naha, the city on the main Okinawa island, but only did 1 dive there.

    Zamami Island (Keramas)
    The diving in Keramas/Zamami definitely ranks up there with places I’ve been before in the Caribbean and Hawaii.
    Conditions (June 2009): Air temperature was in the high 70’s and 80’s. Water temperature was in the high 70’s. I wore a 5mm rather than my normal 3mm but I think you could’ve gone either way. Visibility was about 80 – 100 feet in blue water. The current is very mild. Most sites were very close to the port in Zamami so boat rides were generally 10-15 minutes.

    The Diving: I visited 6 different sites including a night dive. The sites I visited were moderate depth with a max around 60 feet. The sites I visited had healthy hard coral, lots of anemones, and large hard-coral formations. The marine life that I saw included lots of small tropical fish, lots of anemone fish like clown-fish, octopuses, sting-rays, sea-turtles, leaf fish, lion fish, moray eels, garden eels, sea-snakes, reef sharks, crabs, lobsters, and lots of small colorful fish. The things that made diving in the Keramas different than other destinations were a couple of features. First, you’ll often find thousands of small, colorful tropical fish living densely on a large hard-coral formation. I’ve seen smaller versions of this in Maui, but not quite to this scale. On my last dive in the Keramas we visited a site called Hamanaka and there was this awesome site with what seemed like millions of small silver/clear fish (1-3cm) surrounding a medium-sized coral formation (about 2 meters in length). The small fish would move in concert. If you stuck your hand towards the coral, they would create an opening. Behind the wall of these small fish were larger fish, shrimp, and a moray that appeared to be using the wall of small fish as protection. On that same coral, we found 3 leaf fish (about 7-8 cm wide) which is supposedly very rare. That was one the one dive I didn’t take video because I lost my red filter the previous day. We also visited another site known to have sea turtles and we saw four turtles. The Keramas Islands also has a coral spawning period and I just happened to be there during that time. We went out on one night dive hoping to see it, but unfortunately it didn’t happen that night. However, we did a great night dive anyway and found many of the usual night suspects like octopus, crabs, as well as many other critters.

    About Zamami: First of all – Zamami is one of the most charming places I’ve ever visited. We loved it. I believe it’s one of the more populated of the populated of the Keramas Islands, but it is still tiny. I read there are 1000 people living on the island, but it felt like we were one of 10-20 visiting groups on the island. We would see the same people wherever we went. The town is so small you can walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes. You absolutely don’t need a car, but they do rent them I believe as well as scooters. There are 2 beaches that we know of and we would call the taxi to take us there which cost about $6.50 one-way. Some people walk to the beach, but it’s probably a 20-30 minute walk. There are no mega-resorts or chain hotels here. They’re all family owned hotels or bed & breakfasts.

    Getting There: JAL and ANA offers discounts on domestic airfare if you use them to fly into Japan from abroad. The discounts are almost 50% off. We flew from into Naha, Okinawa, took a taxi to the ferry station ($12), and took the Queen Zamami ferry to Zamami. I believe the one-way ticket was $30. The ride is about 1 hour and it’s a little bumpy since the ferry is going pretty fast.

    ANA Airpass

    JAL Yokoso Japan/Visit Japan Fare

    Queen Zamami Ferry Schedule
    (look on top left for “Boat Schedule”)

    Dive Operators
    To my knowledge there are at least two English speaking dive shops: Heartland and Joy-Joy. My wife opted for Heartland since the dive-guide there responded to her emails promptly, provided a lot of information, and they also pick you up from the ferry station and take you to your hotel.
    I had a great experience with diving with Heartland Marine Shop. On each boat there would be a total of three dive guides, one would stay on the boat, and two would guide the groups. On a couple of days there were about 6-7 divers on the boat, but they would always keep the groups small with no more than 4 divers per guide. There were no preset time limits to the diving. We basically dove according to air or when we felt like going up. Since the diving is relatively shallow we never got close to our deco limits. Momo is the English speaking dive guide at Heartland. She uses a tablet underwater to communicate. I usually did 2 morning dives one at 9am and one at 11am. We return back to the shop for surface intervals so you can use the restroom or take a break. There isn’t a head on the boat, but they’re OK with going off the back of the boat if you want. Momo is very good at finding fish, pointing things out, and seems to have a lot of knowledge about fish species. There were two other guides, but they don’t speak much English so they would usually take the other group or be a safety diver. However, they were all very friendly and helpful. We meet-up at the shop at 9am, they have a couple of mini-vans and they drive us down to the port (2 minute ride). They provide hot tea after each dive, so if you’re expecting something cold you’ll need to bring it. I didn’t rent their equipment so I can’t comment on that, but it seemed standard. They generally bring the wetsuit back to the shop to rinse, but they store other equipment on the boat if you want. Some divers brought their equipment back to their hotels each day to rinse. Also, there’s no dive shop to buy gear on Zamami, but there is a pretty well stocked one in Chatan on the main island.

