ON WET, WINTRY SUNDAYS, it’s a habit of mine to pull up Google Maps on my computer and try to find unusual or out-of-the-way places to go diving. I love diving anywhere, but it appeals to my adventurous side to visit islands in the middle of nowhere.
We were due to travel to Tokyo to visit a Japanese friend, Takuya, and dive with him in the Izu Peninsula, a couple of hours from the city. Looking at the satellite view of where we were going, I expanded the map and found a few tiny islands clustered together in mid-Pacific.
Zooming in, I found an English name – the Bonin Islands. Intrigued, I did a search, and what I found made me long to dive there.
They are known locally as the Ogasawara Islands, named by a Samurai who claimed that his ancestor Ogasawara Sadoyon had discovered them in 1593. The British claimed possession in 1827, became the first settlers and gave them their Bonin name (from an old Japanese word for “unpopulated”).
Eight months later, after a 26-hour ferry ride from Tokyo on the 1000-passenger ferry Ogasawara Maru, we approached a Jurassic-like island.
Inside a cargo hold on the Scattered wreck.
Jagged jungle-covered peaks rose from a heavy mist, surrounded by the deepest blue ocean and the occasional blindingly white-sand cove. Expecting to see a 15m-tall gorilla hanging onto a cliff or pterodactyls flying at us out of the mist, we spotted no sign of habitation until, rounding a headland, a small town appeared.
Takuya had joined us on our adventure, along with two other friends living in Indonesia, Ana and Miguel. Although none of us had heard of the islands before, they turned out to have Tokyo postcodes, despite being more than 600 miles south of that city.
There are no airports on the islands, and only a Japanese naval helicopter available for emergencies – even then, it’s an almost six-hour flight to the nearest airport.
The Ogasawara plies the route between Tokyo and the main island of Chichijima (Father Island) every 5-6 days, which means a trip of two nights on the ferry and either three or 10 days on the island. We could stay only for the shorter duration, so had to make it count.
We had searched online for resorts with dive-centres where English was spoken. There were few, but we chose the small Urashiman, which also had five Western-style bedrooms, rather than the larger tourist hotel. This was because it offered diving to a remote site near the Keita Islands called Tuna Hole, known for schooling tuna and sharks.
Meeting us at the dock with his van, Urashiman’s owner Pandanus drove us the short way to the dive centre. We unpacked in the basic but very comfortable and spacious rooms and had a quick lunch in one of the many good restaurants that line the seafront and street behind it.
Then we reloaded our dive-gear in the van for the short journey to Urashiman’s large and well-equipped dive-boat.