Coming into my trip to Ogasawara Islands, I really had very little idea of what to expect. I was expecting to do snorkeling and fishing, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see nice views of blue sky and green forest during the hike on some of the most stunning trails on Ogasawara Islands. Heart Rock trail is home to stunning natural scenery, light green forest, banyan tree climbing, deep blue sea, and if you’re lucky enough you may even see dolphins in the sea.
Yoga Retreat at Kominato Open Space
Chichijima’s most iconic hike is an all-day trek that starts around 8:30 am and finishes at 3:30 pm. We joined the Heart Rock tour which consisted of a 10km round-trip. Our starting point was near Yatsuse River in the Kominat area. Our tour began with yoga in an open air space for about 10 mins with a guide. It was amazingly relaxing to feel a mild wind and listen to the tweets of the birds under the blue sky. I’m not a yogi but doing yoga at first thing was a great way to start the day and I was refreshed already before climbing to Heart Rock.
After hiking through near “Tokoyo Falls”, the route continued on to the track to “Goat Valley” where wild goats are living. Goats are free to roam wherever they please, and it was difficult to find them. We tried to locate them and then one of the tour members found a goat in the woods and this really started to change things. We saw 5-6 goats on one side of the valley. Suddenly, one of the biggest goats groaned near the top of the valley. He seemed like the King of the Goats and was groaning like a “Lion King” with dignity. The goat was brought to the Islands and became feral. Now they are regarded as harmful animals and are disinfected because they damage crops. The total number of goats has been decreasing, so it was lucky to see them.
Hikes in Mount Tsuitate
It was a perfect day for hiking with blue sky and bright sun, but honestly it was hard to climb for the first initial 30-40 mins. The climb itself is not strenuous, but some parts we hiked under the flaming sun and we had to roll up our pant legs to get in some air. The sunlight was so strong we even needed to protect our skin with hats and long sleeves. We took rests periodically to drink water and to have sweets, so we could keep our energy to the top of the Heart Rock.Before joining the Heart Rock tour, we practiced hiking under the flaming sun on the mainland. Tokyo offers plenty of hiking trails and has long attracted visitors for this purpose alone. There are many choices to climb and we can choose from various lengths and capabilities.
We went to Mount Takamizu in the west part of Tokyo on one of the hottest days in August. We had to walk on the paved street til the start point for over 2 km. It was hard but this practice helped us to understand our physical strengths and how to take a rest and when to drink water. Fortunately, we could compare the way of Heart Rock to hiking on Mount Tsuitate under the hard conditions.
Banyan Tree Climbing
30-40 mins after our departure to the top of Mount Tsuitate under the flaming sun, we entered the forest area and walked through a narrow path covered with overgrown fern plants. We saw a rusted truck and wreckage of a jeep as an old battle site and it made us think about our history here in Ogasawara Islands.The most exciting part of the Heart Rock tour was climbing a Banyan Tree. Migrants used to plant Banyan Trees for windbreaks and since they left here, the Banyan Trees have been growing for over 100 years. The Banyan Tree was so huge that 5-6 adults could climb together. All of us said it was the first time in over 10 years for us to climb a tree.We also enjoyed observing the fight between endemic species and alien species. I saw Ogasawara Livistona thriving among alien plants. We saw widely grown Pandnus and Maruhachi trees surviving in the severe environment for epidemic species.
My favorite plant is Munin-shiraga moss which has yellow green color to reflect the sunshine. They protect themselves by changing their colors. The fluffy light green made me refreshed. I always stopped to see them when I found them.
The top of Mount Tsuitate to Heart Rock
We arrived at the top of Mount Tsuitate, 303m above sea level from 2m above sea level. It took one and a half hours to climb to the top of Mount Tsuitate and to the nearby Heart Rock area. We climbed down the steep path holding ropes to the Heart Rock from here. When we entered the Heart Rock area, the best view of the deep blue sea was spread in front of us. After a 15–min walk, we finally reached to the top of Heart Rock. We had lunch and took photos here. From the top of Heart Rock we were able to view Hahajima Island and Minamijima Island, making it equally as popular as one of the best viewing points on Chichijima Island. The biggest charm of climbing on Chichijima Island is taking in the panoramic view from the top of Heart Rock. On the return you can hike back the same way, or take a leisurely stroll downhill without climbing Banyan trees back to the starting point. The return route was much steeper but the distance was shorter than the way there. We could come back to our Inn before 4 pm.
How to get there
Heart Rock must be hiked with a registered guide, because the area is a protected forest ecosystem and the trail is partly unmarked with dangerous sheer cliff faces you must look down. In addition, the route is so complicated and is changeable due to typhoons and natural disasters. I felt I might have got lost without a guide.
There are several guided tours to hike to the top of Heart Rock. You can join a tour with 5-10 people or a private tour. August is the high season, so we saw 3-4 tour groups on the way. We chased each other back and forth.
A one-day tour is needed, so if you prioritize water activities, the hiking to Heart Rock would be the last thing on your list. However, if you visit Ogasawara Islands during the interval between typhoons and the weather seems to be fine, I recommend to try this hike.
Be sure to come prepared with suitable walking shoes and plenty of water as this is a sun-flamed hike. Our guide emphasized several times the danger was sunlight. A hat, sunglasses and long sleeves are a must to bring to protect your skin from strong sunlight.
When to hike
There is no bad time for hiking Heart Rock, however during the winter season, warm clothing is needed as a sunshade. Winter is also pleasant with a cooler climate but still plenty of sunshine.
The best season to visit Ogasawara Islands is from mid June to July. The weather is stable and you can enjoy clear fine days. You can swim till December, but from January to February a wetsuit is needed. From August to September, the weather is also good, but if the typhoon forms, it affects the service of the Ogasawara-maru ship to come to Ogasawara Islands. Every August, the ship is cancelled once or twice due to the bad weather.