Scenic Islands Towards Okinawa
A cluster of scenic islands trail south from Kagoshima at the bottom of Kyushu towards Okinawa, among them rises Yakushima, a vast volcanic lump of rock, covered in subtropical forest. These forests and the towering mountains above draw avid hikers to seek out the thousand year old huge yakusugi cedar trees along the many trails across the island. Yakushima was our base for over a week on our three-week long trip to Kyushu and while we wandered among the magnificent cedars we savoured many other sights and activities during our stay on the island.
Brief Stay in Kagoshima
After a short night in Kagoshima, taking a brief sleep in a hotel close to the quay, we rose early to catch the car ferry to Yakushima, the slowest but possibly most picturesque way to arrive on the island.
Our Decision on Car Hire and Arrangements on How to Get to Yakushima
Planning the trip to Yakushima had turned out to be much more complex than I had originally anticipated party due to a need to split the trip in three parts, first on Kyushu, then Yakushima, and back to Kyushu again. I had hired a car for our entire stay on Kyushu, it was overall cheaper and less hassle, plus we needed a rental car on the island to get around easily. The downside was that the car ferry runs only once a day, only sails during fine weather conditions and takes 4 hours preventing other travel options. On balance it was probably easier to have the car the whole journey and pay the extra ferry costs, as it saved handling the complexity of hiring multiple cars and juggling luggage between car hire points, hotels and the ferry. Price wise it was also not a huge difference accounting for all costs.
Best Route To Reach Yakushima for You
In this post I will try and help you choose the best route to reach the incredible island of Yakushima and recount our journey across the sea on the ferry.
Getting to Yakushima by ferry there are several options:
The fastest option for foot travellers to reach Yakushima by boat is by jetfoil. The “Toppy” and “Rocket” jetfoils run from Kagoshima port to either Miyanoura or Anbo port on Yakushima several times a day, however some make a detour via Tanageshima and Ibusuki. The direct jetfoil ferries take 2 hours. The downside is that there is no option to venture outside on the boat and it more likely be cancelled during bad weather. Reservations can be made up to two months in advance online.
The slower but more scenic and cheaper way to travel to Yakushima with the additional possibility to take your car to the island is by taking the Yakushima Ferry 2. The journey takes 4 hours and for travellers wanting additional comfort, western style bedrooms and tatami suites are available for an additional fee although sleeping you would miss the wonderful journey. There also is an udon restaurant, small convenience store, manga rental (only in Japanese) and even an aquarium with turtles on board! I t is advisable to reserve a car space on the ferry in advance, especially during Golden Week and Obon. I sent an email, translated into Japanese to make the booking. Payment is only required on the day in cash too so be prepared! See below for a little on the procedures for boarding as they differ to some ferries we have taken.
Largely a transport ship for goods to Tanegashima and Yakushima, the ferry also takes cars to the islands. Slightly cheaper than the Ferry Yakushima 2 it travels overnight and arrives at 7 in the morning at Miyanoura Port. Reservation is advisable and can be made online. Please note both ferries may be cancelled during adverse weather like typhoons and high waves.
Japan Airlines flies a few times a day between Kagoshima Airport to Yakushima taking around 35 minutes and offers amazing views from above on a fine day. There also is the option from Fukuoka once daily during the Summer months. However the Japan Explorer Pass for foreign travellers is not valid on this route.
Car Hire on Yakushima:
For those who travel on foot with the ferries or arrive by plane and want a car, car Hire is readily available at both Miyanoura Port and Yakushima Airport. Do not forget your international driver’s license and/or a translation thereof depending on your nationality. We would highly recommend hiring a car for a stay on Yakushima, getting around the island by bus takes up a lot of time and buses are infrequent although it is an option for those on tighter budgets with more time. Note that some parts of the island cannot be reached by public transport and taxi costs soon eat the equivalent price of car hire.
Boarding the Ferry, by Foot and With a Car
Bright and early we arrived at Kagoshima Port to board the Yakushima Ferry 2. I was driving the car and the boys, as foot passengers, had to separately board the ship. The ferry only allows one driver and no passengers in the car deck. After dropping them at the ferry ticket desk where they purchased their passenger return tickets, I drove the car through the barriers and parked the car in a line to proceed onto the ferry once boarding started. However, first I had to present my reservation for the car, including passport and car documents (charges depend on the length of the car) at the office to receive boarding papers for the ferry and pay the fare in cash. Please bear in mind for the return journey you will likewise need to collect the tickets again before being able to board the ferry so keep any tickets safely.
On board the ferry we found a cosy corner on the top deck with a table where we could base ourselves and relax. Later on during the journey it was useful to play cards and games to pass the time. First we went outside to watch the crew prepare the departure and to enjoy the panoramic views of Kagoshima and Sakurajima across the water. Sadly the volcano was shrouded in early morning clouds but some plumes were making it out the top of the smoky crater.
Sailing Through Kagoshima Bay
As we cast off the sea was a calm blanket and the surface was only broken by the waves created from by the strong propellers of the ferries and boats. Sailing south through the long and narrow Kagoshima Bay we passed the Satsuma peninsula where we had explored the samurai gardens the previous day and the Osumi peninsular, which we would come across on our return after Yakushima.
On Board Fun and Amenities
After we had watched the twin jaws of the two peninsulas slide by and the cone of Sakurajima get smaller behind us, Jerome went off to discover the ship. He quickly got stuck in the games room watching people play the machines, he spent some of his pocket money on a grabber machine and even won a cuddly blue penguin on his third attempt! I had received a voucher for a free udon with my car ferry ticket and savoured a bowl of hot “kitsune”. The boys were glad to have brought some food along from the supermarket as the selection in the konbini was fairly minimal and there are no other options to buy anything to eat on the ferry. Even the coffee was awful!
Turtles on Board
Afterwards Jerome showed me the turtles, housed in an aquarium that he had discovered on his exploration new blue penguin in hand. Yakushima has increased the protection of these endangered creatures and the ferry has dedicated a room with information about turtles on the island. There were three turtles in the aquarium, one fairly large and Jerome and I felt sorry for the animal, being confined to such a small space. However later after our arrival in Miyanoura, while waiting for me with the car, Jerome met a conservationist on the quayside who actually was taking the larger green turtle off board, and he planned to set it free that evening on Inakahama beach. He found out that the turtle had been found injured and had been sent in the aquarium to heal. We would see many turtles later on our snorkel adventures and Jerome liked to believe he spotted the larger one from the ferry one day.
The journey from Kagoshima to Yakushima went faster than we anticipated, we spend much of it on deck with the sea breeze in our hair. We even spotted some flying fish taking flight above the ocean, surfing away from the ship’s wake.
Arrival at Yakushima
Little mounds of distant islands on the horizon seemed to follow our ferry ride until eventually Yakushima took shape in front, growing from a tiny dot into a tall triangle of dramatic scenery upon our approach into Miyanoura Port. Excitedly we took in the views and then watched the commotion of ferry employees roping up the ship until we had to collect our possessions and de-board. Again the boys left with the foot passengers and I collected the car, finding them talking to the conservationist quayside. Happy to have firm ground below our feet again, we set off to discover Yakushima.
Where we stayed in Kyushu:
Sankara Resort treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay on the island.
Kirishima Kokusei for those wanting to stay in Kirishima Onsen
Ryokan Shinsen if you fancy a luxury ryokan experience
Follow us on Social Media