My husband and I had often considered Japan as a short-haul trip, but I wasn’t sure if Tokyo or Kyoto would be suitable for our family now that we have two young children. We discovered a little gem of an island called Ishigaki away from these main metropolis destinations.
Ishigaki is the largest of the Yaeyama Islands, located about 450 kilometres southwest of Okinawa Prefecture. Surprisingly, it also has gorgeous beaches and coral reefs, as well as crystal blue water. Okinawa’s 160 islands, which are positioned in the same latitude as Hawaii, Miami, and Cancun, have the same subtropical climate as these major world resort areas.
A late-July sun and sea trip seemed ideal, and after learning about Club Med’s property at Kabira Beach, the phrase “family-friendly vacation” could have been written in the sand.
Destination that is suitable for families
We flew the HK Express direct aircraft to Ishigaki for our family vacation so that we could arrive well before lunchtime and begin enjoying all of Club Med Kabira’s amenities. Club Med is the ultimate of family-friendly accommodations, with an all-inclusive concept, kid’s clubs, and a plethora of activities and facilities strewn throughout the resort.
Club Med Kabira Beach has 181 rooms in three-story bungalows facing the sea, and because families make up a major amount of the hotel’s visitors, many of the rooms are connected, which is a feature I appreciate for a family vacation. We perused the general information booklet for activity hours while our daughters excitedly claimed their mattresses in the bright neighbouring room.
There are numerous activities to choose from.
There was a plethora of activities spread across the resort, and everything seemed so accessible because only a few required a day’s notice. Indoor sports included tennis and squash courts that were open 24 hours a day, as well as yoga, beginner step, Pilates, Zumba, and dance at the yoga and fitness centre.
Mountain biking was just a reservation away for anyone seeking to get some exercise outside, while the imposing flying trapeze and an archery range provided an exciting opportunity to try something new. Because the resort is all-inclusive, almost all of the activities are free of charge, and guests can literally just show up and partake.
Sports on the Water
Club Med visitors are blessed for choice when it comes to water activities, and exploring the breathtakingly clear sea is something not to be missed. The sea is one of Okinawa’s most popular attractions, and it’s easy to see why even expert divers want to visit.
An expanse of clear turquoise sea spreads well across the horizon to welcome the sky as you stand ankle deep in water on the beach. The sea is clean and quiet enough that the dark, uneven patches of coral reef not far from shore are easily visible. Snorkeling (with introductory lessons, a snorkelling boat tour, or free practise available), wind surfing, kayaking (go for the clear bottomed one! ), and stand-up paddleboarding are all offered at Club Med’s Beach Shack.
Clubs for children
The kid’s facilities are one of Club Med’s most appealing features, as they are essentially what define a family-friendly vacation.
The chain features age-specific clubs, and it is this daycare that allows parents to participate in the other activities. When we dropped our girls off to the Petit Club and Mini Club, I was quite impressed with the staff, who are affectionately known as GOs, a historical Club Med term that stands for Gentil Organisateur. Our kind GO helped ease our younger one into the hour-long slot, which included painting seashells and playing outside on the enormous ship-shaped outdoor apparatus, after carefully confirming the registration details for her. The GOs were able to calmly and playfully entertain the tiny ones with a ratio of 1 adult to 2 children, and I felt at comfortable.
The Mini Club is for somewhat older children, and parents can sign their children in for up to the full day, with the GOs managing activities and even meals, beginning at 8:30 a.m. What struck me as interesting about the concept is that the clubs are more like a vacation for the kids, with a variety of activities around the beach or resort grounds, rather than just a babysitting service. The clubs are the perfect solution for making that option fully realistic and guilt free, whether it’s an hour for a quick dive or a full day for a side trip beyond the resort.
As part of the all-inclusive package, all buffet meals (as well as a “light snacking” slot) are complimentary at the restaurant. Despite the fact that there is just one restaurant, great care is made to modify the menu on a regular basis. We were impressed by the food’s quality and the way the featured dishes were individually plated, as if they were part of a gourmet supper. We also spent some time strolling through the charming streets of the city, which is about 35 minutes away, and sampling some delectable local fare.
While you’re there, make sure to taste the Ishigaki beef. Despite the fact that I was unfamiliar with Ishigaki beef and am not a huge meat eater, I developed a ravenous hunger after tasting it!