    Stay:
    We stayed at the Beach Comber. They have an English version of their site, but the staff doesn’t speak English. However – the manager and his wife that manage the place are super friendly. We decided to stay here because their rooms come with a kitchen and washing machine. It’s a Japanese style room where there are no beds, but instead use futons on the floor. If you’re not familiar with this don’t worry. I thought it was very comfortable. I think our room had almost 10 futons so we stacked 2-3 of them to make it even softer. The big plus here is they have a kitchen with a good sized refrigerator, washing machine and internet access in each room. Other amenities included a small TV (didn’t find any English programming though) and an air-conditioner. The room isn’t luxurious, but it’s adequate.
    Also, Heartland offers accommodations in their bed & breakfast called Minshuku Miyamura. I didn’t see them but you can contact Momo for more info. There’s also a travel agent that specializes in Okinawa, Open Coast Travel and they can arrange the hotel and dive op for English speakers.

    Food: The food on Zamami was actually really, really good. There are only a handful of restaurants and the town is so small you’ll definitely find them all really easily. We especially liked the Okinawan restaurant behind the Beach Comber and the only one we didn’t really care for was the restaurant that was near the Ferry station, upstairs. There’s also this “izakaya” (Japanese bar), that serves really good sashimi and seafood. I forget what it’s called but everyone in town knows it so just ask.

    Okinawa Main Island
    We stayed a couple of days on the main Okinawa island, but are mostly for topside activities. The only dive I did was the whale shark dive. This is the operator we used. There are 2 English speaking guides here. Actually, they are from Taiwan and speak Mandarin Chinese mainly which I also speak a little. The whale sharks are kept in a large net about 10 minutes from the marina. The net is in 10-80 feet of water. There are 3 whale sharks: 2 smaller ones around 3-4 meters long and a larger one around 6-7 meters I believe. When you first enter the water you hang on to the outside of the net for a few minutes. Then the guide opens the net and each diver enters one-at-a-time. You move to the right or left and hang onto the net. They feed the whale sharks and after about 10 minutes the guide signals you so you can swim freely with the whale sharks. You get about 25 minutes to swim with them, take pictures, etc… It’s really an awesome experience to get this close to them. You can touch them if you want, but I decided not to. You’re allowed to take photos but not video. The total dive is about 30 minutes. The particular day I went it started raining so visibility was bad and there was a strong current. However, I was told that it's normally 100+ ft visibility and little current. This is a must do if you're in Okinawa.

    Also, quick thanks to BarracudaSmile here on SB who gave me lots of info and sparked my interest in Okinawa diving.
    Last edited by polyester1970; August 13th, 2009 at 01:29 PM.

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    Tat2_Diver's Avatar
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    If you ever decide to return to Okinawa, I am a solely English speaking operator on Okinawa and offer dive tours (both and boat diving as well as classes.

    Blue Ocean Scuba
    Tat2diver


    .....the view of life is always better from 130' below the oceans surface
    http://www.blueoceanscuba.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by polyester1970 View Post
    We visited Okinawa for about a week in June 2009 for some diving. Previous to this trip there didn’t seem to be much information in English on diving in Okinawa so I’m going to try to post a fairly detailed review. I also recorded most of the diving, but unfortunately did not record on my last and favorite site in Zamami. Here’s the video I took.

    We stayed 4 days on Zamami which is part of the Keramas Islands which south of the main island of Okinawa. Then we stayed 3 days in Naha, the city on the main Okinawa island, but only did 1 dive there.

