Climbing Volcanoes in Japan
Japan has over 100 active volcanoes spread across its islands, that is more than any other country in the world. A large number of these potentially fire spitting mountains can be climbed by adventurous travellers, although the recent deadly eruption on New Zealand’s White Island will most likely discourage many from venturing near. On our journeys through Japan we have climbed a few volcanoes, including the famous iconic Mount Fuji and also Aso-san (which last erupted in 2016) in Kyushu.
The Volcanoes on Ebino Highland
On our recent trip through Japan we chose to visit a different volcano in Kyushu, the Onamiike, which forms part of the Kirishima Volcano, a cluster of Quaternary volcanoes located on the Ebino Highland. The area is popular with locals and tourists for hiking thanks to its outstanding panoramic views, informative Eco-Museum Centre and captivating wildlife, including some plant and animal species that can only be found in certain sections of the plateau. Please check the latest hiking information, restrictions and map if you do plan to venture into this area as conditions change often.
Easy, Circular Hike
The hike to Onamiike Crater Lake is a fairly easy circular hike and is often combined with Mount Karakuni, the highest peak of the Kirishima Mountain Range, for keen hikers wanting to add some strenuous exercise. There are two entrances to the Onami Pond hike, access is possible by bus from Maruo Onsen, or by car.
Trailheads of Onamiike
The most frequented trailhead to Onamiike starts just before reaching the Information Centre of Ebino Kogen from Kirishima. It might be advisable to start there if you want to get some final information about volcanic activity or stock up on food and drinks for the hike. We started our ascent to Onami Pond at the lower trailhead, but please bear in mind that the parking lot at this point has limited spaces. A nearby concrete volcanic shelter showcased information about the hiking trails, provided information about the area in general and also demonstrated emergency and evacuation instructions in case of a volcanic eruption nearby.
Eruption of Nearby Shinmodake
Jerome curiously inspected the given instructions and facts, especially the photos and diagrams on the eruptions of Mount Shinmoedake, which burst for the first time in 300 years in 2011. Shinmoedake has since calmed but smoke can still be seen rising from the crater and a circular area around the volcano is still completely off limits.
Register Your Hiking Plans
A wooden signpost shows the entry point to the hiking trail leading up to Onamiike. Besides the paved track we discovered a box with paper slips that hikers fill to register their hiking plans. We assume these will be recovered in case of an eruption and thus used to determine any potentially missing people.
Ascend Through the Verdant Forest
The hiking path then winds through verdant forest for about 1.2km steep uphill towards Onamiike Carter Lake. Although the tall trees, including hazel and rhododendrons, blocked any views of the surrounding landscape we were glad to be protected by their shade, the heat of Japan’s Summer quickly slowed our pace and we frequently had to stop for a drink.
Legendary Crater Lake
Nearly 40 minutes later the forest opened out and we had arrived at the circular track enclosing the Onami Pond. A signpost presented a variety of butterflies and dragonflies that inhabit Kirishima’s fertile environment. Climbing atop of some large boulders we finally glanced at the cobalt blue waters of the volcano’s lake below. Onami Pond is the highest crater lake (1411m) in Japan and even appears in a local legend. A childless village headman that was finally blessed with a beautiful daughter named Onami. However, Onami was actually the incarnation of a dragon that lived in the lake, and after refusing many marriage proposals, she ultimately threw herself into its water. A fascinating story, that certainly will entertain any children on a hike around the lake.
Stunning Views from Circular Path
The shores of the Onamiike Carter Lake cannot be reached at any point but the circular path leading around the lake offers ever changing, stunning views of the Kirishima Mountain and on a fine day (like ours) Kinkowan Bay, and the cone shaped Mount Sakurajima opposite Kagoshima, plus even the distant Kaimondake which we had passed en route to Yakushima. A group of Korean hikers shared our picnic spot for some time. It was interesting to watch them take photos of their backpacks with the lake and splendid Mount Karakuni in the background. They must have found us an equally peculiar sight, dressed in shorts and t-shirts, plus trainers, they were entirely kitted out in the latest all over hiking gear. I on the other hand have always wondered how they survive in long sleeved tops and trousers in this heat!
Seasons at Onami Cater Lake
We also set out to walk around the lake, I was keen on getting a glance at the smouldering Mount Shinmoedake to the opposite side of the pond. The circular path was shaded by trees and azalea shrubs covered either side. Their vibrant blossoms must be a mesmerizing sight in the early summer months and the autumn foliage on the sloping hillsides are a beloved attraction. Even in Winter, when the lake freezes and the plateau is dusted in snow, the Onamiike Crater Lake makes a fine hiking destination.
Glance of Shinmoedake Volcano
I started to get impatient on our walk around the Onami Pond, there seemed to be no gaps in the trees to get a glance at the active volcano. The faint smell of rotten eggs announced the Shinmoedake Volcano even from a distance, although it is less pungent than Unzen Hell. Finally, other hikers must have had the same wish and a narrow track led to a large boulder from where we could see the ashen slopes of the Shinmoedake and the wafting smoke from the deep innards of the volcano.
It took us about an hour to hike around the deep blue Onami Pond and in total, including the descend the hike was around 2.5 hours, an easily manageable trek even for less experienced hikers and therefore ideal for families. It is always advisable to be well prepared for any hike, including sturdy shoes, a well-stocked rucksack and weather report, appropriate clothes, plus in this case the latest volcano activity forecast!
We treated ourselves to a refreshing ice cream from one of the konbinis in Maruo Onsen, followed by a brief photo stop at Maruo Waterfall. Hot water from Einoo Onsen and Iodani Onsen rushes down this rare hot spring waterfall, an even more spectacular sight during the cold Winter months, when the steam rises into the cold air. Maruo Onsen also offers a selection of traditional ryokans, so is a good base for hiking in the Kirishima Mountains, including Onamiiike and for a visit to the traditional Kirishima Jingu Shrine.
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
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