Japan’s third largest island, located at the southern tip of the main Honshu island, Kyushu is an early centre of Japanese civilisation, where historic treasures mingle with its wild nature. Consisting of 7 provinces, the gateway to Kyushu is the city of Fukuoka.
Southern Kyushu is known for its volcanoes, mountains, subtropical forests, hot springs and its famous export, the Kagoshima Kurobuta (black pig). For those strapped for time, the two southern prefectures of Kagoshima and Miyazaki encapsulate most of the charms of this island.
Endowed with spectacular scenery that encompasses numerous hot springs, mountains and plenty of volcanoes, Kagoshima also has a large number of natural parks that give hikers an alternative to hiking on volcanic mountain ranges.
The natural landmark of Kagoshima prefecture is the large active volcano of Sakurajima (1,117m) – located in the bay off Kagoshima city – that smokes (and gives off mini eruptions) constantly. Many observation points are located around the volcano – which is accessible by ferry – where eruptions can be observed from 3km away along walking trails.
Other volcanic areas include the Kirishima mountain range, the Kirishima-Yaku National Park (encompassing Yakushima island) and Nichinan Kaigan Quasi-National Park. The Kirishima mountain range is made up of rolling highlands dotted with volcanic lakes and hot springs, lined with good hiking paths that are best explored from springs to autumn. Popular routes include the Kirishima Ridge Trail (12km, 6 hrs) that follows the entire mountain chain, as well as a steep 2.5km trail to Karakunidake (1,700m).
Due to the 2011 eruption of Mt. Shhinmoedake, a 2km no-entry zone is currently maintained around the crater, and the ridge trail to Karakunidake remains partially closed.
Just off the southern coast, Yakushima island (with its 2,000m-high mountains) is covered by an extensive cedar forest housing some of Japan’s oldest trees (the oldest may be 7,000 years old). The island is a designated Natural World Heritage site, and hiking is the best way to explore this forest.
A big attraction at this lush green landscape (thanks to the generous moss cover that flourishes due the island’s high precipitation) is the Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine, which is home to the island’s oldest trees and can be explored on well-maintained hiking trails (some of which are built during the Edo period) ranging from 1-5 hours long.
Thanks to the profusion of volcanic activity, plenty of good hot spring resorts dot the prefecture. For an unusual experience, you can try a hot sand bath (where bathers are buried in the hot sand) along the shores of Ibusuki, or head t o the open-air seashore hot spring bath at Hirauchi.
With a coastline facing the Pacific Ocean, Miyazaki prefecture is dotted with plenty of pretty beaches and capes, as well as profusion of impressive historic shrines. Further inland, the Kirishima mountain range borders the neighbouring Kagoshima prefecture.
Located in the northwest, Takachiho is famous for its V-shaped gorge. The red-tinted precipitous cliffs rise up from both sides of the gorge, and attractions include a 17m-high waterfall of Manainotaki Falls, along with a collection of shrines like the Takachiho-jinja.
You can explore the gorge via the walking trail (which is naturally lined by seasonal flowers) that leads to Takachiho-jinja, as well as from a boat (you can rent them and paddle down the gentle current) where you can get a close-up view from the water.
Located on Miyazaki’s southern cape near Shibushi Bay, Cape Toi’s landscape is of gentle hills where you can observe one of Kyushu’s famous mascots: wild horses. Called ‘Misakiuma’, these horses live and graze in Cape Toi, and they’re said to be descendants of army horses left behind 300 years ago. At the top of the cape, the Misaki-jinja shrine stands as a talisman that protects the local ocean-going folk. Just offshore is Aoshima, a tiny island (1.5km in circumference) that’s rich in flora consisting of palm trees and other subtropical plants. Surrounding the island is the geological phenomenon of Oni-no-Sentaku-ita (Devil’s Washboard), where thousands of wavy basalt rocks can be seen when the tide is low.
While there are no direct flights to the cities of Kagoshima or Miyazaki, you can easily access them via Tokyo and Nagoya. There are also direct flights to Fukuoka on the northern end of Kyushu island, from where there are also rail connections to Kagoshima and Miyazaki.
Those preferring a guided tour of south Kyushu, there is an 8D ‘Nature Paradise’ tour of Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Fukuoka prefectures. Activities include hot sand bahs, visits to Sakurajima and Aoshima island, and plenty of opportunities for hot spring baths. For more, visit Follow Me Japan at www.followmejapan.com.sg