    Zamami Island (Keramas)
    The diving in Keramas/Zamami definitely ranks up there with places I’ve been before in the Caribbean and Hawaii.
    Conditions (June 2009): Air temperature was in the high 70’s and 80’s. Water temperature was in the high 70’s. I wore a 5mm rather than my normal 3mm but I think you could’ve gone either way. Visibility was about 80 – 100 feet in blue water. The current is very mild. Most sites were very close to the port in Zamami so boat rides were generally 10-15 minutes.

    The Diving: I visited 6 different sites including a night dive. The sites I visited were moderate depth with a max around 60 feet. The sites I visited had healthy hard coral, lots of anemones, and large hard-coral formations. The marine life that I saw included lots of small tropical fish, lots of anemone fish like clown-fish, octopuses, sting-rays, sea-turtles, leaf fish, lion fish, moray eels, garden eels, sea-snakes, reef sharks, crabs, lobsters, and lots of small colorful fish. The things that made diving in the Keramas different than other destinations were a couple of features. First, you’ll often find thousands of small, colorful tropical fish living densely on a large hard-coral formation. I’ve seen smaller versions of this in Maui, but not quite to this scale. On my last dive in the Keramas we visited a site called Hamanaka and there was this awesome site with what seemed like millions of small silver/clear fish (1-3cm) surrounding a medium-sized coral formation (about 2 meters in length). The small fish would move in concert. If you stuck your hand towards the coral, they would create an opening. Behind the wall of these small fish were larger fish, shrimp, and a moray that appeared to be using the wall of small fish as protection. On that same coral, we found 3 leaf fish (about 7-8 cm wide) which is supposedly very rare. That was one the one dive I didn’t take video because I lost my red filter the previous day. We also visited another site known to have sea turtles and we saw four turtles. The Keramas Islands also has a coral spawning period and I just happened to be there during that time. We went out on one night dive hoping to see it, but unfortunately it didn’t happen that night. However, we did a great night dive anyway and found many of the usual night suspects like octopus, crabs, as well as many other critters.

    About Zamami: First of all – Zamami is one of the most charming places I’ve ever visited. We loved it. I believe it’s one of the more populated of the populated of the Keramas Islands, but it is still tiny. I read there are 1000 people living on the island, but it felt like we were one of 10-20 visiting groups on the island. We would see the same people wherever we went. The town is so small you can walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes. You absolutely don’t need a car, but they do rent them I believe as well as scooters. There are 2 beaches that we know of and we would call the taxi to take us there which cost about $6.50 one-way. Some people walk to the beach, but it’s probably a 20-30 minute walk. There are no mega-resorts or chain hotels here. They’re all family owned hotels or bed & breakfasts.

    Getting There: JAL and ANA offers discounts on domestic airfare if you use them to fly into Japan from abroad. The discounts are almost 50% off. We flew from into Naha, Okinawa, took a taxi to the ferry station ($12), and took the Queen Zamami ferry to Zamami. I believe the one-way ticket was $30. The ride is about 1 hour and it’s a little bumpy since the ferry is going pretty fast.

    ANA Airpass

    JAL Yokoso Japan/Visit Japan Fare

    Queen Zamami Ferry Schedule
    (look on top left for “Boat Schedule”)

    Dive Operators
    To my knowledge there are at least two English speaking dive shops: Heartland and Joy-Joy. My wife opted for Heartland since the dive-guide there responded to her emails promptly, provided a lot of information, and they also pick you up from the ferry station and take you to your hotel.
    I had a great experience with diving with Heartland Marine Shop. On each boat there would be a total of three dive guides, one would stay on the boat, and two would guide the groups. On a couple of days there were about 6-7 divers on the boat, but they would always keep the groups small with no more than 4 divers per guide. There were no preset time limits to the diving. We basically dove according to air or when we felt like going up. Since the diving is relatively shallow we never got close to our deco limits. Momo is the English speaking dive guide at Heartland. She uses a tablet underwater to communicate. I usually did 2 morning dives one at 9am and one at 11am. We return back to the shop for surface intervals so you can use the restroom or take a break. There isn’t a head on the boat, but they’re OK with going off the back of the boat if you want. Momo is very good at finding fish, pointing things out, and seems to have a lot of knowledge about fish species. There were two other guides, but they don’t speak much English so they would usually take the other group or be a safety diver. However, they were all very friendly and helpful. We meet-up at the shop at 9am, they have a couple of mini-vans and they drive us down to the port (2 minute ride). They provide hot tea after each dive, so if you’re expecting something cold you’ll need to bring it. I didn’t rent their equipment so I can’t comment on that, but it seemed standard. They generally bring the wetsuit back to the shop to rinse, but they store other equipment on the boat if you want. Some divers brought their equipment back to their hotels each day to rinse. Also, there’s no dive shop to buy gear on Zamami, but there is a pretty well stocked one in Chatan on the main island.

