Hachijojima: Island bliss not far from home

Travel - June 17th, 2005

Melissa Kent and Robin Koning relax and rejuvenate at Tokyo’s ultimate retreat

Looking for a way to kick-start your summer glow? Why not cancel your usual mud bath and seaweed wrap at the spa and plan a weekend trip to Hachijojima, a little known getaway in the greater Tokyo region. Exploring the subtropical island’s terraced aloe vera gardens and watching the sunset from a cliff-side onsen will leave you relaxed and refreshed, with a price tag equal to many spa packages.

Located less than an hour by plane from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, Hachijojima is the southern most landmass in the Izu chain of volcanic islands. A ferry travels the 290 kilometer stretch south from Tokyo daily, leaving the bright lights of Tokyo Harbour at 10:30pm and docking in Hachijojima’s peaceful Sokodo Port at 9:30am the next morning. At half the price of the plane ticket, passengers traveling by ferry can gradually unwind while enjoying a comfortable night’s rest.

Upon arrival, Hachijojima offers a number of reason­ably priced rustic resorts, hotels and guesthouses, but the best way to enjoy the island is to stay at the beach-side campground. Partially enclosed by a protective grove of palm trees, the campsite grounds include clean cooking facilities, washrooms and outdoor showers. The campsite is located an easy ten minutes by foot from the Port, and within walking distance of several grocery stores. To top it off, the campsite requires no reservations and is free of charge.

While it may be tempting to spend the weekend sprawled out on the beach’s black volcanic sand, exploring Hachijojima’s tropical beauty is just as relaxing. The scarcely populated island draws few tourists so take advantage of the quiet, paved streets and pathways. Rent a bike, scooter or car for the after­noon by inquiring at the Port, and then slowly wind your way through the island’s smattering of small commercial districts, alongside the breezy coast, and up to the lush vegetable farms and sprawling forests of bamboo and palm.

For the ultimate glow, get your heart pumping with a hike up Hachijofuji, which rises 1,000 meters above sea level. The tropical vegetation blanketing the dormant volcano’s crater is almost as eye-catching as the view of the island sprawled out below. The hike takes a leisurely three hours from the campsite or just one hour from the parking lot located halfway up. Water sports like surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving are other popular recreational activities. Check at the Port for equipment rentals and lessons.

Hachijojima’s  interesting  history offers yet more options to tempt you away from your beach towel. During World War II, hidden tunnels were carved into the island’s rocky hillsides and an army base complex was also constituted. Hachijo Island Tours offers guided tours in English of the tunnels for ¥3,500! The company also runs secluded beach tours (¥2,000) and waterfall tours (¥3,500) for groups of two or more.

After a day of exploring or at the beach, head for a memorable sunset soak at Sueyoshi Michigasawa, an onsen perched on a cliff with a superb view of the Pacific’s endless horizon (¥500 for adults). Laid-back locals can point you in the onsen’s direction and may even offer you a lift, otherwise a local bus runs from the Port every two hours.

Island dining means indulging in a dinner of fresh seafood cooked over campfire coals or at one of Hachijojima’s cozy local cafes. Check out the popular Anchor Pub located five minutes from the Port for tasty food and a refreshing beer. Finish the evening with a moonlight stroll along the beach; while stargazing you may stumble across locals strumming guitars and singing around a fire.

With your body reaping the benefits of Hachijojima’s seafood, sea salt and fresh air, make sure to pack a few stalks of the island’s wild aloe vera plants to keep you glowing in Tokyo’s urban jungle.

ANA has four daily flights to the island from approximately ¥25,300 return, Tel. 0120-029-378, www.ana.co.jp/eng/index.html

Tokyo Tourism Info (English website with maps, tourist information, onsen locations): www.tourism.metro.tokyo.jp/english/spot/hachi-jo2.html