Look for a respectable place, and there’s also Ishigaki beef sushi for the more brave!
I highly urge that you pay a visit to a nearby pineapple plantation and sample some freshly cut fruit. Salt is very popular in this area, and it’s common to see dashes of salt on ice cream. Try different salts flavoured with pepper, wasabi, black sesame, or cocoa at local salt stores that sell soft serve ice cream.
The Yaeyama Islands have a lot of natural beauty to offer visitors, and it’s worth taking a day trip to see why several of Okinawa’s islands have been designated as potential UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites.
Iriomote Island, the second largest island after Ishigaki, is about a 45-minute high-speed ferry journey away.
Around 90% of Iriomote Island is covered in subtropical jungle, and because the natural environment is mostly intact, tours are often more experiential, including river kayaking, trekking, and cave exploration. Kayaking through calm waterways, surrounded by lush plantation, under a cloud-flecked sky, is a surreal experience. It’s a peaceful but energising moment of reconnecting with nature. The 55-meter-drop waterfall and the basin beneath it, where tourists are free to swim, are a short stroll away (not for the faint of heart!).
The Star Sand beach, located in the northern section of the island, is named for the star-shaped grains that may be seen in the sand. The Yaeyama islands are perfectly suited in terms of location and conditions for viewing constellations, so you can continue to enjoy the natural beauty of the island at night with a star gazing experience. In contrast to Hong Kong, it is quite easy to enjoy a dark sky devoid of city lights and pollution. On a clear night, we boarded a tour and drove uphill from the Ishigaki harbour over tiny, empty roads in the dark to what felt like an isolated field faintly lit with only two small lamps and a lit path of fairy lights on the grass.
The lights were turned off after the tour began, leaving us with a moonlit sky and crickets chirping. It was easy to be swept away by the splendour of the starry night sky while reclining in our chairs — to feel small but not inconsequential. We looked at the moon, marvelled at Saturn’s rings, and mapped out the summer triangle with telescopes, binoculars, and my kid on my lap. We started to head back after a relaxing hour, and with our heads heavy on our shoulders, our small ones fell off to sleep, dreaming of the island’s beauty, which I can only surmise.
Club Med Kabira Recommendations
Each morning, look at the daily activity schedule posted around the resort to get an indication of what’s going on for the day, especially the Mini Club programmes, which change on a daily basis.
If your children are too little to participate in water activities, take advantage of the Petit and Mini Clubs, even if only for an hour or two, so you can enjoy the beach.
Try to be as adaptable as possible given the vast array of possibilities available. Although there is a schedule for courses and classes, don’t let it define your entire day. Classes are offered so often that if you miss one, there will very certainly be another in an hour.
Who knows, maybe you’ll try something altogether new and fall in love with it! It’s a great way to try out that flying trapeze or bow and arrow without having to pay per lesson.
If you’re new to Club Med, it can be difficult to squeeze in all of the activities (there’s so much to do in so little time! ), so remember to unwind! The Tingara Bar, which is located right by the pool, is a good choice. There is an extensive drink menu available, some of which contain alcohol, while children can have juice.
Three times throughout the day, light snacks are offered – essential for when the kids (or parents) feel hungry. It’s a welcoming environment for families, and there’s always something going on. We happened to be there after a swim, enjoying refreshing drinks, when we observed a chef setting up a worktable with small bowls of chocolate chips, raisins, pumpkin seeds, and other treats. We each picked a little slice of sticky dough and began adding our own toppings because he was holding a bread-making session and anyone could drop by. The chef had no reservations about allowing my three-year-old to participate, and we were all delighted to get our baked product later that evening.
The circus school had us spinning dishes, bouncing diablos, and twirling hula hoops on another day.
Travelers using the HK Express should consider the following suggestions.
A two-hour direct trip from Hong Kong to Ishigaki is offered by HK Express. Regular flights depart at 8 a.m., and the airline places a premium on punctuality, so you can arrive by 11 a.m. (Japan time) to make the most of the day.
Choose seats in rows one through five in the front row. Low-cost travel is one of HK Express’s top priorities, so the extra HK$100 or so is a tiny price to pay for the privilege of being the first to deplane. Because the Ishigaki airport is small, travelling through immigration before the main flow of passengers will save you time.