    Stay:
    We stayed at the Beach Comber. They have an English version of their site, but the staff doesn’t speak English. However – the manager and his wife that manage the place are super friendly. We decided to stay here because their rooms come with a kitchen and washing machine. It’s a Japanese style room where there are no beds, but instead use futons on the floor. If you’re not familiar with this don’t worry. I thought it was very comfortable. I think our room had almost 10 futons so we stacked 2-3 of them to make it even softer. The big plus here is they have a kitchen with a good sized refrigerator, washing machine and internet access in each room. Other amenities included a small TV (didn’t find any English programming though) and an air-conditioner. The room isn’t luxurious, but it’s adequate.
    Also, Heartland offers accommodations in their bed & breakfast called Minshuku Miyamura. I didn’t see them but you can contact Momo for more info. There’s also a travel agent that specializes in Okinawa, Open Coast Travel and they can arrange the hotel and dive op for English speakers.

    Food: The food on Zamami was actually really, really good. There are only a handful of restaurants and the town is so small you’ll definitely find them all really easily. We especially liked the Okinawan restaurant behind the Beach Comber and the only one we didn’t really care for was the restaurant that was near the Ferry station, upstairs. There’s also this “izakaya” (Japanese bar), that serves really good sashimi and seafood. I forget what it’s called but everyone in town knows it so just ask.

    Okinawa Main Island
    We stayed a couple of days on the main Okinawa island, but are mostly for topside activities. The only dive I did was the whale shark dive. This is the operator we used. There are 2 English speaking guides here. Actually, they are from Taiwan and speak Mandarin Chinese mainly which I also speak a little. The whale sharks are kept in a large net about 10 minutes from the marina. The net is in 10-80 feet of water. There are 3 whale sharks: 2 smaller ones around 3-4 meters long and a larger one around 6-7 meters I believe. When you first enter the water you hang on to the outside of the net for a few minutes. Then the guide opens the net and each diver enters one-at-a-time. You move to the right or left and hang onto the net. They feed the whale sharks and after about 10 minutes the guide signals you so you can swim freely with the whale sharks. You get about 25 minutes to swim with them, take pictures, etc… It’s really an awesome experience to get this close to them. You can touch them if you want, but I decided not to. You’re allowed to take photos but not video. The total dive is about 30 minutes. The particular day I went it started raining so visibility was bad and there was a strong current. However, I was told that it's normally 100+ ft visibility and little current. This is a must do if you're in Okinawa.

    Also, quick thanks to BarracudaSmile here on SB who gave me lots of info and sparked my interest in Okinawa diving.
    That's a great report and video. My wife and I just booked today to spend about 10 days in Okinawa in August 2010. My son is stationed there. We are just now researching dive opportunities while we are there and this post is a great start. We are back from a week in Cozumel now for 2 weeks and your video looks similar to what we saw there. Is most of the diving around 60 ft there? We had a lot of deeper dives in Coz, but more for the dive throughs and coral columns than animals. Do you think that we need to stay on Zamami to appreciate the dining there or will the boats from Okinawa make day trips there?

    Thanks again.

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    Tat2_Diver's Avatar
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    Ed sounds like you have a good plan with coming to Okinawa. Look me up (Blue Ocean Scuba) when you get here and I will be happy to show you diving both on the island (central and northern) as well as hitting some of the outer islands.....pm sent
    Tat2diver


    .....the view of life is always better from 130' below the oceans surface
    http://www.blueoceanscuba.com

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    japan-diver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ed fisher View Post
    That's a great report and video. My wife and I just booked today to spend about 10 days in Okinawa in August 2010. My son is stationed there. We are just now researching dive opportunities while we are there and this post is a great start. We are back from a week in Cozumel now for 2 weeks and your video looks similar to what we saw there. Is most of the diving around 60 ft there? We had a lot of deeper dives in Coz, but more for the dive throughs and coral columns than animals. Do you think that we need to stay on Zamami to appreciate the dining there or will the boats from Okinawa make day trips there?

