Challenge of cutting through 12 kilometer of cave under the island of Okinagara (Part 1)

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Challenge of cutting through 12 kilometer of cave under the island of Okinagara (Part 1)

First, travel by plane for one hour from Okinawa to Okinoerabu Airport in Kagoshima prefecture. Located between Okinawa and Tokunoshima, Okinoerabujima is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and East China Sea. It has a population of about 13,000 people and the residents make a living by cultivating sugar cane.

Okinoerabujima is made of elevated coral reefs and there are about 400 caves of several sizes all over the island. One such cave is Shouryuudou, a popular sightseeing spot which also attracts overseas visitors. It seems some cave explorers from the Caving Association did a survey of these caves under the water and found out that some of the scattered caves are actually connected. Interestingly, the island has no river per se but a river runs through the caves below the ground. So it is no surprise that water can be found sprouting from the ground all over the island. The cave explorers created a map to find this river, which starts from the bottom of the mountain and leads to the sea.

Head to the main beach on Okinoerabujima, which is famous for its emerald green water. While walking on the scenic beach, look out for trails created by sea turtles. Okinoerabujima is in fact one of the few natural breeding spots of sea turtles, which can be often seen from the shore.

For our trip, we will attempt to cross a cave spanning 12km. Walk for about 20 minutes from the town to the top of a mountain here. To explore the cave safely, one needs to have the proper equipment and attire. These include a wet suit, overalls, rope harness and a helmet with a light. The entrance of the cave is located in the jungle and you will have to climb down a cliff to reach it. Later you will be able to see where the river which runs underground starts. Let the water lead you to the cave. Its entrance is very narrow in width so do be careful when squeezing through it.

Later you will come across a stalactite hall at the entrance of the cave. The icicle-shaped structures hanging from the roof of the cave form a magnificent work of art created from ancient times. In addition, you will also notice stalactite, made from water drops which crystallise and accumulate on the ground. There are several huge rocks inside the cave which have fallen from the ceiling so you have to tread carefully and slowly.

Call it a day when you get tired and head back to the entrance. In order to go up to the ground, you will have to climb a cliff which is 20m high. Once you can feel a slight wind, you will know you’re reaching the ground soon. Spend the night in the cave but have ready-made boxed meals on hand as fire is not allowed in the cave, to protect the environment and stalactites.

The following day, resume your expedition early. Climb down the same 20m-high cliff which you had climbed the day before. Follow the path of the water again and enjoy more beautiful sights in the cave such as calcite and other artistic structures created by the water. Even the path you walk on is adorned with beautiful white stalactite. Interestingly, the cave has a close relationship with the environment outside. Changes in the external environment will affect the structures inside the cave too. The rain penetrates the ground and the environment of the island creates beautiful caves at the bottom. A magical world is thus formed under the ground.

THIS WEEK'S TIPS:

  • When exploring caves, make sure you have the proper equipment and don the correct attire

  • Cooking using fire is not allowed in stalactite caves, so bring along ready-made boxed meals with you

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