Ogasawara Islands are renowned for their dramatic landscape and their ability to fill days with activities during both daylight and night time. There are many choices for sea activities including; diving, canoeing, stand up paddle boating, snorkeling, fishing and whale and dolphin watching. If you plan on visiting Ogasawara Islands, check out the below highlights not to be missed on Ogasawara Islands.
We took a dolphin swimming tour visiting the Minami Island and joined night tours. Around Ogasawara Islands is a Sperm Whale inhabited site, so whale watching tours are available throughout the year, but from Summer to Autumn would be the best season while the sea is calm. Our tour boat sailed 25km away from Chichijima Island to the observation point. Sperm Whales dive for over 40 minutes in the deep sea that is over 1000m in depth to catch squid. Before diving, they blow at the surface of the sea. We could spot one whale that was blowing and the parent and calf of whales swimming together. It was impressive to see the child swim freely, while mother-whale was diving into the depths of the sea. The calf has to wait for her near the surface of the sea by himself.
During the sailing, I was half frozen by the sea wind. A towel, long sleeve rash-guard and windbreaker are needed to be warm during the sailing.
Landing on Minamijima Island
It isn’t a trip to Ogasawara Islands without making a popular day trip to Minamijima Island. Minamijima Island is located 1 km away in a southwest direction. The length is 1.5 km and the width is 400 m, so it’s small. Tourists need to be accompanied by authorized guides and can only stay on Minamijima Island for a maximum of 2 hours. Landing on Minamijima Island is forbidden from November to February except the New Years holidays.Ogasawara Islands were never connected with the continent and so are isolated by the sea. Plants and animals were carried by ocean currents, winds and birds. Due to these unique circumstances, a large number of endemic creatures and their ecosystems can be observed. Only a limited number of creatures landed on the Minamijima Island and survived to adapt to the Ogasawara environment. As a result of the unique evolution, the Minamijima Island also became home to a number of endemic species.When we landed on Minamijima Island, we saw Booby’s nesting sites and chicks. The Booby is flying to Ogasawara Islands in April and chicks hatch from June to July and leave the nest in September. We also saw the subfossil of Mandarin luhuana snails which was said to have become extinct from 1000-2000 years ago. This means, the Minami Island used to be covered in green forests.My favorite place was Ougi-ike pond with an arched hole eroded by the waves. There is a contrast of great waves sweeping into the hole and the white sands around the pond.
Ogasawara Islands have the world’s clearest water for snorkeling and diving to discover the underwater sights. The islands are also known as the dolphin and whale watching capital of Tokyo. This was the first try for us to swim with dolphins and I didn’t expect such a busy journey. As soon as the boat departed, we practiced to swim with a mask, a snorkel and fins around the boat. After the practice, the boat found 4 dolphins near the Futami Port. We were ready to swim with them so we put on the three items in a hurry. The boat reached the dolphins and the captain called out “jump in to the right side” and we jumped in! We tried to swim 4 times with the same group of dolphins, but the speed of the dolphins overly exceeded mine. I had to take a rest and swam only twice.
We moved to a different area where about 20 dolphins were swimming. There were three parents and children swimming together. I chased them and I was chased by them during dolphin swimming. Once I waited for dolphins at a likely place they would come on their route and I could almost touch them. Swimming with a large group of dolphins was an awe-inspiring experience, but I was so exhausted and could not swim the last two times with them. I should have spared my energy to swim.
We had 8 times to swim with dolphins, but it depends on the weather and conditions. For us the condition of the sea was perfect due to in the intervals between typhoons. The waves and wind were so gentle and the ship sailed stably. The swimming time is also depending on the tour company. Next day, other guests at the same accommodation said they could swim 2-3 times at the dolphin swimming tour. It is possible that people don’t spot any dolphins which of course can never be guaranteed.
My three lessons from the dolphin swimming:
- Check other swimmer’s direction. Which way are they swimming?
- Look back, if you lose dolphins. There is the possibility dolphins are chasing you.
- Listen to the captain’s voice. He instructs the right direction of the dolphins with a microphone from the top of the shipboard.
You can rent a mask, a snorkel and fins. Some repeaters brought own their masks with comfortable bands for heads and waterproof cameras. Be sure of the size of rented fins and that they fit your feet before boarding the boat. If you start to swim with dolphins you should swim as fast as you can.
At night, we joined a star watching tour. We were lucky because the conditions were perfect to see the stars. We lay down, counted shooting stars and watched Jupiter and Diamond star by using the special, huge astronomical telescope. However, star tours can only succeed when the weather allows. From July to August is the typhoon season, so it might be difficult to see the stars in those months.
We also joined a night tour to see green pepe, sea turtles and the Ogasawara flying fox. About 150 flying foxes are living on Chichijima Island. When we saw them, they were fighting to get breadfruits on the tree and roaring. We saw babies hanging onto their mothers. Green pepe is a type of bioluminescent mushroom, growing faintly in the woods. Especially after typhoon it grows rapidly, but it lasts only 3 days. On Hahajima Island, we did a night tour to see green pepe, We could not see any stars that night due to a typhoon approaching, but we enjoyed the night walk. It really depends on the weather, but we were lucky to see a lot of green pepe as part of a small group.
I asked the members of the tours how many times they have visited Ogasawara Islands. For half of them it was the first time and the rest were made up of 3-5 time repeaters. One of them had come to Ogasawara more than 10 times for only skin diving. I also asked why Ogasawara was attractive for them and the answers were always the same. Because there is crystal blue sea and sky in Ogasawara.
How to book
There are two Tourist Information Centers in Oura area: B-ship Tourist Information Center and Futami Port Tourist Information Center by Ogasawara Commerce and Tourist Association. The former is the main Information Center in Chichijima and provides guided tours and accommodation information. It is located approximately 400 meters from Futami Port. Advanced reservations are preferable, but you can find available guided tours and accommodation here.