    Thanks again.
    There is much more diversity and life here in Okinawa than in Cozumel. We run daily boats to the Keramas (Zamami, Aka, Tokashiki) along with the northern and southern sites on the main island to give you a variety of sites to see. For diving variety a base of the main island is best with daily trips to the various sites. Depths range from easy reef dives at 60ft or less to some dramatic walls and dropoffs that are a bit deeper. We also have a variety of wrecks to choose from also.
    "The Ultimate Dive Experience"
    www.reefencounters.org
    Diving all of Japan's Southern Islands

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    ed fisher's Avatar
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    Thanks Japan-Diver. We will keep in touch as we get closer. We will be there around August 22 2010.

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    ed fisher's Avatar
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    Thanks Tat2 Diver. It will be our first trip to anywhere in Asia. I will speak to my son about his certification options in the mean time. The Emmons is about 135 feet to the sand right? We've been that deep a few times on some rather short dives with singles. Is that how you do it there? Looks intriguing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ed fisher View Post
    Thanks Tat2 Diver. It will be our first trip to anywhere in Asia. I will speak to my son about his certification options in the mean time. The Emmons is about 135 feet to the sand right? We've been that deep a few times on some rather short dives with singles. Is that how you do it there? Looks intriguing.
    We also considered staying on the main island and taking day-trips to Zamami. The only problem for us was that we'd be getting back after 4pm. My wife doesn't dive so that means she would've been sitting in the hotel room all day, so that wasn't a go. Then we found out that Zamami was actually pretty cool. I thought staying on Zamami was awesome. It's not 4-star hotels and room service, but once you get over that - it is so laid back, so much charm on that island. And the beach there is sooo beautiful. But if you're going to be staying on the main island because of your son then I guess staying on Zamami might not be an option. There are a couple English dive ops:

    Heartland - Momo is the english speaking dive instructor:
    http://www5.ocn.ne.jp/~zamami/English.htm

    and JoyJoy:
    http://keramajoyjoy.com/eg/

    I dove with Heartland and was very happy with them. Sorry, I hope I'm not p'ing off the main island ops.

  9. #9
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    okiraku_diver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ed fisher View Post
    That's a great report and video. My wife and I just booked today to spend about 10 days in Okinawa in August 2010. My son is stationed there. We are just now researching dive opportunities while we are there and this post is a great start. We are back from a week in Cozumel now for 2 weeks and your video looks similar to what we saw there. Is most of the diving around 60 ft there? We had a lot of deeper dives in Coz, but more for the dive throughs and coral columns than animals. Do you think that we need to stay on Zamami to appreciate the dining there or will the boats from Okinawa make day trips there?Thanks again.
    I have dove more than 100 tanks each in Zamami and in Cozumel. Both place are GREAT! In Zamami, you can dive deeper than 60ft, depends on dive site. And I recommend you to stay Zamami if you spend holiday just to eat, dive and sleep. According to recent Japanese newspaper(Ryukyu Simpo, Okinawa local paper), from next April, number of divers from Okinawa main island will be limited just like Sipadan based on Eco tourism law. In Zamami in August, only 11500 divers are permitted to go diving.

    Other hints regarding trip to Zamami in August:
    1.Book boat transfer to/from Okinawa, hotel(Beach Comber is fine), diving op, as early as possible. Zamami is fun destination for Japanese too.
    2.Watch Typhoon information. When weather forecast says typhoon will get closer to Zamami, all guests are strongly advised to get out of island. So please do not be disappointed if your trip ends shorter.

    Welcome to JAPAN and Have fun in Zamami.
    okiraku_diver PADI OWSI #823617 Facebook

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    ed fisher's Avatar
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    Thank you. I guess that I should book my dive dates well in advance. I would hate to be eliminated because of the diver limits.

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